9 Who Care: Hospital volunteer brings smiles, jokes during thousands of hours of service

Volunteer Lee Haring, left, drops off samples at a lab at Unity Point - St. Luke's Hospital in Cedar Rapids on Jan. 6, 2020. (Marlon Hall/KCRG)
Volunteer Lee Haring, left, drops off samples at a lab at Unity Point - St. Luke's Hospital in Cedar Rapids on Jan. 6, 2020. (Marlon Hall/KCRG)(KCRG)
Published: Feb. 10, 2020 at 10:54 PM CST
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All this week, KCRG-TV9 is highlighting outstanding volunteers throughout eastern Iowa, known as our 9 Who Care.

Lee Haring’s jokes are a staple of Monday mornings at Unity Point – St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids, where he volunteers each week.

"They call my job a lab runner. No way,” Haring said. “This old man has to walk."

Haring also seems to know just about everyone he runs into during his lap through hallways and up and down elevators, picking up samples across the hospital and delivering them to the lab for testing.

"He could talk to a tree, and a tree would talk back to him,” Angela Berns, St. Luke’s program manager of volunteer services, said, with a laugh.

Haring starts his work on Mondays around 8:00 a.m., wheels his cart throughout the hospital, doing however many laps are necessary for that day, and wraps up around noon, though some days it’s later than that.

"I could get a mile and a half, two,” Haring said of the walking distance he accumulates on his path.

Haring also never knows what he’ll pick up to bring down to the lab, estimating he’s transported “just about every organ” at some point or another.

"The biggest part I had was a leg from the hip all the way to the toe,” he said.

Haring has volunteered at St. Luke’s for 10 years, starting after his own mother was admitted to the hospital there.

"The volunteers were fantastic, and so it kind of gave me the idea that, hey, maybe I can do something,” Haring said.

But service is a lifelong commitment for Haring.

"I think anytime you volunteer, it's, what, maybe the good coming out of people,” Haring said.

He served as a medic in the Iowa National Guard for six years, and then as a council member and mayor in West Burlington. It was there that he heard something that's stuck with him for decades.

"'Public service is the price you pay for the space that you occupy within a community,'” Haring recalled.

Now Haring's getting close to clocking his 4,000th volunteer hour at St. Luke's.

"Very rewarding to me,” Haring said. “I might not do much for them."

That's not the case. Berns said Haring has a rare ability to make everyone around the hospital comfortable.

“And then all of a sudden, there's a little less anxiety, a little less stress, and that goes for patient and staff,” Berns said.

That includes fellow volunteer Alissa Carson, who works with Haring on Mondays and nominated him for a 9 Who Care award. She said seeing Haring at the start of each week is what makes that day brighter.

"There's never a dull moment,” Carson said. “He just loves coming in here and making people smile and making people laugh and making sure that everyone has a great day."

Carson's looking forward to her friend earning that 4,000th hour, but someone might have to tell Haring when he gets it.

"Probably won't even know it,” Haring said.

But you can bet he'll log with a joke — and a lot of smiles.

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