St. Mary's volunteer is 99 years old, 100 percent dedicatedPublished on Saturday, May 5, 2012 at 12:12 am | Last updated on Friday, May 4, 2012 at 10:10 pm
LEWISTON — Laurianne Cormier was 62, recently retired from her mill job as a stitcher of children's shoes. She thought she and her husband, Philippe, would travel in their twilight years, but he was busy working odd jobs.
"I said, 'Oh, my goodness, am I going to stay here and just wait?'" Cormier said.
So she signed up for swimming lessons and volunteered at the YWCA a couple of days a week. But Cormier still had time and energy. She wanted to do more.
At St. Mary's Regional Medical Center, she found that "more."
Thirty-five years later — two months shy of her 100th birthday — Cormier's still there. You'll find her two days a week, with her slight frame and considerable spirit, pulling together charts, shelving what needs to be shelved or wheeling a cart full of file folders through the corridor with the speed and focus of a woman on a mission.
"I'm proud that I'm able to do this so long," she said. "It's not my doing. You don't choose to live a long time; it just happens."
Born in Lewiston on July 12, 1912, and raised here as the oldest of six in a French-Catholic family, Cormier dreamed of becoming a nurse. But after her father died, and the Great Depression hit, money became tight. She abandoned her dream.
"When you're the oldest one, you don't always do what you want," she said. "There were five behind me and my mother needed the help, so I went to work at 16. I would have had to go back to school to learn Latin (to become a nurse). I couldn't afford that."
The shoe factory paid well, at least, and stitching paid the most.
"If I'm going to work, I'm not going to work for nothing," she said with a laugh. "I went through the Depression, you know."
She was 25 when a friend introduced her to Philippe Cormier, a young fixer of looms from New Brunswick who shared her accent. They fell in love, married a few years later when they'd scraped together enough money, and had two daughters. Cormier now has seven grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Life was good, busy. Retirement was not. To stay busy while Philippe worked, she volunteered at the YWCA.
"I was 62 and I never knew how to swim, so I learned how to swim," Cormier said. She earned an American Red Cross certification.
St. Mary's Regional Medical Center was already an integral part of Cormier's family and Catholic faith. Her parents had died there, her children were born there; she went there when she needed surgery or tests. It seemed natural to volunteer there.
She wasn't a nurse, but it turned out she could work with them.
"I liked that," she said. "I really liked that."
Over the years, Cormier volunteered throughout the hospital, including stints on the patient floors, at the front desk and in the pharmacy. When St. Mary's had trouble finding someone to help out in Health Information Management Services — patient medical records — she volunteered.
That was 20 years ago.
"I love it," she said. "I like the atmosphere. I like working with the people. I like the jobs I do."
And Cormier's co-workers, many the age of her grandchildren, love working with her.
"She is fabulous," said Michelle Coulombe, manager of the department. "She can run circles around some of us."
Cormier has her own corner cubicle. One thing is conspicuously absent from her desk.
"I don't do anything with computers," she said.
She used to work all day, a couple of days a week. She's cut back her hours to 7 a.m. to noon, a rare acknowledgement of her age. Recently, someone figured out Cormier had contributed about 18,500 hours to the hospital.
Does she feel like she's worked that much?
"Oh, yeah," she said. "Sometimes."
Several years ago she left her Lewiston home — the upkeep had become too much for a woman in her 90s — and moved into an apartment at Maison Marcotte, a senior living facility run by St. Mary's. Her apartment is directly across the street from the hospital.
"There's no storm that stops me," she said. "It's been easy. I made it so it was easy."
Cormier's husband died about 20 years ago. Although her younger sister lives nearby — she's 92 and volunteers for St. Mary's, too — none of Cormier's children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren live very close. St. Mary's has become a second family.
To honor her dedication, the hospital nominated Cormier for one of the Governor's Awards for Service and Volunteerism. In April, she went to Augusta to accept her award as a Volunteer Hero.
"Even the governor's award is lucky it wasn't on a day she was scheduled to work," said Patrick Williams, director of safety and volunteers for St. Mary's. "We'd have had a hard time getting her up there."
It was Cormier's second award for her work at the hospital. Two years ago, she won a VIBE award from former Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert.
Cormier plans to keep volunteering as long as she's able. She feels good and is in good health. She considers herself a young 99.
"I'm lucky to do this at my age; that's just what I say," she said. "I could be cooped up somewhere. I wouldn't like it."
Cormier said she long ago put her faith in God.
"The Lord was good to me," she said. "He gave me good friends and a good place to work in my old age. The future? I don't know. It's mostly one day at a time, I guess. What can I say? I know they all hope I'll make 100. If I do, OK. If I don't, so be it. It's God's will."