Small communities depend on their neighbors – and are defined by them.
The Northwoods, particularly Boulder Junction, had the honor of being called “home” by one woman who was “that ultimate neighbor and friend that reached out to people all the time” – Shirley Bailey, who passed away March 16, 2012.
“Shirley was what is good about a small community,” Mykl Hensley, past Boulder Junction volunteer fire department chief, said.
In 1961, she and her husband, Clyde, and son, Doug, purchased Wildcat Lodge in Boulder Junction, and made a tremendous impact on the town, changing the area for the better.
Between raising her son, being like “a second mother” to her nieces and nephews and running a resort, Shirley dedicated her time to an important passion in her life – being there for her neighbors during the most difficult of times – volunteering as an EMT in the Boulder Junction area.
“We were blessed to have Dr. Kate in Boulder Junction years ago, and on that same level, we were blessed to have Shirley and that underlying capacity in EMS,” Hensley said. “Dr. Kate started the Lakeland Hospital, and Shirley was basically the same kind of person in EMS. Our EMS was in infancy when she was there, and she took it all the way up to the end. She deserved more than she wanted.”
For Shirley, it was never about the recognition of her volunteering – helping her neighbors in a time of need was simply the right thing to do.
“When she stepped away from [EMS], she stepped away quietly,” John Titel, past Boulder Junction volunteer fire department chief, said. “She was there with the infancy of the ambulance and the EMS, and she took it as far as she could. When she left, she just stepped back and there was no party – she kind of faded away.”
After moving to the Minocqua area in 1999, her compassion for others lived on through her hospice volunteer work.
“She didn’t stray from hard situations. Being an EMT and a hospice volunteer are challenging jobs, and she was attracted to that because that’s when people are in great need,” Randi Danner, volunteer and community outreach coordinator of Dr. Kate Hospice Ministry Home Care, said.
Her impact on Boulder Junction
Not only did Shirley assume the role of a mother, aunt and resort owner, she also taught at the Presque Isle and North Lakeland schools for nine years.
Her ability to educate – and educate very well – would benefit the Boulder Junction EMS and give reason for her fellow EMTs to look to her for guidance.
“Training is of little value without experience, and Shirley was a mentor and a teacher. She taught us everything that they didn’t teach us about relating to patients, assessing patients and calming patients, but she also gave us the confidence to take the steps that come after training,” Jim Galloway, past Boulder Junction volunteer fire department chief, said. “She taught us everything between the lines.”
Her teaching method was just one thing the EMTs working with her remember fondly.
“Being on call with her, if you weren’t sure if what you were doing was the right thing to do, you just had to look at Shirley, and she would either nod her head like, ‘Yes, you’re doing the right thing,’ or she would make a suggestion,” Titel said. “She wouldn’t tell you you’re doing it wrong, she would make a suggestion that would get you heading in the right direction.”
And during training, she liked to throw some curveballs at the new EMTs to keep them on their toes, teaching them to handle the unexpected.
“I don’t know where she picked it up – I know where I picked it up, my shenanigans for training was mostly from Shirley – but she would spring stuff on you and set stuff up,” Hensley said. “She would set it up not to make you fail, but Shirley felt that she needed to get you out of your comfort zone and it was better to get you out of your comfort zone in training than in a real call.”
One example Hensley gave of the “shenanigans” Shirley would set up was approaching two people in a vehicle only to discover a communication barrier.
“You planned out what you’re going to say, walk up to the car, and after about 30 seconds you realized, ‘Whoa, Shirley’s got two deaf people here,’ and you just freeze. And they really couldn’t speak. You got out of that comfort zone quick.”
Shirley filled the role as an educator in EMS, but she was also the rock that EMTs relied on – she inspired them to keep going.
“Shirley was always a pillar of strength and confidence to us,” Galloway said. “I said in a meeting not too long ago that when things were really hard and we didn’t have too many EMTs, Shirley has always been the fabric that held the organization together, that whole EMS organization. She was the backbone. She was the entire support staff.”
Her support was what kept Titel in EMS when it would have been so easy to leave.
“When I was taking my EMS class, about halfway through we had a call that I was on by myself and it was somebody I knew. After that call I decided that maybe EMT was not for me,” Titel said. “I told Shirley about it and she just sat me down and talked to me about it and said, ‘OK, that was a bad one. Your first, by yourself,’ and she reassured me that it will get better. The next couple calls really weren’t, but she kept me focused on what I was doing and that helped.”
Shirley’s support and reassurance for Titel lives on today even though he is no longer part of EMS.
“If it hadn’t been for Shirley, I wouldn’t have pursued EMS like I had. I never would have finished the class, and if I hadn’t done that then my daughter wouldn’t have pursued it, and now she’s a paramedic down at Howard Young working with Doug, [Shirley’s son],” Titel said. “A lot of it I contribute to Shirley, keeping me going.”
As much as she excelled as an EMT, Shirley did not “accelerate” in one aspect of the job.
“One thing about Shirley is you didn’t want her to drive the ambulance. Shirley always drove like, well, an old lady,” Dennis Westphal, past Boulder Junction volunteer fire department chief, said. “Shirley wasn’t a speed demon, but she got you there safe and that’s what you’re supposed to do.”
Another memory of Shirley is that whenever there was a call, day or night, she always looked the same.
“Shirley always showed up the same way – in a white blouse, she always had her glasses hanging around her neck with a beaded hanger. And I don’t want to say she didn’t wear makeup, but if she did I don’t ever remember it being too much, and her hair was always fluffing and she’d be pushing it back,” Hensley said. “But she’d always be extremely calm, no matter the situation.”
“She did always look the same,” Westphal agreed.
“Those iconic glasses,” Hensley said, reminiscing.
And, day or night, her compassion for helping others drove out any ounce of fatigue she might have had.
“The other quality that always amazed me about her – she seemed to have endless energy,” Galloway said. “I don’t think I ever saw her tired, and we’ve all seen her day and night.”
There was something about Shirley that had a calming affect on everyone she encountered, whether it was a patient she was taking care of or an EMT on call with her.
“She had that strong mothering instinct and she would, I think, be very calming for anybody injured out in the field. She would be sure that they were addressed as a person and not just handled as an injured body,” Kurt Landauer, Shirley’s nephew, said.
Landauer went to EMT training with Shirley in 1977 and worked side-by-side with her through 1984.
“She had a very good calming affect on the patient in the field and was not only good at teaching EMTs, but good at instructing the patients as to what to expect and what she’s doing so they weren’t surprised,” Landauer said. “And very calming not only to trauma patients but heart pain and stroke patients, too, reassuring that they would be OK and we would help all we could.”
Her reassuring presence was so well-known in the community that people when people needed medical assistance, they would request her.
“Somebody said to me not too long ago that when the pager phones would go off, a lot of times people would ask for Shirley,” Hensley said. “They were really calling Shirley at times because when she showed up she was very reassuring.”
Compassion was yet another aspect of EMS she passed on to those she taught.
“Our job, that she taught me at least, was to be compassionate to your patient and take care of their needs before you moved on to their problem,” Hensley said.
For Shirley, the EMS call wasn’t over after the patient arrived at the hospital.
“When you were on a call and you ended up at Howard Young, that’s not where it ended,” Hensley said. “We always had feedback in those days and Shirley would always go visit all the people from town that ended up in the hospital, and then she’d come back and give us a report on them.”
But it wasn’t just her neighbors that she checked up on and visited with, Westphal added.
“Whether it was town people or not, she would follow up with the patient and she would relate to everybody what was happening, where that patient went and what their condition was,” he said.
From the earliest years of Boulder Junction’s EMS, Shirley Bailey was instrumental in its development.
“When Shirley first joined, we didn’t have much,” Gary Fredenhagen, past Boulder Junction volunteer fire department chief, said. “I remember an ambulance call for a snowmobiler, and we took a truck down the snowmobile trail. On the way back we had to work in the pickup truck, with snow and rain.”
As Galloway described, Shirley truly was “the fabric that held the organization together,” carrying the Boulder Junction EMS through difficult times.
“Back then, we had an ambulance and we had EMTs and we had Shirley,” Hensley said. “Nowadays we have ambulances, a lot of advanced protocols and medications, helicopters in this area and paramedics. But back then, we didn’t have anything. It was really, very little and the roads weren’t that good. Shirley took us through that. We were fortunate.”
Shirley served on the Boulder Junction EMS for 24 years – almost a quarter of a century.
For past fire department chiefs Titel, Hensley, Westphal, Galloway and Fredenhagen, Shirley changed their lives for the better and left such a strong impression that they all agreed on this:
“You cannot appreciate how much we used to argue years ago for all of us to sit down here and agree on Shirley and what she did for Boulder Junction.”
Her impact as a hospice volunteer
Shirley’s desire to help others continued on after she left EMS by volunteering her time and company in hospice.
“She was a leader from the beginning. She’s always been a big community person and was support for everyone,” Landauer said. “When she was done with the ambulance, she continued to work hard in the community trying to make people’s lives better.”
She had a quality that is affectionately remembered by Landauer – an ability that set her apart from any other hospice volunteer and just one of the many reasons she was so special.
“What I remember most is not a story about her but the fact that she was an incredible storyteller. She loved to remember things and had a million funny stories,” Landauer said. “She basically acted as our second mother to me and my six brothers and sisters because we all worked at the resort when we were old enough.”
Her personality, sense of humor and story-telling brightened the lives of both hospice patients and their families, Danner remarked.
“She was a spunky, spicy gal,” Danner said. “She liked to have fun and really felt that joking and laughter were a way of life that continued throughout your life. She was someone I knew who could connect with just about anyone, and often she engaged some of the more challenging patients who were maybe really struggling with end-of-life issues. Shirley could be compassionate but also bring light and joy to their lives as well. She was a neat lady.”
And once again, Shirley’s teaching skills made a huge impact on fellow hospice volunteers.
“Early on I tapped her as a resource to help train new volunteers and she would come in and share her passion with them,” Danner said. “She was a great teacher, and she would start by asking everyone to turn to their neighbor and visit for a few minutes. Then she would interrupt them and say, ‘Well, you now have talked to a dying person,’ because so many volunteers say, ‘I don’t know how to talk to someone who’s dying.’ And in Shirley’s view, that’s everybody. None of us know what tomorrow will bring. It was very powerful.”
Until she was physically unable to, Shirley dedicated her time to hospice volunteering.
“She had a hard time accepting the same sort of cares for herself that she would give to anyone. She was fairly selfless in that way,” Landauer said. “She didn’t want things focused around her or things done for her – she always wanted to be giving, and that’s what became hard for her in the end when she didn’t have the strength to do that anymore.”
“It was very, very difficult the day she decided not to volunteer anymore,” Danner said. “Volunteering in general gave purpose to her life and I know that she particularly was close to hospice volunteering. It seemed like the most important thing to do in life was to help other people who are at the end of life.”
For all the lives she’s touched, Shirley Bailey made a difference. She showed others what it is to be humble, to be selfless, to be compassionate – to be “that ultimate neighbor and friend.”
Sarah Hirsch may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org