Get To Know: Joe Grier
Born: 1923 at Omaha's St. Joseph Hospital; he's 90.
Education: Creighton Prep graduate; bachelor's degree at St. Louis University in special studies; master's in financial counseling at Pennsylvania University. Certified financial planner and certified life underwriter credentials.
Career: Retired after 35 years at Mutual of Omaha.
Lives near: 72nd and Hickory Streets.
Family: Wife, Millie, died in 2001. Children: sons Jeffrey, Jim and Joe of Omaha and Steven of Toledo, Ohio; daughter Carol Olson of rural Papillion; 15 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
Hobbies: He's an amateur oil painter.
Of interest: He studied for the priesthood for several years with the Jesuits.
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Mondays he brings communion to patients at Creighton University Medical Center. Wednesdays he spends time with post-intensive care elderly and dementia patients at Bergan Mercy Medical Center, easing loneliness and anxiety. Thursdays he visits the terminally ill at Hospice House.
Now Joe Grier, 90, has won a national award for his volunteer work, thanks to Bergan nurses who suggested his nomination.
Cheryl Morehouse, manager of volunteer and guest services at Bergan, filed the paperwork to nominate Joe for the Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award, sponsored by Cherokee Uniforms. Fellow volunteers, medical staff and family surprised Joe with the award presentation Oct. 23. He was chosen from among more than 750 submissions.
Morehouse said Grier spreads his special kind of magic everywhere in the hospital.
“Joe doesn't see himself or what he does as remarkable,” Morehouse said. “The key to his actions is that he is not afraid to love. He's such a peaceful man. He has a sparkle in his eye and a great sense of humor. But what puts him over the top is a childlike, inquisitive nature about people. He finds them fascinating.”
She said Grier makes visiting with people he's never met look effortless.
“There's always something to talk about,” Grier said. “You see flowers in their room, you know there's family to ask about. No flowers, then I ask where are you from. We have a little spiritual conversation if they want. I also write poetry, and I read to them sometimes if they want.”
The award amazed him.
“Here I was just doing my ordinary thing, just plain old Joe, nothing fancy,” he said. “The nurses up on the floor are just wonderful gals. They tell me which patient I should make a special point of seeing.”
Grier said he runs into old neighbors now and then as he makes his rounds. He said he gets as much therapy out of the visits as the patients do, and it helps keep him mentally alert.
“I met a nurse the other day who was a student of my dad (a physician) and remembered him,” Grier said.
Morehouse said Joe brings an added plus to the table. In his early 80s, he decided to learn Spanish. He is often heard talking and praying in Spanish with patients for whom Spanish is their native language — and sometimes their only language.
Grier studied for the priesthood for several years with the Jesuits before deciding to marry and have a family. It's that foundation, he said, that led to his volunteer work.
“I've always had a good spiritual life,” he said. “That keeps bugging me to do what I can as long as I'm able-bodied. Spread the good news and love the people. And it gets me ready. I'll be one of them (the patients) myself one day. It's just a good way to express your Christianity and your love for God.”
Part of his award is a Caribbean cruise, which Joe is planning to take with children and grandchildren. He directed a $500 gift to a charitable organization that does research in autoimmune diseases. Cherokee also donated $1,000 worth of hospital garb, which Joe is donating to the nurses. He did keep one set of “scrubs” for himself.
“Cherokee makes scrubs,” he said. “I'm part Cherokee, and a registered member of the tribe. So that was one thing that got me going.”