Forty years of memories - a special brand of care

Service Recognition Week beings Oct. 7 at St. Joseph's London

It was 1974 when Doreen Dentrey, fresh out of college, first walked through the doors of St. Thomas Psychiatric Hospital, as it was known, to begin a career in food services. Forty years later, the special brand of care she found there continues to inspire her.

“In the beginning there were 2,200 patients and we were a servery/cafeteria style service.  Almost all the menu items were grown or made on site. There was endless testing to recipes we created to get the end product exactly right. The hospital maintained orchards, gardens and our own farm where beef cattle were fed and raised. I recall daily staffing included a manager, assistant manager, head chef,  three assistant head cooks and five cooks, two bakers, two  vegetable prep people with potatoes, carrots and onions peeled by hand, two ingredient control individuals, two butchers, two dietitians, one secretary,  three cafeteria staff plus two cashiers, three porters, two cleaners, three dishwashers, three pot washers and 16 servers.”

When menus came to be, before computers, “they were typed on big old typewriters (and not electric ones) each time they were needed because we didn’t have a photocopier either.”

Doreen is among 863 staff, physicians and volunteers doing some reminiscing this week as honourees at this year’s Service Recognition Week – a celebration of those who have reached career milestones with St. Joseph’s. With 40 years of memories, Doreen and four others marking 40 years are this year’s longest serving recipients.  

Today, Doreen is coordinator for Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) at Regional Mental Health Care London (RMHCL) and the Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care. Now getting ready to move to the new Mental Health Care Building, Doreen says the highlights have always been the opportunity to interact with patients.

“What I miss most are the early days with huge preparations, beginning in July, for the Christmas season for patients. There were an endless number of ward parties, parties in the games room or auditorium, program parties, concerts, caroling and all the special treats. All functions were catered to by the kitchen. I remember the bakers creating gingerbread houses for each of the wards. We cooked at least 35, huge 30-pound turkeys, made our own stuffing, Christmas cake, Christmas pudding and sauce, pies and Christmas cookies, which were to die for.”

Doreen Dentry

Pictured above: Doreen Dentry

And that was only one season. Pumpkin carving contests with the pumpkins provided by the farm, Halloween parades, summer pool and BBQ parties, and Easter parades are just some of Doreen’s other favourite memories.

Bev Broderick, a helper with FNS for all her 40 years, has similar memories at RMHCL. When she began, food was delivered from the original main kitchen in trucks and served from carts with patients choosing their meal on the spot. Service later shifted to a belt line and pre-made trays, then back to carts, then back to trays – “there was a lot of experimentation over the years,” recalls Bev, now a staffing clerk. 

Bev Broderick

Pictured above: Bev Broderick

At St. Joseph’s Hospital, meanwhile, Barb Scott’s first job had her key-punching in the cytology lab. Key punching was a way to make written laboratory requisitions machine-readable. The information would be transferred and encoded onto a card using an intricate grid of tiny punched holes.  

“The department decided that computers would never become so I applied for the secretarial job in the Pharmacy Department under then director Stan Adams,” says Barb. “After much turnover of staff, I am still here.”

Barb remembers doing the department’s accounting on “a large spreadsheet that had 50 columns with everything hand written.” The lofty promise of paperless records is as old the first computer “but that technology has finally come,” she says.  

Like Doreen and Bev, Barb says St. Joseph’s enduring personal touch and friendly atmosphere have been key to making the last 40 years enjoyable, from the days when Sister Mary Doyle “would call you by name and stop and chat with you” to the willingness she continues to see every day by staff to help colleagues, patients and visitors. 

Joining Doreen, Bev and Barb with 40 years of service are: Martha Dicker, a registered nurse in the Endoscopy Clinic; and Lynn Henson, pod coordinator in the operating room.

St. Joseph’s congratulates all those marking milestones this year – from five to 40 years. Your dedication and hard word contributes to helping St. Joseph’s earn complete confidence in care and make a lasting difference in quest to live fully.

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