For Rich Gladden of Union Grove, Christmas means more than just presents.
In July, Gladden asked Joan Johnson, the activity director of Iredell Health System’s Skilled Nursing Facility, if the hospital could save its leftover newspapers for him. He had a project to do.
“I told Rich, ‘Yeah we can save you some.’ So, we started saving newspapers for him,” Johnson said. “From July through the end of October, the patients were always saving papers.”
Patients were happy to participate in Gladden’s project, and it tickled him that they enjoyed it.
When Christmas season arrived, Gladden brought in a snow-covered mountain made of papier-mâché along with a slew of other Christmas decorations, telling Johnson he made them for the Skilled Nursing Facility’s Day Room.
Using his creativity and love of craft making, Gladden used papier-mâché, a pool noodle, a Styrofoam bowl, cardboard, PVC pipe, and a frying pan to construct replica mountains, peppermints, suckers, gum drops, and candy canes. He hung parachuting Santas from the ceiling and placed traditional soldiers beside the Christmas tree.
“The inspiration came from Tinkerbell,” Gladden said. “She’s holding a candy cane, and I like anything with candy on it because of my Tinkerbell collection.”
“The patients delight in it and love looking at it,” Johnson said. “Rich does such an amazing job. I didn’t know what he was going to do with the newspapers until he brought the snow-covered mountain in, and I asked, ‘How did you do that?!’”
In 2010, Gladden’s roommate and long-time friend Ricky Myers suffered a severe stroke in his sleep, hospitalizing him in Iredell Memorial Hospital for six months. After leaving the hospital, Myers continued to volunteer there.
“I had to learn how to walk,” Myers said. “They had to teach me how to use my entire left side all over again.”
Gladden would visit Myers in the hospital during his recovery, where he met Johnson and participated in a breakfast club.
Gladden continually serves patients at the Skilled Nursing Facility, sometimes making them a pot of chili or performing other acts of service. Myers shares in the enjoyment of craft making and the spirit of service, crocheting Christmas trees for patients each year.
Gladden’s service is a reminder to all to remember what the Christmas season is all about.
“This is a time to cherish the gifts of creativity, of friendship, and of compassion toward others in the midst of trials,” said Johnson. “We very much appreciate Rich’s great example.”