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'Healthcare Diva' sings swan song at Harrison Hospital

On Wednesday, May 21, Kathi Smith will end a 33-year career as a volunteer at the Harrison Hospital gift shop. During her three decades of service to the hospital, she was a member of the hospital’s board of directors — including during the early 1990s when Harrison Hospital Silverdale was being developed. She will remain on the board of the Harrison Hospital Foundation. - Photo by Rogerick Anas
On Wednesday, May 21, Kathi Smith will end a 33-year career as a volunteer at the Harrison Hospital gift shop. During her three decades of service to the hospital, she was a member of the hospital’s board of directors — including during the early 1990s when Harrison Hospital Silverdale was being developed. She will remain on the board of the Harrison Hospital Foundation.
— image credit: Photo by Rogerick Anas

Whether setting policies or selling candy bars at the gift shop, Kathi Smith has spent the past 33 years making a difference at Harrison Hospital.

On Wednesday, May 21 she'll say goodbye to her colleagues and a fruitful and rewarding career. Tuesday her Harrison family will end an era in service when they retire her unofficial title of "Healthcare Diva."

With about 150,000 volunteer hours under her belt, she's earned retirement.

Smith has managed the hospital's auxiliary-run gift shop and served on its board of directors for close to 30 years. While she will hang those hats up, she will continue to wear one for the Harrison Hospital Foundation board.

"Harrison is my heart, my passion," she said.

But Smith said it's time to step back a bit from serving her community to reconnect with her family.

Smith, a Seabeck resident and Kitsap native, began volunteering for Harrison Hospital when she joined the hospital's auxiliary. Twenty-four-years-old, she attended the meeting with her mother, who was an active member.

"I saw around me women that were truly dedicated to the cause," she said. "By the time the meeting was over I was a member," she said — in fact, the youngest member.

In January 1970 she began working at the gift shop, which was a "gift bar." In a year, she became a buyer.

From there, doors opened up as she took on more responsibility in her volunteer work and family life. She has been a member of the hospital's Board of Directors for the past 27 years. She served as chairman from 1990 to 1993 during the development of Harrison Silverdale.

"The deliberation that goes into that, the process that it goes through and the decisions made — there is joy in that," Smith said of her work on the board.

During the 33 years, she and her husband (now retired from PSNS) had a son, whom she would tote to the hospital. He accompanied her to meetings and helped mom mark items and sweep the carpet at the gift shop.

Her son, now 30, has two small children of his own. Recently Smith watched her grandson sweep the gift shop carpet and a realization struck.

"Maybe I stayed at the prom a little too long," she laughs.

If Harrison Hospital had its way the dance would never end.

"It's such a phenomenal gift of her time," said Cheryl Pearson, executive secretary for the Harrison Hospital Foundation.

More than that, Pearson said Smith has a great sense of humor and is considered a historian when it comes to the hospital.

"She's just funny. Her laugh is kind of contagious," she said.

"She cracks me up all the time."

While she is known for her humor, it's her sense of duty and pride that has kept Smith donating an average of 10 hours a week for more than three decades.

From 1970 to 2003, the auxiliary donated $800,000 to the hospital and raked in $2.3 million in gross sales, Smith said.

"We've furnished a lot of lobbies and planted a lot of greenery," she said. With that money the hospital purchased a pediatric rehabilitation playground.

"That's a long way from bed pans and gurneys," she said.

It was one of those auxiliary donations that first made Smith realize the "joy of unknown consequences."

Early in her volunteering, the auxiliary donated $16,000 to purchase then state-of-the art communications equipment for EMS personnel to send patient’s vital signs, in advance, to the hospital. That equipment was used when one of her family members had a medical emergency.

"Oh my goodness, this does mean something," she realized.

On Wednesday, Smith will issue service pins to some of the 40 volunteers who run the gift shops at both Harrison campuses.

A reception to honor Kathi Smith’s years of service to health care in Kitsap County is scheduled for Tuesday, May 20 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the terrace at Harrison Hospital Bremerton.

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