On the Record With ... Helen Spencer

Helen Spencer, 90, of McHenry volunteers at the Pink Door, a resale shop that raises money for Centegra Hospital – McHenry.
Helen Spencer, 90, of McHenry volunteers at the Pink Door, a resale shop that raises money for Centegra Hospital – McHenry.

McHENRY – Most Mondays, Helen Spencer, 90, can be found at the Pink Door in her coral pink uniform.

She’s not too fond of the uniform – made of polyester, it’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter – but she enjoys the volunteering.

She must. She’s been at the Pink Door for about 20 years.

The Pink Door Thrift Shop, which moved to 3741 W. Elm St. more than a year ago from its longtime location on Green Street, is run by Auxiliary of Centegra Hospital – McHenry volunteers.

The group also runs the Pink Lady gift shop in the McHenry hospital.

The Pink Door sells clothes, furniture and other household items, and the proceeds from all of its fundraising go toward big-ticket purchases for the hospital system.

“She just puts the rest of us to shame,” said Peg Haley, a fellow volunteer who has been at the Pink Door for about a year.

Spencer sat down with reporter Emily Coleman recently at the store to discuss her volunteering.

Coleman: What kind of work do you do at the Pink Door?

Spencer: We accept donations of all kinds, sort, price, hang clothes, wait on customers, keep the store straight and clean.

Coleman: What do you like about it?

Spencer: The people. Most are very nice. I’ve made many good friends throughout the years being in this organization.

Coleman: I heard you volunteered at Centegra Health System before starting at the Pink Door. What did you do there?

Spencer: I worked in transport and ER, made beds, fed patients, you name it, I did it years ago.

Coleman: How long did you do that?

Spencer: About 20 years probably.

Coleman: Why did you transition to the store?

Spencer: My husband [Charles Spencer] passed away, and I didn’t care to work in the hospital anymore. Not right then.

Coleman: Bad memories?

Spencer: Yes, and after associating with all the people around, I liked it and I’ve just stayed.

Coleman: If you had to recruit somebody to work here, what would you tell them?

Spencer: Come join us and see how much fun we have because we do. Each group every day gets close and becomes friendly. Most everyone only works one day a week or one-half of a day a week.

Coleman: You’ve got a bunch of different things here at the Pink Door. Have you ever bought anything yourself?

Spencer: Occasionally. Clothes once in a while. A dish or a Christmas decoration. We get brand-new items often in here. Still with the sales tag on. But on the other hand, we also get things that we send away, some that aren’t very good, but most people are very careful and very generous as you can see by the furniture and things that we have. We’ve gotten whole households full of things.

Coleman: Why is volunteering important to you?

Spencer: It’s fun besides being work some days, real work, moving things around and helping customers and things. I would recommend it. It makes you feel useful, and you meet the nicest people. Our money goes toward things for the hospital, for patients, not to benefit the doctors. Our money and the other money that we raise through the auxiliary throughout the year goes toward [patients].

Coleman: What kind of things?

Spencer: We donated toward a transport bus that will pick people up and bring them to doctors appointments or things. We donated money toward physical therapy or the rehab center. Big items. They have a kitchen, a boat, a store, all kinds of things to help rehab people that need to relearn things, and we’ve donated toward a lighting system in the emergency room. And other things that benefit the patients. We’ve not picked a project for this year. The board does it. They get a list every year of wishes from the hospital, and we choose.

Coleman: What do you do when you’re not here?

Spencer: Play bridge, go to lunch, clean house. We go boating.

Coleman: What did you do before you retired?

Spencer: I was a stay-at-home mom for some years. Then I worked in the post office for more than 20 years. I was rural carrier.

Coleman: Mail carriers usually have really interesting stories because they’re always out and about. Do you have a good story?

Spencer: A cat in a mailbox on a hot day. It got out of the box and walked across the back of my seat and was hard to get out of the car. It was scared to death and dehydrated besides.

The Spencer lowdown

  • Who is she? Helen Spencer has volunteered at the Pink Door Thrift Shop in McHenry for about 20 years. She volunteered at Centegra Hospital – McHenry for 20 years before that.
  • Lives: Just outside McHenry
  • Family: She and her husband, Charles Spencer – who died 20 years ago – have two sons, David and Steven; six grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.
  • What’s the most interesting thing someone has ever brought to the store? We have vintage items that are quite valuable that we’ve listed on eBay.
  • Has anything not sold? If it sits in the store long enough, somebody will want it. There’s a buyer for everything.
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