Nebraska Medicine Volunteer Embodies the Spirit of ServiceAug 27, 2021 04:13PM ● By Jeff Lacey
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
It’s clear Nebraskans love to volunteer.
According to the last reported national census, Nebraska ranks sixth among all states as far as volunteerism is concerned, with 589,714 volunteers contributing around 53.8 million hours of service every year. And why not? People who volunteer “experience greater satisfaction with life and life purpose, increased self-confidence, and a greater sense of identity,” according to webMD.
Sara Crouse embodies this idea. Crouse, 74, has volunteered since she first stepped into a church nursery in her birth state of Illinois at age 16, and she shows no signs of stopping, having volunteered for various causes without expectation of return for almost six decades. She keeps adding to nearly 5,200 documented hours of volunteer service at Nebraska Medicine.
Sara and her husband, David, moved to Omaha in 1977. David holds a Ph.D. and was a professor at UNMC who retired in 2012, and Crouse has been an active volunteer in various community organizations since the late 1970s. She has served in several capacities at Nebraska Medicine and its affiliates, but one of her more significant volunteering opportunities began in 1992, when she was connected with the geriatric rehabilitation unit at Nebraska Medicine. Elderly patients would go there for rehab after events such as heart attacks, or knee replacements, and Crouse would assist them with whatever they needed. She particularly cherished her work with recreational therapist Ann Ramming.
“I would visit new patients, and I’d have the opportunity to interview them, and ask a lot of questions. Then Ann would try to get them something that would help based on their interests,” Crouse explained. “I loved talking to them and getting to know them.” At the time, Crouse had finished her degree, which had an emphasis on gerontology. But she didn’t pursue it as a paying career. “I just wanted to work with them. That was enough for me.”
Crouse was especially inspired by her work with transplant patients, which began in the mid-1990s. “You would be linked up with a family from out of town who didn’t know anybody,” Crouse said. “You became their connection to this community. I could take the wife to the grocery store, and just become a friend, somebody to talk to.”
Crouse recalled one experience with a single mother whose daughter needed a liver and bowel transplant. “They waited over a year, and finally a match came, but almost too late for this little girl. She kept getting infections,” she said, continuing, “The mother had another daughter living back in Wisconsin with her grandmother. I spent a lot of time with them.”
That wasn’t the only place where Crouse has spent a lot of time.
“Sara always goes one step further for customers in the gift shop,” said retail lead Kelly Dinoff of this devoted volunteer. “If a customer is looking for a specific item, she won’t stop until she finds what they want, or something that will do in its place. She greets every customer with a huge smile and an accommodating manner, welcoming all into the shop.”
She has served as a docent and participates in the Faculty Women’s Club
(a social organization at Nebraska Medicine that, among other things, raises money for scholarships). Most recently, she served as an ambassador. “People come in the door of University, or Clarkson, or the Buffett Center, and some of them are like deer in headlights,” Crouse said. “I have been around a long time, so I am able to take them wherever they need to go.”
According to Patty Ostronic, the UNMC Volunteer Services Lead, Crouse embodies the best a volunteer can be. Ostronic said that Crouse’s defining characteristics are her humility and an incredible energy.
“Sara is a person who is highly willing to work,” Ostronic explained. “She definitely doesn’t just want to stand around. When she came to me looking for something more to do, she said that, most importantly, she wanted to be busy. She isn’t just someone who shows up for board meetings. She likes to be involved in areas that serve and support our students and patients.”
Crouse, a mother of two and a grandmother of four, explained her drive to serve simply. “I do it because, well, a job needs to be done. Volunteers are needed, and I have always enjoyed helping people, and don’t need to be paid for it. It’s just good to do whatever you can do.”
Nebraska Medicine has temporarily halted volunteering duties due to COVID-19, but Crouse looks forward to returning. Recently, Crouse hurt her ankle during a hike in Fontenelle Forest’s Camp Wakonda, but it doesn’t seem to have slowed this septuagenarian down. “I pulled a ligament! But I’ll be back. We are planning a trip to Ireland.”
Visit nebraskamed.com/giving/volunteer-services for more information.
NOTE: This article originally identified UNMC instead of Nebraska Medicine.
This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.