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Our Ageless Volunteer: 'Never a dull moment'

Ralph Long, longtime health system volunteer, proves age is only a numberRalph Long embodies a noted quote by baseball great Satchel Paige: "Age is a question of mind over matter – if you don't mind, it don't matter."

Long, who turned 88 on Aug. 21, has volunteered at The University of Kansas Health System's main campus for 24 years and is still going strong, according to his supervisor, Paula Gangel.

On Mondays and Wednesdays, Long cheerfully delivers reading materials to the emergency department and adult psychiatric unit, helps visitors and patients find their way through the hospital and delivers mail, packages and flowers to patients.

The northcentral Missouri farm boy was a Marine during the Korean War and then worked for many years at a clothing retail co-op in Kansas City. He and his wife had a son and two daughters. In 1963, Long earned a degree in accounting (with a 3.87 g.p.a., he's proud to add) while attending night classes at then Rockhurst College.

His first day as a volunteer was in 1994, four years before the hospital transitioned from a state entity to one governed by its own authority.

"My oldest daughter was a nurse here," Long recalled. "She enjoyed it, so I thought it natural to try it out by volunteering, and I'm sure glad I did. I like the variety, my co-workers, the exercise and helping people find their way. There's never a dull moment."

Gangel, who joined The University of Kansas Health System as director of volunteer services in 2000, says Long's buoyant personality has earned him iconic status at the hospital.

"Ralph is a rock star – so wise and grounded," she said. "I seek his advice on everything from what kind of home furnace to buy to what kind of winter we'll have, and he's more accurate than the Farmer's Almanac! If Ralph doesn't know the answer to a question, we're all in trouble."

Jon Jackson, retired senior vice president and chief administrative officer, is unreserved in his respect for Long. "Ralph is an unforgettable, terrific long-time volunteer," he said.

According to Gangel, Long's thousands of hours of non-paid volunteer service equate to nine years of full-time work, another impressive feat for Long, who, with about 300 other volunteers, serve our health system with dignity, respect and equality.

When asked about his most memorable day as a volunteer, Long cited his getting to know Alex Dewey, a youngster also from northcentral Missouri, who was admitted for severe burns on his lower body in 2015.

"For several days I delivered him hundreds of get-well cards and letters from all over the world," Long recalls. "It was very touching. Alex was discharged in better shape. I made sure to visit him on routine visits afterwards."

To keep his youthful spirit alive, Long enjoys his "well sought-after partner" status at American Legion ballroom dances. He still drives to and from the hospital each volunteer shift, with no hint of slowing down.

"Bob Page (health system president and CEO) and I often come in at the same time. He even knows my name," Long chuckled. "Bob and his crew have provided excellent leadership. Look at all the growth!"

As the health system expands and becomes even more complex for patients, visitors and staff, you can be a sprightly Ralph Long will continue proudly serving in future years as a volunteer.