For more than four decades, Barbara Tumperi has placed the needs of others above her own.
The 80-year-old woman married and raised children – a daughter and two sons – as the family moved around the country.
She also became the unsung hero for countless strangers – families who nervously sat in hospital lobbies, waiting for news about their loved ones.
Tumperi is a hospital volunteer, a labor of love she continues to perform one day a week as the front desk receptionist in the lobby of Piedmont Newnan Hospital.
She’s been with the hospital for 39 years. That time includes volunteering at former Coweta County medical facilities such as Newnan Hospital and Coweta General, which went through several name changes before the creation of Piedmont Newnan and the construction of the current facility.
Tumperi said it never mattered where she volunteered, as long as she could help residents in the community.
“I enjoy volunteering everytime I come in because I hope to make life a little better for a patient or their family, just by smiling, helping and being supportive, understanding and encouraging,” she said.
Tumperi’s passion for hospital volunteer work began more than 45 years ago at a medical center in DeKalb, Ill.
A few years later the family moved to Morristown, N.J., and Tumperi donated her time and services to the Morristown Medical Center. At that time, the facility was a 700-bed teaching hospital.
“It was busier there,” she said. “We transported patients on stretchers, wheeled them to have X-rays or bloodwork done. I really enjoyed it. I worked all day and volunteered there Monday through Friday.”
The family moved to Newnan in 1979, and Trumperi began volunteering at Newnan Hospital, but she quickly learned her duties mainly consisted of running errands for nurses.
Tumperi decided to focus on the community as a member of the hospital auxiliary instead.
“We ran the hospital’s gift shop, hosted the annual Candlelight Tour of Homes and the lighting of the trees in front of the hospital,” Tumperi said. “In the spring, we would host a special tea party for employees.”
When the facility moved to Hospital Road, she and other volunteers began working on two medical floors, assisting nurses, patients and their families.
Tumperi said she continued that type of volunteer work when Piedmont Newnan Hospital moved into its current location on Poplar Road in 2012.
Two days a week, she volunteered in the medical-surgical wing. Tumperi’s tasks included stocking cabinets with medical supplies, answering phones, assisting nurses with non-medical needs and distributing blankets, magazines, water and snacks to patients and their families.
She said she also tried to encourage patients and their loved ones.
“The families tended to worry more and would become upset and concerned for their relative,” Tumperi said. “I would try to put myself in their position and look at it from their viewpoint, then talk to them and support them as best I could. I hope I made a positive difference for those people.”
Tumperi’s caring approach to her volunteer work has not gone unnoticed by her fellow volunteers and hospital staff.
“Barbara’s dedication to the hospital shows in her thoughts and her actions,” Piedmont Newnan volunteer services specialist Jennifer Palmer said. “She is truly a team player. She believes in the good of the hospital and is able to focus on the big picture. Barbara doesn’t ask or want any praise. She truly wants to help people without any recognition.
“I have known Barbara for almost 20 years, so it doesn’t surprise me that she has devoted so much of herself to the hospital,” Palmer added. “She is a humble servant with true integrity – exactly what a volunteer should be.”
According to Palmer, Tumperi always stayed abreast of health care-related issues. She once served as the state president of the Georgia Hospital Association’s Council of Auxiliaries and Volunteers, which enabled her to visit numerous hospitals throughout the state and attend national meetings in Washington, D.C.
Tumperi downplays her accomplishments and instead focuses on the task at hand – learning the computer system in her new position as a greeter in the hospital’s main lobby.
“I literally don’t do much with computers, but I’ve learned if I just mash these two buttons, I can find out where patients are located,” she said with a laugh. “We are the first people some folks see when they walk through those hospital doors, so I try to be friendly and understanding, especially with patients’ families.
“I enjoy volunteering. It’s a way of becoming part of community and giving back to people who need it,” she added.
Tumperi said she hopes to continue her volunteer service for many years to come.