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Chaplain volunteer provides spiritual comfort

Richard Kolb welcomes surgical patients to F.F. Thompson Hospital with a smile and the offer of a prayer.

“If I can be any help to you spiritually prior to your procedure, I’d be happy to do so,” the 86-year-old chaplain’s volunteer says.

Kolb’s personal skills, warmth and steadfast devotion to his duties have earned accolades from hospital administrators and colleagues since he arrived at F.F. Thompson in 2007.

“Richard Kolb is one of our most valuable volunteers,” said Michael Stapleton, president and CEO of UR Medicine’s Thompson Health, F.F. Thompson’s parent system. “He plays a vital role providing spiritual care to our surgical staff, their patients and the patients’ families.”

In 2014 alone, Kolb prayed with or spoke to about 6,000 people at the Canandaigua hospital—incoming surgical patients, their family members and friends.Kolb has a long history of giving his time and energy to others. After completing a college pre-med program, he entered graduate school, intending to eventually study medicine. When the Korean War broke out, Kolb joined the U.S. Navy, where he became a hospital corpsman.

“I specialized in psychiatric work,” he said.

After completing his hitch, Kolb briefly worked as a medical researcher before embarking on a more lucrative career as a pharmaceuticals rep. The position well supported him and his family, but he wanted a spiritual outlet as well. In 1967, Kolb began volunteering at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Canandaigua. Over the years, he took on a variety of roles in the church.

“I have taught, I have assisted at funerals and marriages and everything else with the different priests,” he said.

Kolb retired from his position with the pharmaceuticals company in 1987 and continued volunteering for St. John’s. By 2007, he was ready for a change, ready to be “just a member of the church.” Two weeks after he stopped volunteering for St. John’s, Kolb felt ready to put his skills and knowledge to work for others again. Volunteering for F.F. Thompson seemed a good fit, given his background.

“I feel God was leading me in that direction,” he said.

Nowadays, Kolb is at the hospital from about 4 to 8 a.m. five days a week, ready to comfort those who are coming in for surgery.

“People who come in who are patients are not in the best mood,” he said. “They’re nervous about their surgery. They might have … it before they’ve had anything to eat.”

After each patient checks in, Kolb introduces himself as a chaplain volunteer and offers a prayer.

“There are times when they’re very nervous, and my saying a prayer for them aloud, right next to them, gives them comfort,” he explained. “I have about six or eight different prayers that I use, depending on their gender, their age, how they look or how they feel.”

Those who come in for surgery and the people who accompany them need not accept a prayer from Kolb, and he is ready to comfort them in other ways.

“If they want to just talk, I’m there the same way,” he said.

Kolb also provides nuts-and-bolts assistance to patients and their loved ones, such as directions to hospital amenities and other services. Staff members can call upon him for prayers or words of encouragement as well.

Mark Henson, F. F. Thompson’s spiritual care volunteer coordinator, said Kolb presents a smiling, grandfatherly image to patients.

“His personality and character are very reassuring, very kind, very calming—you immediately trust and respect his wisdom,” Henson explained. “Not a day goes by that a patient or family member doesn’t tell me how much they appreciate what he’s done for them, be it a prayer or simply an escort to the cafeteria.”

Kolb, who is a widower and great-grandfather, has begun to feel the effects of time and needs neck surgery and a knee replacement. He has refused to undergo those operations, preferring to continue volunteering at the hospital.

“I’m going to keep doing it as long as God directs me in that direction, and I can do it,” he said.

Mike Costanza is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

3/20/15 (c) 2015 RBJ Health Care Achievement Awards. Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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