Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and he doesn’t just make his presence known at Christmastime. In fact, he “paid it forward” to three Lake Region Healthcare volunteers in March.
Instead of getting a bill for their lunch, volunteers Carol Nygaard, Arlene Palmer and Pat Eidal got a note written on a napkin thanking them for their work. It was signed by Santa Claus. Photo by Carol Stender
The volunteers – Carol Nygaard, Pat Eidal and Arlene Palmer – were celebrating Arlene’s birthday at a Fergus Falls restaurant after they’d finished their shifts. When Carol asked for the bill, the waitress told her the tab was paid and gave her a napkin with a handwritten message:
“Ladies: Don’t ever forget people appreciate all you do!
Helping others is a special gift you give that is noticed by all around you!”
It was signed by Santa Claus.
The waitress couldn’t give them any information about the donor due to the privacy act, Carol said.
They started to play detective. They knew they were easily recognizable as volunteers since two of them were wearing their volunteer blue smocks. They talked about who they knew at the restaurant. Carol remembered one of the restaurant patrons also attended her church. She saw him at an event shortly after the lunch and said thank you. He smiled and walked away, she said. The three even sent him a thank you card, but learned later that he was not their benefactor.
The volunteers were back to square one.
Someone told them one of the restaurant’s customers was wearing a hospital bracelet. It’s a clue, but the identity of the actual “Santa” remains a mystery, they said.
It’s obvious in their expressions that the three have been touched by the act of kindness. It’s especially special because they don’t draw attention to what they do. They just do what comes naturally – helping others.
They have, combined, more than 55 years of volunteer service among the three of them. Pat’s volunteered at the hospital for eight years and Carol for nine. Arlene tops the group with 38 years of volunteering. They’ve also helped with their church activities, bloodmobile and meals on wheels plus civic organizations like the lake association where Pat has served as treasurer. Carol also volunteers at the Fergus Falls Veterans Home.
Pat chose to volunteer after she and her husband moved to Dalton to retire. Originally the couple grew up in the region. Pat is from Richville, and her husband is from Wendell, she said. They’d always vacationed at Ten Mile Lake and decided to make it their new home.
She wanted to do something special with her spare time and called the hospital about volunteer opportunities. After she attended an orientation, Pat began volunteering either at the gift shop or front desk.
She met Arlene and Carol during one of her shifts, and the three became good friends.
It was Arlene who got Carol involved. The two attend the same church, and when Carol retired from her Fergus Falls schools teacher’s aide post, Arlene asked her to become a hospital volunteer.
Arlene had volunteered at the hospital before she took an assistant administrator position at an insurance agency. When she retired, Arlene returned as a hospital volunteer.
Carol’s volunteer work reminds her of her mother. She was a nurse who carried an autograph book with her. Patients would sign it, Carol said.
“There were so many nice things they said about her,” she said. “Hopefully I can have that many nice things said about me.”
Why did the three choose to volunteer?
“To help others,” Arlene said. “To help where there is a need.”
During their volunteer shifts they bring flowers to patients’ rooms, tend to the gift shop and give directions. But their job involves so much more, the three said.
“You can’t just tell them to go down the hall,” Arlene said. “You help wherever there is a need. It can be confusing, especially if people haven’t been here before. You put them at ease and take them where they need to go. It’s very comforting to help people who need to have tests or are here visiting someone.”
She described helping one young man who asked to see a certain doctor. Arlene learned he needed to go to the clinic which is attached to the hospital. Instead of giving him directions, she walked him to the clinic and stayed with him as he registered at the front desk.
“He would keep looking at me making sure I hadn’t walked away,” Arlene said. “He asked if I would stay with him, and I said yes, I would show him where he needed to go, and I did. He just kept thanking me. It was just nice to know that I could help him get to the place he needed to go.”
The help they provide plus the hugs and lots of thank yous makes it all worthwhile.
And then there was that lunch.
They brought the napkin to hospital volunteer coordinator Kim Blank. She’s displayed it and their story outside the gift shop.
“We are still trying to figure it out,” Arlene said. “There’s still a Santa Claus out there somewhere. Maybe he will come forward. We believe there really is a Santa Claus.”