For eight years, Ruth E. Smith has made weekly visits to residents at Sykesville Eldercare Center.
"I read to them, pray with them, write letters for them and I tell them I love them," said Mrs. Smith, 71. "For some reason, they love me back."
She usually arrives Monday morning with a bucket or two of fresh flowers grown on her farm in Woodbine. The patients have nicknamed her "the flower lady."
She stays for several hours and delivers bouquets and cheery messages from room to room.
She is acting out of lifelong devotion to the elderly.
"Even as a child, I used to visit nursing homes and help the elderly," she said. "I do it for the joy I get out of it."
The center reciprocated with its own bouquet of chrysanthemums and made Mrs. Smith its Volunteer of the Year at the annual Volunteer Appreciation banquet last month.
"Working with the elderly is like medicine for me," she said.
"Helping them makes me feel good and keeps my mind off my own ailments."
Mrs. Smith has built many friendships with the patients, especially Ruth Hurd. "Ruth is nearly completely paralyzed, and I like to do the little things for her," she said.
Many patients have no family nearby and often go for long periods without visitors, said Julie Junkin, activities director.
The center relies on its many volunteers "to do the stuff we don't have time to do," she said.
"Our volunteers visit residents and engage them in one-on-one activities," said Ms. Junkin. "They take the place of family for many of them."
"Many residents have no one," Mrs. Smith said.
She knows the value of family in keeping a healthy outlook. She has been married for 55 years to George Smith, a retired postal worker. The couple have three children, eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
If anyone is considering volunteering at the center, she promises them "hours of joy from the work."
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