Years of service & care: VON-derful journeys

Headshots of Patricia, Trudy, Pieternella, Ruth & Judy

At VON, we believe that dedication and commitment deserve to be celebrated.

This year, VON recognized 737 staff with long service awards, celebrating their milestone anniversaries. VON’s annual long service awards are given out in conjunction with VON Week, a yearly celebration to recognize the people who help us do what we do (VON staff, volunteers, community partners and other supporters), and the work we do within the healthcare system.

The long service awards, represented by a distinctive pin featuring the VON logo and the years of service, symbolize the unwavering dedication of our staff and their significant contributions to our mission.

We invited VON staff members who celebrated 30, 35 and 40+ milestones to share some of their memories. Here, we highlight the journeys of six VON employees, who share their experiences and reflections on their long-term commitment to the organization.
Patricia Bennett

Years of service: 36

Patricia Bennett began her journey with VON in April 1998 after a decade at the Owen Sound Hospital. Over the past 36 years, she has held various roles, including primary nurse and team lead, and has mentored numerous colleagues and students. Patricia’s recent focus has been on working with special needs children in school and community settings.

Most cherished memory:

Patricia reflects on the many changes that have occurred over 36 years. “I couldn’t have done it without my many wonderful colleagues." What she most cherishes are the opportunities she has had to teach new staff.

Your VON journey in one word:

For Patricia, the word is "rewarding,” highlighting the fulfillment she finds in meeting palliative patients' wishes and supporting their families.

Judy Stewart

Years of service: 30

Judy Stewart's journey with VON started at the Ottawa Carleton branch in the Visiting Nursing program, where she was part of a team that started the first palliative care program in the branch. Throughout her career, she has worked in various programs, including nursing, foot care, wellness clinics, the PSW program, and the SMILE program.

Most cherished memory:

Judy fondly recalls a humorous moment with a challenging client:

During my time in frontline nursing, I routinely visited a client who challenged new nurses on the team so I took delight in explaining how wonderful the new nurse was and I answered his questions about what the nurse looked like. I explained that she was taller than me (because most people are) with my hair colour. I was wrong on both fronts, as she was a short red head (that still works for VON)! The client laughed about that for a long time and I felt the hilarity brought some gentleness to his approach.

As a manager in the PSW program, Judy would go into the local high school to coach students one-on-one in the careers program with interviewing skills and explain about VON and related career paths. “One day a young man who endured my pre-amble said that he thought his grandfather had it all wrong about the title of VON. His grandfather said it meant ‘Very Outstanding Nurses.’ It made my day.”

Your journey with VON in one word:

Judy is grateful for the refreshing opportunities that VON has offered to work in a variety of programs over the years. The one word she chooses to reflect her passion and commitment is “caring,” as her roles have involved caring for clients, colleagues and partner agencies.

Trudy Wainwright

Years of service: 31

Trudy Wainwright's work with VON began in the Amherst branch in May 1993. She was inspired by the compassionate VON nurses who cared for her mother:

I was very excited and proud of this moment as when I was a young girl a VON nurse came to our home monthly to give my mother an injection using a “glass syringe.” I have much respect and admiration as did my mother for the wonderful and kind nurses that visited my mother for many years.

Over the years, Trudy has been part of various committees for VON’s Cumberland branch, including the occupational health and safety, chart audit, disaster and emergency and supply delivery committees, and has served clients in foot care, flu and immunization clinics.

Most cherished memory:

A cherished memory for Trudy was witnessing the love and compassion shown by a husband of a client:

A very memorable experience I had many years ago working as an LPN with VON was during a visit with an elderly palliative client. I witnessed the love and compassion her very attentive husband showed her. At the end of my visit the husband asked me to pray for her final journey. A short time later I received a lovely note from the husband thanking me for my care and telling me “our prayers were answered” and it did not take long as his wife passed away before morning. This experience touched me tremendously. I had succeeded in what my goal always make a difference is someone's life.

Your journey with VON in one word:

For Trudy, her journey with VON can be summarized as "fulfilling."
Martha Jasinski

Years of service: Over 30

Martha Jasinski started with VON in 1993 and has since worked in Toronto and Etobicoke. She has enjoyed mentoring students and fulfilling the role of a palliative nurse, supporting patients through their journeys.

Most cherished memory:

Martha cherishes the memory of a palliative patient who, despite severe illness, taught her valuable lessons about life and care.

Your journey with VON in one word:

Summarizing her career in one word, Martha chose "rewarding," reflecting the deep satisfaction she finds in her work.

Ruth Cusick

Years of Service: 36

Ruth Cusick's journey with VON began in 1988 with the Cochrane-Temiskaming branch in Timmins. Prior to that, she worked as a visiting nurse in the town of Wawa. Ruth's career with VON has included roles in the palliative care team, foot care clinics, and the advanced care program, where she worked with medically fragile children. Ruth continues to work part-time with school clients to this day.

Most Cherished Memory:

Ruth's most cherished memory involves a young boy she started working with as his school nurse when he was six years old. "We rode the bus and spent the day together where I was responsible for his medical needs. His family required additional support in the home, and I did that as well. It was a highlight to attend his graduation from elementary school," she recalls. Sadly, the boy passed away at age 15, and Ruth was honoured to sing one of his favorite songs at his funeral. "I will forever remember him," she says.

Your journey with VON in one word:

Ruth chose the word “clients” when asked what kept her passionate and committed in her work with VON. She notes the importance of the people who entrusted her with their care day after day and year after year.

Pieternella Sandrock

Years of service: 44

Pieternella Sandrock's remarkable journey with VON began over four decades ago. Reflecting on her early days, Pieternella says, “In the early eighties, Hamilton VON established only the second designated community palliative care team in Canada. For many years, this group saw terminally ill patients, mostly in crisis, almost exclusively.” She and team members completed the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) first administration of the specialty certification exam in hospice palliative care in 2004. “Our team was awarded a VON silver medal for our model of care,” she notes.

Most Cherished Memory:

Pieternella has many cherished memories, revolving around the people she has met and cared for. She recalls working during the early days of the AIDS epidemic when the fear of caring for HIV-positive patients was high, and nurses’ husbands were asked to provide permission for their wives to care for those afflicted. "My first HIV patient’s response to an ungloved handshake was, 'No one else has dared to touch me for months.'" Another standout moment was receiving the June Callwood Circle of Care Award from June Callwood herself, shortly before her passing. Pieternella describes this as an experience close to her heart, adding, "She had been such an inspiration to those of us who worked with HIV/AIDS patients and also were committed to the vision of hospice palliative care."

Your journey with VON in one word:

When asked to summarize her passion and commitment for working with VON over the years, Pieternella sums it up with the word "caring."
At VON, our long service awards are more than just a recognition of years of service; they celebrate the profound impact that dedicated employees have on the lives of the people they serve. To all our VON stars out there, keep shining bright! Whether it's five years or 50, every moment of your service is truly VON-derful.