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As a nurse anesthetist and a volunteer, Joliet woman served her community

Virginia Garvey served without expecting recognition

Virginia Garvey
Virginia Garvey

JOLIET – After Virginia Garvey of Joliet died, her volunteer service was recognized in the state Senate in Springfield.

So said her son John Garvey, principal at St. Mary Immaculate Parish school in Plainfield. Yet he recalled the time in her life when his mother was so busy working as a nurse anesthetist and caring for John’s grandmother at home she didn’t have time to volunteer.

Like the time John was in grade school at St. Patrick School in Joliet and hoped his mother would attend the school’s mother’s club meetings.

“The classroom that had the most mothers that came to the mother’s club meeting would get to have a special statue of Mary in it,” John said. “I always wanted my mom to come to the meetings so my classroom would get the statue of Mary.”

By the time John reached high school, his grandmother had died and his parents – Virginia and his father Joseph – sought other ways to serve. Joseph sat on the parish council and Virginia became involved in the church’s Council of Catholic Woman and its 55 club.

Both parents also volunteered for Joliet Area Community Hospice. As a nurse, Virginia understood and accepted death, John said, even when Joseph himself was terminally ill.

“I said, ‘Mom, aren’t you sad?’ ” John said. “And she said, “ ‘It’s part of our lives, the fall of the year.’ ”

Through the years, Virginia also volunteered for the Will-Grundy Medical Clinic. Additionally, she was a member of the Catholic Women’s League of Joliet, Ladies of the Elks Auxiliary, Joliet Hospitality Club and Women of the Moose.

In 2003, Virginia received the Joliet Diocese Woman of the Year for St. Patrick’s Parish, the Silver Eagle award from Rotary Club of Joliet, and the Joliet Area Community Hospice Health and Community Service Award from the United Way of Will County.

As a girl, Virginia attended a one-room schoolhouse in Streator – where she was the fastest runner – and moved to Joliet when she enrolled in the former St. Joseph School of Nursing on Broadway Street.

“If you had a specialty, you didn’t have to do the bedpans,” John said. “Nurses did that back then.”

After graduating from nursing school in 1943, Virginia worked as a certified registered nurse anesthetist at Associated Anesthesiologists in Joliet, which served patients at both Silver Cross Hospital and what is now Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet.

Virginia eventually worked only at St. Joe’s “for moral reasons,” John said. Virginia was quietly devoted to her Catholic faith.

“She was a very prayerful, religious woman,” John said, “but she wasn’t flamboyant about it.”

After she retired, Virginia began volunteering at St. Joe’s pastoral care department and its women’s auxiliary. Virginia’s life was so busy, she wasn’t always available to babysit grandchildren.

“But she sure did love them, let me tell you,” John said.

John said his mother always encouraged him and credits that encouragement with him attaining Eagle Scout. She was a phenomenal cook: Her specialty was a Scandinavian pot roast John can’t quite reproduce.

She enjoyed golf and bridge in her free time.

“When she died, her calendar was full,” John said. “She was booked through December.”

Virginia died May 14 at age 93. John had one thought when the Senate recognized his mother’s commitment to her community.

“First thing I wanted to do was call her, but …” John’s voice trailed off.

If such recognition had occurred during Virginia’s lifetime, how might she have responded?

“I think she would have been humbled,” John said. “She would have said, ‘Oh, my gosh, why did you do that? Oh, for Pete’s sake.’ And she would have just blushed.”

• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or dunland@shawmedia.com.

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