Karen King loved Akron Children’s Hospital. Anyone who knew the 62-year-old, who served as a volunteer for over 47 years, loved her right back. Karen passed away this week, and all who had the pleasure of knowing her mourn her loss.
“Karen has been a presence in our department for 4 decades,” said Vicki Parisi, volunteer director. “She began volunteering at the hospital at the age of 15.”
When Karen was interviewed by the Akron Beacon Journal in 2012 she said as a child she spent a lot of time in the hospital and volunteering was her way of giving back.
“She gave back tenfold,” said Vicki. “Christmas was her favorite time of year at the hospital. She liked to accompany Santa on his rounds on Christmas Eve delivering gifts to the kids.”
The Holiday Tree Festival was another “can’t miss” for Karen. She sang in the hospital choir and often was a featured soloist.
“She was there every day of the festival,” said Vicki. “She would spend days ironing tablecloths and backdrops—she did whatever task was needed.”
Karen lived around the corner from the hospital and often walked the 3 long blocks in the rain, sleet and snow. Over the years she took on different jobs, from mending the uniforms of the maintenance and transport staff to helping patient families do laundry. More recently, Karen took ownership of the blue scarves that are tied around the neck of Barkers the dog (a stuffed animal given to patients).
“She had a certain way she liked the scarves tied and if you didn’t do it the way she liked it, she would let you know,” joked Vicki.
When her mobility became limited and she was no longer able to visit the floors, she became an official greeter and prankster in the volunteer office.
“She loved to play practical jokes on me,” said Vicki. “She would leave very real-looking spiders and snakes on my desk to try and scare me. It usually worked.”
It wasn’t only Karen’s fellow volunteers who developed a special connection with her, she bonded with employees as well.
Ted Stevens, photographer in the audio-visual (AV) department, became especially close with Karen.
“Karen was close to everyone in our department. She regularly attended our holiday Christmas party,” he said. “She said the blessing before the meal, and you could always expect a handwritten card thanking you for what you had done for her.”
Ted said one of the things he enjoyed most about Karen was her spunk.
“She was a character and loved to dress up,” he said. “If she saw Tiffany (AV photographer) or me in the hall with a camera she insisted we take her photo.”
As her health began to decline, Karen had made her peace with it. Vicki says the outpouring of emails and cards she’s received since Karen’s death has been overwhelming.
“She touched so many people’s lives,” she said. “One of our volunteers, Kate Carroll, said it best: ‘What a champion of selfless service. Many in the volunteer community at Akron Children’s saw Karen as a permanent fixture always greeting whoever walked through the doors. I will notice the empty chair and think of her smile.’”
In one of her last acts of service, Ted says Karen left a retirement gift in the AV department’s mailbox for Carlotta (Kay) Blanc who retired in September.
“One day I came into work and found a plastic bag with a card, picture frame and plaque inside,” he said. “It was probably a struggle for her to walk to the hospital that day, but she never let her health stop her from doing what she wanted in life.”
When cleaning out some files in anticipation of the AV department moving offices, Ted came across a file folder with handwritten thank you cards from Karen.
“While she didn’t necessarily have much materially in life, Karen had it in spades when it came to her heart,” he said. “She will be missed.”
If you have a memory of Karen you would like to share, please visit her tribute wall at Rhoden Memorial Home.