Gathered around scattered photos and newspaper clippings that have yellowed with time, three women take a break from their work at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center to reminisce. When they were teenagers, Leslie Mellon, coordinator of customer service in materials management, and Jan Adam, medical staff coordinator, were junior volunteers at the hospital. They shared their memories with Paula Minhinnet, volunteer services coordinator at Fort Sanders Regional.
“I wouldn’t trade anything for the years I got to volunteer here,” Mellon says.
Junior volunteers were called “candy stripers” because their uniforms were covered in red stripes.
“You had to have a white blouse on, you had the candy striper pinafore, white hose – you had to have white – and spotless white Keds,” Adam says. “You always had to have your cap on, and we all had little name tags.”
They also received special pins as a reward for hours served. Adam and Mellon both say they wore their uniforms with great pride.
“I wore mine everywhere,” Mellon says. “I wanted people to know that I worked here.”
The candy striper program was a vital part of day-to-day operations at Fort Sanders Regional as far back as the 1950s. Minhinnett was overseer of the program from the time she was hired in 1986 until the last candy striper left the building in 2014.
“They ran the hospitality cart, they worked at the front desk, they worked in the gift shop,” Minhinnett says. “They went up on the floors and ran specimens and ran errands, answered the phones, they delivered baby spoons and baby bonnets to the newborn babies.”
Adam notes that a lot has changed since the days when she wore the striped pinafore. New moms used to stay in the hospital longer, cigarettes were sold from the hospitality cart and patients were taken to a beauty shop on campus for hair appointments.
“We had a beauty shop in Newland Professional Building,” Adam says. “You would actually pick the patients up, help them get in the wheelchair, take them over there and when they were done you would go pick them up and take them to their room.”
Her experience gave her insight she would carry with her for a lifetime. “It made me understand what it took – and how many people it took – to care for an individual,” Adam says.
“I learned so, so much and I loved it here,” Mellon says. “I always knew I would work at Fort Sanders; there was no doubt I would work at this hospital, and I’ve been here going on 37 years.”
As they join the celebration of the hospital’s 100th anniversary, these ladies are proud to be a part of the legacy.
“So many hospitals are closing across the country,” Adam says. “This one is still here and we’re still open after 100 years – that’s really something!”