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Volunteer Extraordinaire

In Memory of One Woman's Kindness, Generosity and Indomitable Spirit

For 19 years, Barbara Wadsworth was a fixture at the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) New Brunswick gift shop. Every Wednesday, she came to the shop to serve as a cashier, price items and help with the shop’s inventory. She left a favorable impression on every person she met.

“She loved interacting with people,” recalls Tammy Pfeifle, Director of Volunteer Services at RWJUH. “People came to the gift shop on  Wednesdays just to see her. They wanted to talk with her.”

Sadly, Barbara passed away on October 7 — just a few weeks after the hospital threw her an unforgettable surprise 100th birthday party.

"Keep Moving"

Few people realized Barbara’s age because she was so independent. She cut her own grass, cooked, cleaned, opened and closed her pool, and shoveled snow.

A former physical education professor and instructor at Syracuse University and Rutgers University’s Douglass College, Barbara was passionate about sports. She had season tickets to the Rutgers women’s basketball games and attended all of them. She also went to the U.S. Open with friends every year.

“Her motto was, 'Keep moving,'” says Theresa Allen, manager of the gift shop. “When you think you can’t do something, keep going.”

Not only was Barbara active, but she was also a dedicated volunteer.

“She never missed a week at the gift shop, and if I had a lot of inventory to sort through, she would volunteer to come in and help out an extra day,” recalls Allen. “I would say, 'You can go home now,' but she would stay.”

She was no-nonsense and direct, and she had a great sense of humor, says Allen.

“When she saw me, she would joke, 'Here comes the helicopter,’” says Allen. “I miss her terribly. My Wednesdays are not the same.”

On September 20, a birthday celebration was held in Barbara’s honor in the hospital’s atrium. It was a surprise party, and about 60 people — including hospital staff members, gift shop volunteers, friends and her nephew — attended.

“She was thrilled,” says Pfeifle.

People at the hospital spoke about how important she was, and she was presented with gifts, including coins from her birth year (1919) and 2019 (she was an avid coin collector).

Perhaps the most poignant moment was when the Rutgers women’s basketball team arrived and presented her with a jersey signed by the team with “100” on it.

“She put it on and never took it off,” recalls Allen. The team also announced that they wanted her to be an honorary coach at every game.

Barbara was a role model, says Allen. “I always told her, 'When I finish growing up, I want to be just like you.’”

Indeed, hospital staff members couldn’t help but adore her, says Pfeifle. “We’re grateful that we had the benefit of her service, wisdom and personality for almost two decades,” she says.

Learn about volunteering at RWJ University Hospital.