Volunteer Spotlight: Chris Pistell

February 6, 2017
Chris Pistell is almost there – celebrating 50 years of volunteering with GBMC and giving 10,000 hours of her time.

"They told me that, it must be true," she joked.

It started simply enough – with a tour of an unfinished hospital on a hill in Towson – but is just one example of decades of support and loyalty GBMC receives from volunteers.

Chris Pistell - Volunteer
Volunteer Chris Pistell with her late husband, William
"We lived in Owings Mills. And when the kids were in school, I didn’t work so I didn’t know what to do with myself," Chris said. "I joined the [Greenspring Valley] Garden Club and Jeanne Baetjer was active and, of course, she was very active here. So I took a tour. She gave some tours before it was even open. With the openings and the big pipes in the walls, it was a big, big deal.

"I may have gone to Nearly New first and met some real nice gals there – Helen Blake, Mary Dooer, Martha Brown. They were just nice as they could be. So I stayed there a few years and then in the summers I would take off because the kids were home and they didn’t go to camp particularly.

"I did that for several years and I may have gone to the Information Desk and stayed there for a year or two. Ultimately, I joined the Gift Shop. The Gift Shop was where it is now.

"I go into the Gift Shop when they need me because everything, all the inventory, has been put onto the computer so they don’t need me that much."

Lovey Patterson was head of the Gift Shop when Chris started and now it's Patty Leaverton. Chris has good handwriting so everyone loved having her in the Gift Shop because she would make the tags out so nicely for the merchandise.

GBMC is the only place she ever volunteered, and though she has only needed to use GBMC twice for services, it's the only hospital she's ever been to.

"I love the work," Chris said. "I have a friend, Dolly Murphy. When I met her, she lived across Charles Street. She was volunteering at GBMC. She started out because her father had died and she thought it would be a good idea for her mother to have a little volunteer job so she was put in charge of pushing the gift cart around. They don’t have it anymore. But she thought, 'Well, Mom's kind of old for that' so she came down to help her. And when her mother had to stop, Dolly went into the Gift Shop and we met and started marking together.

"In those days, everything had to be marked. She had lovely handwriting, which she said she learned in school. And I said, 'Well, Dolly, it's beautiful. Keep going.' And we kept very busy in there.

"Now, it's totally different because they've got several people that go in and enter the stuff into the computer and then Patti ultimately decides the price and they get all that done and write it on a piece of paper, then I come in or whoever and we help."

Chris said in 50 years she has only experienced one Gift Shop customer who wasn't the most pleasant, which is part of the reason she loves the work, aside from making friends. Dolly and Chris both now live at Blakewood; Chris to be closer to her youngest son, who lives in Ruxton. Her oldest son lives in Illinois.

Chris isn't a Baltimore native herself. She moved here in 1963 for her late husband's job.

"We lived outside of a little town called Hopewell in New Jersey, and the Reading Railroad had a station there," Chris said. "They would stop there and some of them would get on the train to go to New York to work and he just got tired of commuting all the time. So he started looking around and there was a forms company called Baltimore Business Forms. It was over there on Frederick Road. So he took the job, but he was unsure about it so he would get in his car early Monday morning from New Jersey and drive down to Baltimore and stay in some motel until Friday after work, he'd drive back. I don’t know how he stood it. And here I was, running the house, raising these two boys. I finally said to him, 'You know, I don't think this is a good way to run a marriage.' He said, 'You know, you're right.'

"I used to drive down here and the first house we looked at it, ultimately was the one we bought so that worked out just fine."

But being a Baltimore transplant didn't preclude her from picking up on the lingo. As our time together ended, she said,

"And that's the story of my life, hun!"

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