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Omaha Magazine

Baking Up Smiles

May 06, 2015 12:56PM ● By Andy Williams
This article appeared in the May/June 2015 issue of Omaha Magazine.

Carolyn Hess can’t escape her labor of love as a volunteer baker. Even when she’s away from a group of Omaha women who bake up to 800 cookies a week for the Hospice House of Omaha, the oven is always warm.

“I went to visit my grandkids in Florida,” Hess says, “and the first thing they wanted me to do when I got there was bake cookies.” That’s what happens when you spend one morning a week brightening the days and enlivening the smells at Hospice House for residents, family members, nurses, staff, ambulance drivers—even the mailman.

“Everybody knows Thursday is Cookie Day,” Hess says. “After a snow storm hit [last winter] we couldn’t get there to bake cookies that week, and everybody said, ‘We sure missed you last week. We didn’t have our cookies!’ Everybody loves Cookie Day.”

When Hess retired from her accounting career seven years ago, she joined the Cookie Lady of Hospice House—Jan Ryan—who has been making cookies there for 15 years.

Ryan prepares the dough every week, and Hess and others join her at 8 a.m. sharp at Hospice House to bake enough cookies to get the Omaha non-profit through the week.

Because of her giving spirit and faithful service to Hospice House, Hess was recently recognized by Cenex’s Tanks of Thanks program in the form of Cenex gift cards valued at over $2,000.

“The Tanks of Thanks program does more than give away free fuel,” says Cenex brand manager Akhtar Hussain. “It empowers people—people like Carolyn Hess and the countless others who do good things for those around them.”

Staff members at the Hospice House know the contributions of Hess, Ryan and the five other cookie ladies go beyond a tasty treat on a Thursday morning.

“Those ladies provide a bright spot in our week, that’s for sure,” says Hospice House Director Gary George. “The smell of fresh-baked cookies is very comforting to our residents and their families, but it’s about far more than cookies.

“They bring joy along with everything they do for us.”

Hess has extended her volunteer spirit beyond baking, and she also uses her accounting background to prepware tax returns for free at the Bellevue Senior Center.

“I actually enjoy doing taxes and this really helps people who can’t afford to have them done or figure it out on their own,” Hess says. “When I stopped working, I wondered what I was going to do with all my free time. I thought if I’m going to do something for free, it might as well be something I enjoy, like baking cookies and doing taxes.”

The ledger sheet on this good deed shows a plus sign in both columns, for Hess and the Hospice House.

“The reason I like going to Hospice House is people are so grateful,” Hess says. “People wonder how we can bake all those cookies. But it’s a great joy for us because everyone appreciates it so much.” In the end, she says, the recipe for smiles is a simple one.

“We’re just trying to help make people happy.”