Meet Timbers’ vet volunteerPublished 5:18pm Monday, July 30, 2012
Steve Whitehead treats volunteering like a job.
Until recently, Whitehead, a resident of The Timbers of Cass County in Dowagiac, volunteered his time to other residents and the staff seven days a week. Since Mondays were geared more toward women residents, however, he decided that would be his day off. But he still knows every resident’s first and last name and in what room number they reside.
Whitehead, who was born in Benton Harbor in 1959, has lived in Dowagiac for three years. After serving 20 years in the U.S. Army, two of which were during Desert Storm, he became a resident at The Timbers due to heart and health problems. The staff of the nursing home approached him and asked him to become involved. Whitehead said he jumped at the opportunity.
“I love what I’m doing,” Whitehead said Monday after delivering residents’ mail. “They eventually gave me my own extension as a volunteer because I’ll speak with just about everyone here.”
Whitehead lives in a suite at the facility with his fiancé, Betty Fobes, 80. He said after knowing Fobes for seven years, he hopes to marry her soon.
“I don’t believe love has an age limit,” said Whitehead, who attended
Lake Michigan College, studying psychology as a young man. He also studied at the University of Kentucky and Southwestern Michigan College, something he said helped him understand mental illnesses and conditions that patients may have, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
“I like to study the brain,” Whitehead said.
Those studies of the mind help Whitehead in his volunteerism. Between mail deliveries, exercise, activities and one-on-one interaction, Whitehead writes down the day’s schedule for other residents, posts calendars in their suites and changes the hallway schedules.
Whitehead said that, through his time spent as a volunteer, he has become closer to many other residents.
“There are certain ones you get close with,” he said. “Tony (Krizinski), he was a good friend of mine.”
Whitehead said the most difficult part of his job is when a friend dies.
“It hurts me just as much as it hurts the family,” Whitehead said. “This is my family …. I consider them apart of my family.”
But through his duties, Whitehead also welcomes new residents to The Timbers.
“I want to meet the family members, too,” he said. “They’ll visit here, and I want to get to know them, too. I can understand the resident better that way.”
One particular visitor Whitehead enjoys seeing is Cheri Nowicki’s dog, Murphy, who visits with residents often.
“He’ll come down and scratch on my door and bark,” Whitehead said. “He knows I keep a little bacon in my fridge.”
Whitehead, who said he enjoys living at the nursing home, said that if anyone from the community decides to move toward assisted living, The Timbers is the best place.
“I like living here,” Whitehead said. “Overall, they’re happy.”