Integral part: Groff among host of all-important volunteers at McLaren

Hugo Graff holding flowers for a patientIt was just about five years when Hugo Groff retired from his job and relocated to Northern Michigan from Ontario to be closer to his family and take advantage of outdoor activities the region has to offer.

It was also around that time when the 72-year-old Groff had a medical appointment with Dr. Timothy Ismond, an internal medicine specialist with McLaren Northern Michigan.

“He asked me what I was doing and he suggested I should volunteer at the hospital and I thought ‘why should I?’” Groff said. “I’ve volunteered all through my life in various capacities.”

About eight months later Groff had another visit with Dr. Ismond and the topic of volunteering came up again.

“I came to the hospital, inquired and the next thing you know I’m wearing a red coat,” Groff said.

Groff is one of about 50 current volunteers who serve in various roles at McLaren Northern Michigan, which this week is recognizing all the hospital’s volunteers in celebration of National Healthcare Volunteer Appreciation Week.

A retired corporate director of human resources for an aerospace company, Groff has volunteered at McLaren for each of the last four years as he enjoys staying busy, staying active and meeting new people.

“As a volunteer, we can pick our days and hours,” Groff said. “Over the last four years, I’ve picked surgery days so I’m busy and not just sitting there.”

His many duties at the hospital include greeting patients and guests, providing directions around the campus, assisting nurses during post-operation transporting, and delivering flowers, cards and gifts.

“It’s a variety of different things of helping people coming and going and helping the nurses as much as I can,” Groff said. “I’ve met some interesting people, met some people from my neighborhood, people I’ve recognized from other areas.”

It’s the warm, welcoming smile and approachable nature which make Groff and a host of other volunteers at the hospital key members of the staff, said Tanya Janes, McLaren Northern Michigan community health and volunteer services manager.

“The first thing is their friendliness and appearance, as far as a friendly smile which is No. 1,” Janes said. “We want people to feel welcome when they come here There’s a lot of anxiety levels we don’t want to accelerate when they come in, because it’s already high.

“It’s someone who has that nice, warm, friendly appearance and smile who can just brighten someone’s day by their presence,” Janes added.

Janes said she and the staff work hard if anyone wants to volunteer in the hospital to match them up in a service area which will highlight their strengths and skills to what the needs are within the organization.

“We really do try to find their assets,” Janes said. “A lot of them (volunteers) are retired and some like the profession they were in and they like to stay in that general area. We try to get to know that person and then match them.”

Janes said each volunteer is part of the McLaren family, and they each play key roles in the daily operation of the hospital.

“They can provide that little extra that some of the staff may not have time or the ability to dive that deep into as a volunteer may in a certain area,” Janes said. “It’s having those little side conversations with patients and visitors to calm that anxiety.

“All of our volunteers are fabulous,” Janes added. “When new volunteers come on board, I often have them shadow with Hugo. He knows the role and embodies what a volunteer should be. The first thing you notice when you come to the front desk is Hugo has this great, big, friendly smile.

“That presence about him without saying anything really says so much.”

Groff said he doesn’t look as his volunteer position as a job, and he goes by the old saying “it’s what you make of it.”

He’s had conversations about hunting and fishing, traveling and just about any other topic he finds a patient or visitor has in common with him.

“It’s just being involved and there’s various places I suppose you could volunteer, but having been here now four years I didn’t know a lot of the terminology at first,” Groff said. “It’s just helping people that need help and being involved in a way where you can strike up a conversation with people and it’s fun to work with them.

“It’s just fun to be involved and this is a great place to be involved.”

Janes added the hospital is always willing to take new volunteers. For more information regarding volunteering opportunities at McLaren Northern Michigan, call Janes at (231) 487-4183 or email