Celebrating 50 Years of Service

“How’s my working mother?” is the question Rosemary Nelson asks each Monday afternoon when she calls her mother, Rosalyn “Rose” Westra. And the answer is always the same: “It was so busy! We got so much work done, and it felt so good.” 

Rose, who turns 100 in July, has been a Winchester Hospital volunteer since 1970, reporting for duty every week and — for many years — twice a week. To celebrate her coming birthday, and to honor retiring volunteer director Marie Johnson, Rose’s family made a recent gift to Winchester Hospital that will underwrite improvements to the volunteer office. 

“Even when it is a Monday holiday, Mom does not take the day off,” Rosemary said about her mother’s strong, lifelong work ethic. “She’ll tell me the hospital is just as busy, and they are counting on her.” 

Rose credits her parents with instilling in her the value of hard work. “My parents, who were Dutch immigrants, made sure my siblings and I pitched in at the family grocery store, working hard and being helpful to customers,” she said. Rose moved with her late husband, Leonard, from Detroit to Reading in 1960 and is happily in the same home and friendly neighborhood where they raised their six children. The Westra family has expanded to include 14 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren plus another on the way. 

“One big family”

In addition to her growing family tree, Rose counts her fellow Winchester Hospital volunteers as family. “The volunteers make a real community,” said Rosemary. “They offer great companionship for each other as they accomplish meaningful work for the hospital.” Rose’s Monday morning team has been there for each other in times of need and of celebration. “We’ve been together so many years; we’re like one big family,” said Rose. 

Winchester Hospital’s volunteers may act as messengers, assemble inpatient welcome materials, assist with patient transport and the coffee cart, and more. “We have approximately 650 volunteers, contributing countless hours to enhancing care at our community hospital,” said Marie Johnson, who is retiring as director of volunteer services January 31. 

“While we honor Rose for the longevity of her service, we equally honor her for the compassion she brings to our patients, staff and fellow volunteers,” said Marie. ”She is bright, positive, interested in all and fun!” 

Rosemary, who was a teenage “candy striper” at Winchester Hospital and first encouraged her mother to also volunteer, said, “I chose nursing as a career and went on to work at several hospitals. The level of connection and commitment at Winchester Hospital is truly special — and that pride runs throughout the organization.”

“The best of both worlds”

Rose’s son Jim believes it’s critically important to have a reliable community hospital. “Whenever we needed care, Winchester Hospital was there for us — from minor matters, such as sprains and broken bones, to more serious matters, such as surgeries,” he said. “We have the benefit of living in close proximity to some of the best major hospitals in the world, but it is often the community hospital that is the first to offer diagnosis and treatment. I believe Winchester Hospital’s affiliation with Beth Israel Lahey Health gives us the best of both worlds.” Rosemary agreed, saying, “Our family views Winchester Hospital as the crown jewel of the community. We’re so proud Mom volunteers there.”

Rose’s spirit of volunteering has not been limited to the hospital. While in her 80s, she babysat toddlers during church Bible studies and, when younger, drove disabled children to school. Her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have followed her lead, living lives that include service through the Peace Corps, Haitian relief efforts, the United Way and cancer patient support programs.

Honoring a century of living and giving

What is Rose’s advice for a happy life? 

  • A strong work ethic.
  • Optimism — greet each day with a smile; be pleasant to others.
  • Thankfulness.
  • Regular exercise with acceptance of limitations, especially those imposed by aging. 
  • Volunteerism.

Thank you, Rose!

Rose’s family decided the perfect way to mark her 100-year milestone would be to make a gift to the hospital she has served for so many decades. “What better way to celebrate our mother’s 100th birthday than to support a program that has meant so much to her for so many years; has led to so many longstanding friendships; and has given her such purpose, joy and fulfillment?” asked Jim.  “We are, of course, also planning a blow-out party with a guest list topping 100, including many of her fellow volunteers!”

From flappers to rappers, with Victory Gardens, lunar landings and the internet in between, Rose has been a living legacy of her value of volunteerism. For nearly a century, she has been an inspiration to her family and friends. However, her determination to continue as a “working mother” has created a problematic situation for her son. “My mother has made it abundantly clear that I cannot retire before she does, and given her energy level, I am afraid my retirement is nowhere in sight!” said Jim.