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Two Couples -- Lifelong Friends -- Help Out at a Health Care Center

A lot of men and women involved in the Encore segment of their lives fly well beneath the radar.

Take Linda and Fred Fish and Martha and Larry Brooks, for instance.

These two couples – lifelong friends whose days together go back for more than half a century – help support a critical medical need that caters to a growing number of people who don’t have access to traditional health care.

The foursome volunteers weekly at Health Intervention Services in Grand Rapids’ Burton Heights neighborhood, a faith-based non-profit health care center that provides medical, dental, optical, psychological and spiritual care to mostly Spanish-speaking, uninsured and underserved families in the area.

And like so many others involved in volunteer efforts, their genuine humility prompts them to understate what they bring to the table.

But in the words of Laura Vander Molen, HIS medical director, “We could not function without them.”

While Linda and Martha use their skills as retired registered nurses to manage all the laboratory results of folks served there, husbands Fred and Larry move throughout the facility at Andre Street SE – just south of Division at Burton – to perform sundry maintenance.

All day long, Linda and Martha work quietly in a back room, ensuring that medical tests line up just so. Fred and Larry are a bit more visible, as they bounce from the basement to the parking lot to main service areas in search of anything from faulty toilets to loose cabinets to trees that need trimming.

For the women, friends since high school in Cheboygan, MI, their work is an extension of lives as nurses at Butterworth Hospital. They graduated from the same class of nursing students.

The men have been buddies since the age of 5, growing up in Howard City. Fred spent 40 years in manufacturing and software, while Larry worked for Meijer, where in his words “I did everything but sign checks.”

It was the women who first started volunteering at HIS, and the men pitched in when Nancy came home one day about eight years ago and said to Larry that the center had a handful of things that needed fixing.

“So I came down and been coming down ever since,” he says.

As couples, their relationship spreads beyond the work they do at HIS. They’re active in the church they attend and they socialize and travel on a regular basis as well.

But the rewards reaped from working in the background so that some 16 medical providers and 120 other volunteers can reach out to 1,000 people monthly is the something special that draws them back week after week.

“”We stay because we love it here,” offers Linda. “The people are so welcoming and supportive.”

Adds Martha, “We love the way this center reaches out to the community. And we believe that you should bloom where you’re planted, so here we are.”

All four are convinced that there are others out there who have gifts to give in their Encore lives and just need some push and inspiration.

“You just need to be willing to help, rather than spending time on the couch and watching TV,” says Larry. “Just get up and give somebody a hand. Look around. Get involved. You’d be surprised at the gratification.”

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