By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
PORT MAITLAND—There’s an old saying, ‘Volunteers do not necessarily have the time, they just have the heart.’ Few people in the community exemplify this better than 87-year-old Vicki Leach of Port Maitland.
Vicki moved to Haldimand County over 50 years ago, where she found herself striking up a friendship with Henriette McMichen and her husband Iain, a doctor at Haldimand War Memorial Hospital (HWMH): “When I first moved to Dunnville I was on my own. I helped Henriette and Iain. They would travel and I would go in and stay with their children when they were young, and a friendship bloomed from that. We became like family.”
That friendship sparked the volunteer fire in Vicki’s heart. Henriette had been involved in volunteer work at the hospital ever since she and Iain moved to Dunnville in 1983. She was an influential figure in the HWMH auxiliary, which was the precursor to the present-day Dunnville Hospital and Healthcare Foundation.
In 2005, Henriette organized the first Walk For Your Hospital fundraising event, raising over $50,000 that first year: “Henriette started it for the volunteers at the Haldimand hospital; it didn’t go through the foundation. It was a volunteer walk originally. There are many wonderful volunteers at the hospital. That was the first walk to raise money for equipment and the needs of the patients.”
The event has been an annual fixture in the community ever since and was renamed the Henriette McMichen Memorial Stride and Ride following her passing.
“She was unbelievably full of fire and could get everybody lined up and organized. She was really a powerful person. When she got on a mission, it was going to happen and it did happen,” reminisced Vicki. “She was just one of those special people. I was so glad when they renamed the walk after her a couple years ago. She certainly deserves it.”
“I really just wanted to do it for her,” said Vicki on her inspiration from Henriette.
On her routine for fundraising, she explained, “What I do is walk my neighbourhood in Port Maitland…. I just go door-to-door. I’m the kind of person that doesn’t mind a no. Maybe after all these years when they see me coming they may not answer the door, but very seldomly.”
She is continually impressed by how generous the town of Dunnville is: “It gives me a purpose to get up and get dressed and go out. And it’s a need. I think the majority of people just need to be needed. I can do some good, I can help the hospital, I can help myself by getting out and walking, and I’ve met some wonderful people who have been very generous…. It’s very rewarding.”
Vicki says people should stop sometimes and consider how amazing it is to have a hospital like HWMH available locally. This is a passion shared by her family, as Vicki’s daughter is currently the president of the hospital’s volunteer association.
“The government only pays a small portion of any of our equipment. We now have CAT scans and most of the equipment money has been raised through fundraising, and it’s all people digging deeper in their pockets in a very small town,” said Vicki. “We all hope we won’t need (the hospital), but just knowing the emergency room and the doctors are there, we are very blessed for the size of our community to have the hospital. That’s my main motivation.”
She recounted a story that sums up why she continues to push herself to get involved. She had made a special trip to revisit four homes that she had missed on her first pass around town, and one of those four asked Vicki to have a seat: “He shared a story where him and his aunt and mother were staying on a cottage out on the lake when he was about two-and-half years old and he had an allergic reaction. His aunt and mother called a cab and took him to the hospital. He said, ‘That hospital saved my life. I wouldn’t be here without that hospital,’ and he wrote me cheque for $1,000. I just walked home crying and thinking of Henriette…. That’s what it’s all about.”
Danielle Ormonde, Signature Events & Social Media Coordinator at Dunnville Hospital and Healthcare Foundation, touched on how volunteers like Vicki are the backbone of the hospital’s fundraising efforts: “We have amazing volunteers, sponsors, and donors that make our events successful. Vicki has been a huge supporter over the years, and we are lucky to have her raising funds for DHHF.“
“We are well on our way to our $1.1 million goal with over $900,000 raised, which includes $23,000 from the Henriette McMichen Memorial Stride & Ride,” added DHHF Executive Director Penny Banks.
She concluded, “We are excited to be so close to our goal as we enter the final three months of the year, and our Trees of Hope campaign is getting ready to launch! I am 100% confident we will be finalizing our commitment to the hospital in December.”