Richard Kolb, 91

Canandaigua resident celebrating 40-plus years of volunteer work — and still going

By Ernst Lamothe Jr.

Q: How long have you been volunteering?

A: After I retired, I decided to volunteer in the community. I have been volunteering for over 40 years and I will continue to do so as long as I am living. I have a great history in the medical field and I just love meeting patients before surgeries. I have received a certificate for 9,000 hours of volunteer service to Thompson Hospital.

Q: Tell me about your volunteering experience.

A: Before I started volunteering at the hospital, I was very involved with the church and I assisted the priest for over 40 years. After assisting the priest for so long, I decided it was time for me to retire. Two weeks later, I found myself volunteering at the hospital and the rest is history. I was looking for something to do, and when they saw my background, there was no question. I would go into spiritual ministry.

Q: Before volunteering, what did you do for a living?

A: Before volunteering, I was a pre-med student in undergraduate and graduate school. During graduate school, I was drafted into the Korean war. While I was in the Navy, I was a hospital corpsman and I enlisted as a medical specialist. In the navy, I worked in the psychiatric unit, and with my medical education background, I was able to assist soldiers who were injured. I also worked with the pharmaceutical company called Upjohn for several years where I assisted in supplying retail pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens.

Q: What has driven you to stay in the medical field?

A: Well, all my life I have been in the medical field and it was something that I have always had an interest in. My family has also been a motivator for me to continue to volunteer in the hospital. I have three doctors in my family which includes my son who is a retired neurologist alongside my grandson and my grandson’s wife who are still practicing in neurology. When I talked about retiring over 40 years ago, my son told me that it’s always good to keep yourself busy and I knew that I could continue to do what I enjoyed the most, which was helping people and changing their lives.

Q; What volunteer work do you do in the hospital?

A: I volunteer as a mediator and I offer a prayer to patients before their medical procedures. I noticed that the best form of healing is through a spiritual stance, and I want to ensure that patients feel less anxious and more comfortable before their procedure. I also help people overcome their fear before surgery. During my prayers, I never mention the word surgery because that’s the word that frightens patients, so I always default to the word procedure, which makes them feel more comfortable. Each patient is different, so I offer a variety of spiritual prayers depending on the type of procedure and patient. I speak and greet over 3,000 patients a year.

Q: Your spirituality seems to be important to you. Tell us more about it.

A: God directed me in this direction. I feel I’m giving patients a way of asking God to help them with prayer. It’s important to many people. They put their trust in the hospital, the doctor, and then they think ‘Hey, there’s one more person to consider which is God.’ There are times when we’ve finished and I look up and there are tears in their eyes. Surgery can be a very scary thing.

Q: Do you feel that it is important for older people to volunteer and stay involved?

A: It is very important for seniors to keep busy. When I speak to seniors who have been retired for years many of them are not involved in the community and prefer to stay at home. Once I heard that, I know that they won’t last long in this world. When you keep busy, volunteer and give back to your community, you get a lot of satisfaction from it. Older people have a lot to give if they seek it out in their community.

Q: Is there any other advice you can give to seniors?

A: Yes, and that is to continue to stay involved. It is important to keep yourself busy and it is OK to become involved even after retirement. Giving back to the community and meeting new people is the greatest reward. I enjoy it tremendously, and I feel I can help.

Photo: Richard Kolb, 91, of Canandaigua, volunteers at Thompson Hospital in Canandaigua. He was recognized recently for devoting 9,000 hours of volunteer work to the hospital.