Morrilton volunteer honored with Hospice Heart Award

By Tammy Keith Originally Published November 4, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated November 2, 2012 at 11:26 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Paula Coan plays piano for the residents of the Perry County Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Perryville. Coan volunteers to provide such entertainment for two such facilities in Morrilton, where she taught in the Morrilton School District for 28 years.

— When Paula Coan retired last year after teaching 28 years in the Morrilton School District, she felt there was a void in her life.

“I loved teaching,” she said. “I missed the children, because they’re just precious.”

Brookridge Cove Rehabilitation and Care Center in Morrilton is on Coan’s way home, and she said that one day in October 2011, about three months after she retired, she felt compelled to pull in.

Coan, 59, asked the activity director if she could come and play the piano for the residents.

Growing up in Oklahoma, she often tagged along when her mother went to nursing homes to play piano for the residents.

“My mother played by ear, and there was a piano at our house,” Coan said. “I did take lessons for a couple of years, but I play more by ear than by music.”

She added two other nursing facilities, River Chase Rehabilitation and Care Center in Morrilton and Perry County Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Perryville, to her weekly volunteering schedule.

“I love them,” Coan said. “They’re as big a blessing to me as the music is to them.”

Michelle Rodelo, activity director at Brookridge Cove, called Coan “unbelievably awesome.”

Not only does Coan play the piano and sing for the residents, Rodelo said, but she has received donations from the community to buy decorations for the center’s hallways, which have different themes, such as sports and Hollywood.

“She’s going to be here today to help me with my fall festival. I don’t know what I’d do without her. She is really a good person. She’s got a big heart,” Rodelo said.

Rodelo is isn’t the only one who thinks so.

Coan received the Hospice and Palliative Care Association of Arkansas’ 2012 Hospice Heart Award.

“It’s the sweetest thing,” Coan said. “I didn’t even know there was such a thing.”

When Coan told her pastor, the Rev. Don Erwin of Covenant Presbyterian Church, about her work in the nursing home, he suggested she volunteer at Arkansas Hospice Russellville/Conway, where he’s the chaplain.

Shelly Jones of Chickalah in Yell County, volunteer coordinator of Arkansas Hospice Russellville/Conway, trained Coan. Jones and Erwin nominated Coan for the award.

The Russellville office of Arkansas Hospice serves the residents of Conway, Johnson, Logan, Perry, Pope and Yell counties.

Jones said Coan goes “above and beyond” in her volunteering.

“She just loves and cares for all the nursing home patients, not just ours,” Jones said.

Jones said Coan purchased her own traveling piano to use at the center.

“Some of the hallways don’t have a piano, and she wanted to be able to sing to everyone. I didn’t realize she was doing that. God opened some doors and that piano kind of landed in her lap,” Jones said.

“She does this thing, and it’s the sweetest thing, she sings ‘Give Me That Old Time Religion,’ and she inserts their [residents’] names: ‘It was good enough for Shelly, it was good enough for Shelly,’” Jones said, singing the example.

“You have never seen faces light up like a little nursing home patient.”

In Erwin’s nomination letter, he said Coan came to mind immediately for the award.

“She is always ready to take on responsibility with a servant’s heart,” he wrote. He described her as intelligent and humble.

“She exhibits a genuine and spontaneous love for people,” he also wrote.

Coan said her love of basketball was the reason she went into teaching.

She played basketball and fast-pitch softball at Northeastern State University, and after graduation, she taught four years in Oklahoma before moving to Morrilton in 1982 with her husband. In Morrilton, she taught elementary school, served two years as physical education teacher and was the literacy coach for second and third grades when she retired. Coan said by happenstance there was a piano in her elementary classroom, and she often would play and the class would sing.

Coan said she is gratified by helping the senior citizens.

“They talk, oh, they just talk, you know, and they tell you about their family and you’re all excited about their family,” Coan said. “It’s a precious thing.

“I sit with them and talk to all their sweet children. I’ve met so many, so many wonderful people, and they’re so nice.

“I’m given the hospice patients, but I talk to everybody,” she said.

Coan said some of her friends, who are retired from various occupations, have started going with her to the nursing homes to help her.

She also helps with activities such as bingo or birthday parties. “When they bingo, they just beam smiles,” she said.

Coan said she goes into patients’ rooms and sings to them, holds their hands or watches television.

“We watched SpongeBob [Squarepants] in one of them. Even in that pain, she [resident] was laughing,” she said.

“Sometimes they talk about dying ... and what will heaven be like? Sometimes I read Bible scriptures, and we pray, and sometimes I just sit beside them, and they like that. You don’t have to say anything; you can just listen.”

Coan said more people should consider volunteering.

“The blessings you receive from volunteering are more than you’ll ever know,” she said.

For more information or to volunteer, call Jones at (479) 498-2050, email sjones@arkansashospice.org, or visit www.arkansashospice.org.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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