It's not everyday you come across a person who has dedicated themselves to something for more than four decades. Meet 87 year-old Janet Kolman: a mother, wife, grandmother and avid volunteer. For 42 years she has devoted her life to helping others. Kolman has given more than 25,000 hours comforting patients and warming the hearts of new parents at University of Utah Hospital. She says her work began after her daughter suggested she get involve at the hospital. But she says it's what she has seen and learned while volunteering that keeps her going.
Spend a few hours with Kolman, and it's an easy game of catch-up. Keeping up with the veteran volunteer isn't a simple task. She travels the hospital with ease, never needing a map or sign to guide her. As she makes her way around the hospital, nuggets of facts and anecdotes compliment her pace. While making her way through hallways she is stopped and asked about the multiple pins attached to her red volunteer vest. "Oh, they're just pins, you know," Kolman tells curious strangers. But what she won't admit is that those pins represent the hours and years she has invested into patients and families at the hospital.
Room by room Kolman greets each patient with a caring smile and genuine questions. Like a long-time friend, she asks each patient how they're feeling and if they have family nearby. Each question is asked with the intent to help make their stay a bit more pleasant, "I love to be with people and I have a feeling people like to be with me," said the Holland native. By the end of each visit, the mood of every patient brightens. In their eyes you can see gratitude and in their smile is hope.
"I have never worked to clock in or have a paycheck," said Kolman. "It was something that I could do for myself." A born humanitarian, Kolman first began her volunteering at the hospital by coordinating the summer junior volunteer program. She brought nearly 50 high school students to the hospital and provided volunteer opportunities during summer vacation. She has been a long time member of the Hospital Auxiliary. Along with her presence, she's helped raise more than $500,000 for various hospital programs. Her work and dedication is recognized within the hospital and by the State of Utah. She was named a Health Care Hero by Utah Business Magazine and in 2008 was inducted into the Salt Council of Women Hall of Fame. But what separates Kolman is that this is not the only place she volunteers. She continues to play an active role in her sorority and the Children's Miracle Network.
Kolman's file in the hospital's volunteer office is a story in itself. At the top of the stack is Kolman's original volunteer application from 1970. Her time at the U has allowed her to greet people at the hospital's gift shop, collect milk from new mothers and comfort anxious families in the waiting room. "You see what a lot of people have to go through," Kolman said. "Our family has been very lucky." Volunteering is a family affair. For decades Kolman and her husband, Ben, gave years of service. "I really can say my life is good. I miss Ben. But life has been really, really good to both of us," said Kolman. "We were married 61 years."
Kolman has even spent Christmas Eve with patients who couldn't go home. She has touched more lives than she will ever admit. She has knitted more than 1,000 blankets and hats for newborns in the newborn intensive care unit at University Hospital. Another project she enjoys is knitting blankets for stillborn babies. It's a gesture that she takes pride in. Each blanket Kolman has made has been wrapped around a stillborn baby as they are given to their parents for a few moments together. She buys all the materials with her own money and skillfully crafts each one herself.
Her service goes beyond helping others; Kolman plays a vital role as a hospital representative. Currently, you can find her working with the Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP). Volunteers with the program visit older hospitalized patients and ensure wellbeing and assistance. For 42 years she has faithfully given her heart and soul into volunteerism. But it's her presence at the hospital that she is most recognized for. And she says she doesn't plan to resign anytime soon. "People ask if I ever get bored," Kolman said. "No, I don't have time to be bored. I don't want to be bored."