Volunteer Extraodinaire

by Al Knauber

Cancer patients at St. Peter’s Hospital have come to know Carol Bridge, as have soldiers and staff at Fort Harrison.

A friendly face and a soft voice make her easy to talk to. The Helena-area resident is someone who’s there to listen and share stories. She’s also someone upon whom many organizations have come to count over the years for volunteer help.

“Volunteering for me, I stay in contact with people. I meet some wonderful people. I hope that I make a difference in their lives, whatever way this is,” Bridge said.

“Volunteering is just very, very rewarding and fulfilling.”

Volunteerism has become a large part of her life since her retirement from a telephone company about 20 years ago.

Retirement gave her the opportunity to consider, “What next?”

“I thought, there has to be more to life than just sitting. I wanted to stay active. I think staying active keeps you young,” she said.

St. Pete's volunteer Carol Bridge poses for a photograph outside the Cancer Treatment Center where she volunteers.

St. Pete’s volunteer Carol Bridge poses for a photograph outside the Cancer Treatment Center where she volunteers.

She was a longtime volunteer for the local hospice program before leaving it a couple of years ago. She’s given her time to assist the March of Dimes, Helena Middle School – which she attended after her family moved here from Belgrade in 1955 – and the Festival of Trees. She also volunteers with the No One Dies Alone program at St. Peter’s Hospital and the Woman Power Retreat one weekend a year.

She volunteered at the hospital’s hospice for 18 years and, she explained, “that really is the love of my life.”

While she saw it as a service for people at such a trying time in their lives, she asked herself what else she would like to do.“I’m not one to sit at home,” she said and turned her attention to helping the Senior Center at Rocky Mountain Development Council.

She remembers telling them that she would be able to fill any need, and the Retired Senior Volunteer
Program has said it can count on Bridge, whatever the need.

And while she was giving of her time to others, a diagnosis of breast cancer and regimen of treatment
forced her to withdraw from volunteerism in 2001.

For a year or two, she underwent treatment before returning to her volunteerism.

Four years ago, Bridge returned to the cancer treatment center at the hospital, but not as a patient.
Instead, she volunteers her time there to help others going through cancer treatment.

“I love that job. It was so fulfilling to me, so rewarding to me,” she said.

Volunteers interact with the patients, serve them coffee and get them lunches, among other services,
she said.

Volunteers also share what the patients are experiencing, Bridge said and explained, “We cry with them, laugh with them. Most importantly we love them.”

Bridge still volunteers with administrative services at Fort Harrison. One day a week for four hours
she’s there to lend a hand.

She participates in another program at the fort that creates informational packets for those who have returned from overseas to help them learn about available programs and benefits. She’s also there to help answer questions. Bridge said her son is on active duty with the Air Force.

Her father and stepfather were World War II veterans. Volunteering at the fort, she explained, “It’s a way to honor their memory.”

Knee surgery in mid-November put her volunteer work on hold. She plans to soon return to her service for cancer patients at St. Peter’s Hospital and may be back at the fort later this month.

Bridge is also interested in seeing where else she can help and is looking for other opportunities. But at age 72 she smiles at herself when considering the energy she would like to devote to others.

“Occasionally I still think I’m 21 and can do all this stuff,” she said.

Bridge is the oldest of her parents’ three children. Her sister and brother also live in Helena. Her father, Harold Adams, owned Sunset Memorial Gardens, and her mother, Lucy, worked at State Nursery for a while.

Harold and Lucy taught her honesty, integrity and independence. Babysitting jobs that her father helped her get provided money for school clothes and provided her with a lesson that helped carry her through life.

“The work ethic was to get to work on time, do whatever is asked of you, be honest and fair and treat people like you would like to be treated,” Bridge said. “It’s never proven me wrong all these years.”

Harold also taught her how to move through disappointment, and she recalled how she was able to put life into perspective after her father’s admonishment to go clean the corral and barn instead of feeling sorry for herself.

“Look around,” she said, “There is always someone worse off.”

Looking back on her life, its ups and downs, she said “one of the best things for people is to be grateful every day for the things they have in their life. Don’t stay focused on what they don’t have.”

“My belief is if you concentrate on what you’re grateful for every day, you will create more gratitude in your life.”

“As you become grateful and continue to be grateful, more of that gratitude, blessings and abundance comes your way,” Bridge said.

“The people I volunteer with,” she said, “I’m so grateful to have met them and to have them in my life.”