Sharing joy and the power of hymns

Betty and Skip Patterson have been dedicated volunteers at St. Joseph’s for a remarkable 45 years

Betty and Skip Patterson

Husband and wife volunteers Betty an Skip Patterson have been leading hymn sings at Parkwood Institute Main Building for 45 years, from the days when Parkwood Hospital was located on Grand Ave. Daughter, Sheila Jackson, centre, has continued the tradition with her husband Dave and sister-in-law Cathy Penfound.

It was 1969 when a dear friend of Betty and Skip Patterson was admitted to what was then Parkwood Hospital located on Grand Ave. in London. The friend, who had suffered a stroke, was from the Pattersons’ hometown of Rodney. They began visiting every week.

“Because of her stoke it was difficult for her to communicate, so we would take her to the auditorium when it was not in use and I would play hymns for her,” recalls Betty. “She enjoyed listening to the music so this became a weekly occurrence. Soon other residents started joining us Thursday evenings and hymn sing began from those simple visits with our friend.”

Now, 45 years later, Betty and Skip are among the longest serving members of the St. Joseph’s Health Care London family of staff, physicians and volunteers who were recently honoured at St. Joseph’s Service Recognition celebration. Each year, the organization celebrates those who have reached career milestones of 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 and more years of service. This year 750 recipients who have given up to 45 years of service were honoured.

service and volunteering

Dedicated volunteers, Betty and Skip have sung their way into the hearts of countless patients and residents over four and half decades, and they feel privileged to have done so. In addition to hymn sings, the couple brought their talents and generosity of spirit to church and funeral services at Parkwood. 

“We have enjoyed meeting so many wonderful people over the course of 45 years and it was a blessing for us to bring some joy and hope to the residents as well as their families who often attend hymn sings with their loved ones,” says Betty. “We have often remarked that the residents of Parkwood encouraged us and gave us more than we ever gave to them.  We went home every Thursday evening feeling encouraged and blessed to be a part of this volunteer opportunity.”

The couple has many fond memories of special residents, like Ken, a man who had been in a wheelchair his entire life, who never complained and whose favourite hymn was A Crippled Boy’s Prayer, with the words “I won't be a cripple boy in Heaven. I know my wings will sail through the air.  I can run and play with all the other children. There won't be no cripple boys up there.”

A blind patient named Dennis also stands out. He would sit next to the piano and when anyone asked for a favourite hymn, he would call out the hymn number, knowing most by heart, recalls Betty. “He was an encouragement to everyone who attended.”

The veterans also hold special memories for Betty and Skip. “We were always amazed at their brave and humble spirits.  Their personal stories of sacrifice inspired us and it was a privilege to get to know them and be a part of their lives.  The Remembrance Day hymn sings were always a highlight for us as the veterans would attend proudly wearing their medals and singing Onward Christian Soldiers.”

Betty and Skip say they have met “some of the most wonderful people we could ever hope to know – the residents of Parkwood Hospital.”  

Now in their 80s, the couple’s hymn sing tradition is being carried on by daughter Sheila Jackson, her husband Dave, and Dave’s sister Cathy Penfound.  Skip and Betty still participate when they are able and are thrilled to see their efforts continue and an auditorium filled with people joined in song and being nourished by the power of hymns.

“We want to sincerely thank Parkwood and the chaplains for allowing us the privilege to volunteer and share hope and encouragement. It is still amazing for us to look back to the old days on Grand Avenue and remember our special times of visiting with our special friend around the piano, so many years ago.”

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