Mary Lou Gruber’s husband spent his final days in the nursing home at Royal Plaza Retirement and Rehabilitation Center in Lewiston. After he died in 2014, the residents said, “Oh, I guess you won’t be coming here anymore will you? We’ll sure miss you.”

Gruber, 84, of Lewiston went back, and the daily routine of her life changed drastically. She volunteers every day, enjoying music with residents at 3 p.m., then at 4, she runs a crossword puzzle game on the wall for 20 or more people.

“I think it’s the only one of its kind. Then we watch a movie together, and I eat dinner with the residents.”

She credits the residents and her volunteer work with helping her through the difficult period after her husband’s death.

“These people are precious, and they’re the ones who helped me through my grieving process.”

For her dedication, she received the Idaho Health Care Association Volunteer of the Year statewide award in 2018.

Mark Newman, activities director on the residential side of Royal Plaza, draws a picture of how vital volunteer work is to the center.

“The residents themselves volunteer to make a lot of activities happen. They take their jobs seriously and can always be counted on,” he said. “Outside music groups volunteer to sing at 3 p.m. each day, a hairdresser comes to do pedicures, others do crafts, travel with a group on Wednesday lunch trips and help set up for parties. Events wouldn’t happen without volunteers.”

Linda Ruthruff, a retired librarian, volunteers to keep up the library, Newman said, “which is constantly used by residents.”

Local organizations have employees who also freely share their skills. “Idaho Health Agency comes to gives flu shots; someone from the courthouse helps people read through ballots and clarify them, Twin River Bank brings banking to the residents. Puretone volunteers someone to check hearing. Churches voluntarily hold services on Sunday and through the week,” he said.

“I love our volunteers.”

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