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Strength, wisdom, love: Hospital auxiliary honors gift shop manager Sandy Morrison

SALISBURY — Amy Quick and Melody Poole, who both work in patient services at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center, provided the cover. They lured Sandy Morrison to lunch at Romano’s.

Meanwhile, back at the hospital, members of the women’s auxiliary hurriedly decorated the lobby outside the gift shop, which Morrison manages. They put up a long table for the celebratory cake, a guestbook, roses, plates and utensils.

At first, a sign near the cake said, “Congratulations, Sandy — 35 years!”

People walking by soon started asking, “Is Morrison retiring?” So another sign went up directly below the first one. It said, “She’s not retiring!”

Tuesday marked the 35th year of  Morrison’s employment at the hospital, and an appreciative auxiliary wanted to mark the occasion.

In essence, Morrison works for the auxiliary, which pays her salary, while the hospital covers her benefits.

If you ask members of the auxiliary, which provides four volunteers a day to help Morrison in the gift shop, they work for her.

“She makes us look good,” Zandra Spencer said.

But back to the lunch at Romano’s. Morrison was getting restless.

“Amy, we’ve got to get back,” Morrison said. “I’ve got to order pocketbooks.”

Quick and Poole figured they probably had given the auxiliary members enough time and, sure enough, Morrison walked into a big surprise as she entered the lobby Tuesday afternoon.

At first, when Morrison saw all the people, she thought it must be the monthly free ice cream day at the hospital.

But the line of people, applause, hugs and congratulations to come were for her.

“You didn’t tell me, and we worked together the other day,” Morrison protested to Spencer later.

Jane Creech, president of the women’s auxiliary, spoke briefly. Otherwise, the afternoon provided a drop-in for friends, family and hospital staff to show their appreciation to Morrison.

“It was really hard to find a Hallmark card that said everything we wanted to say,” Creech said, but the card the auxiliary ended up with spoke of Morrison’s strength, wisdom and love and how she is “amazing in all that you are and everything you do.”

It’s a strong mutual admiration society between the auxiliary volunteers and Morrison. “This is the best group of ladies you could ever work for,” Morrison said.

The auxiliary has been especially helpful through the years — and recent months — as Morrison dealt with several serious health scares.

Years ago, she faced breast cancer and also the significant loss of her colon. Nine weeks ago, doctors removed her spleen and pancreas.

“I’m just thankful to be alive,” Morrison said. “It has worked out beautifully. They have been wonderful through my sickness.”

“She has been on a lot of prayer lists,” auxiliary member Nancy Linn said.

People in the Tuesday crowd of well-wishers included Sandy’s husband, John; her daughter and son-in-law; and a sister-in-law.

Back in 1984 when the hospital had both a hospitality shop and gift shop, Mary Kirk hired Sandy to work in the hospitality shop.

“We fed a lot of doctors in the back room,” Sandy recalled, “so no one would bother them.”

The doctors ran a tab, and the hospitality shop sent their offices a bill periodically.

Sandy also remembered delivering lunch to a busy Dr. Wink Cline. “Sandy, I’ll take my regular sandwich,” he would tell her.

“I’ve met some wonderful people working here, and the auxiliary is the best,” Morrison said. “I’m very undeserving.”

Carole Simmons and other auxiliary members said people regularly walk into the shop “just to talk with her.” Morrison agrees the gift shop is a listening post for the families of patients and members of the staff.

“I think one of the more important things in my job is to listen,” Morrison said.

You’ve heard of “Dear Abby,” she said. “Well, I’m Dear Sandy.”

In 1936, a women’s auxiliary for Rowan Memorial Hospital was chartered with 84 women.

The auxiliary held fancy-dress “Fall Frolics” at Salisbury Country Club to raise money. By 1950, the group donated its first $10,000 to Rowan Memorial, then opened a hospitality shop in 1956.

The shop was on the ground floor at the rear of the hospital.

In a 1969 renovation, the shop was relocated to the hospital lobby, and auxiliary volunteers continued to provide all the staffing. They added and staffed a gift shop beginning in 1984.

For years, the auxiliary officers ran both the hospitality and gift shops, without any paid help. The hospitality shop came to be known for its chicken salad and pimento cheese sandwiches.

The hospital eventually provided a paid manager and staff until the hospitality shop closed in 2009. That’s when Sandy Morrison became the paid manager for the gift shop with her salary being picked up by the auxiliary.

Funds for the auxiliary come from the gift shop, uniform and jewelry sales, hospital vending machine proceeds, the Tree of Hope Christmas project and donations.

The auxiliary works off a monthly schedule, providing four gift shop volunteers to help Morrison each day. Two take the shift from 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m., and two take the 1:30-5 p.m. slot.

The volunteers help out Monday through Friday.

Beyond that, the organization has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in money, equipment and supplies for the hospital — funds that have gone toward everything from a hospital chapel, hospice house sunroom and Wallace Cancer Center to a birthing simulator, playground equipment and mobile mammography unit.

It’s also the auxiliary that gives socks to breast cancer patients; a Care Bear, coloring books and crayons to pediatric patients; rocking chairs for the family care center; and scholarships for junior volunteers and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College nursing students.

Because of her 35 years at the hospital, Morrison also will be recognized in November at the Novant Health Rowan service awards.

Morrison had something else entirely on her mind Tuesday.

“I still don’t have my pocketbooks ordered yet,” she said.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or mark.wineka@salisburypost.com.

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