In life, it’s important to do what you love. For Denise Hyde, that’s volunteering with senior citizens. Retired from a rewarding career as a public health nurse, she now has more time to dedicate to her community work.
The third of four children born to Yvon (Rolly) and Irene Michaud, Hyde grew up in Val Caron.
“My dad was a barber all his working life. He owned and operated Rolly’s Barber Shop across from the courthouse on Elm Street in downtown Sudbury,” she said. “My mother was mostly a stay-at-home mom. She had her hands full with the four of us.”
In order to send her and her siblings to university, Hyde’s father launched a secondary career in the entertainment business. His company, DJ Dancing, was well-known around the Sudbury area for several years. He did very well, earning enough to cover the cost of his kids’ post-secondary education.
Hyde and her husband, Shayne, met when she was a student at Laurentian University and he was a technician working in their engineering lab.
After his retirement, Shayne did contract work for a local business that conducts non-destructive testing of metals, and he worked with manufacturing companies to test their mine ropes.
Hyde’s career, on the other hand, was devoted entirely to health care.
She had graduated from Laurentian in 1980 with a B.Sc. Nursing. After serving about a year as an acute care nurse at the Laurentian Hospital, Denise accepted a position with Public Health Sudbury & Districts, then called the Sudbury & District Health Unit. She remained until her retirement in 2014.
“It was very fulfilling to be involved in public health promotion programs and their development, especially community workshops and school curricula.”
Her role included working alongside teachers and students, often at higher-risk schools, where she gave classroom presentations dealing with various lifestyle issues like tobacco and drugs, sex education, nutrition, and physical and mental health.
The Hydes are parents to Alyssa, who lives in Ottawa, and Andrea, who resides in Hamilton. Now empty-nesters, they dote on Sydney, their 12-year-old Border Collie rescue.
Even before they started a family, Hyde’s husband enjoyed volunteering at their neighbourhood playground. “Shayne’s specialty was ice-making. He also coached hockey and then tee-ball and softball as well.”
When their kids were young, Hyde volunteered at their elementary school.
“Whether it’s helping with pizza days or participating on school council, as a parent you get to know the teachers and staff, and the time we contribute is truly appreciated by them. Volunteering at your kids’ school gives you insights into education ministry programs. It’s also an opportunity to be a sounding board as well as providing input about planned changes.”
Hyde’s volunteer role models were her parents.
“They were actively involved in our church and in the community. For years, Mom helped prepare meals for funeral services. Dad did the readings and assisted with communion at mass. While we were growing up, he was also president of our neighbourhood association. Later in life, they both enjoyed participating in the Valley’s local seniors’ club. Seeing your parents volunteer together can really influence your own desire to give back to the community.”
Hyde’s father was still providing DJ services at Le club d’age d’or seniors group right up until he became ill with cancer in 2014. The family cared for him at home until he entered hospice a few weeks before passing.
“By then, my mom’s own Alzheimer’s diagnosis had progressed to the point where she could no longer live alone. She moved into Westmount Villa, where she could receive health care in a safe environment and still enjoy socializing and other activities.”
Hyde’s passion for people had paved the way for her career choice in the health care field. And her compassion for the elderly led her to volunteer where her mom resided – at Westmount and, subsequently, the Elizabeth Centre.
“The bonus for me was being able to spend extra time with my mother while I was volunteering. Being in the company of senior citizens and hearing their life stories is so inspiring. You realize how resilient they have been through adversity or heartache. and the joy they still feel and pass on to others.
“As a volunteer, you connect personally with the residents and they really do become an extended part of your own family.”
That connection with seniors evolved through card crafting sessions that Denise introduced at Westmount. She was sharing her passion for creating personalized greeting cards with the residents and the sessions became popular right from the start.
“The residents really enjoy this type of activity. It exercises their minds and helps them pass the time. They love to share the hand-made cards they’ve created with family and friends.”
Pre-pandemic, Hyde would often bring her dog Sydney along when she visited with her mom at Westmount.
“Being a senior dog, she is very calm and gentle. She loved the residents, and they enjoyed the interaction. Everyone, including Sydney, would get a little extra attention.”
Westmount Villa and the Elizabeth Centre provided exceptional, loving care for Denise’s mother until her passing on May 16 of this year.
“Mom was the essence of strength. She was so determined to keep her independence and liked to keep busy making puzzles, walking, visiting with the other residents or helping me stuff palliative pillows for donation through the Sudbury and District Quilting and Stitchery Guild.
“Because of her cognitive challenges, Mom would often ask me, ‘Who are we making these for again?’, but she would always be happy when I explained that the pillows would be donated to people in need. It made me smile to see her joy in continuing to volunteer in this small way.”
In her parents’ memory, Hyde continues her volunteer commitment to seniors.
“The pandemic has created a ‘new normal,’ but it doesn’t mean the need for volunteers has declined. I can only imagine volunteers are needed now more than ever.”
For Hyde, the new normal also means making up packages of card crafting supplies and delivering the kits to Westmount Villa and the Elizabeth Centre to ensure residents don’t miss out on an activity they love.
Hyde is also inspired by members of the quilting and stitchery guild. “I had joined the year after my father was in hospice. The guild provided the beautiful quilts I had seen at the hospice during his stay.”
The pandemic has impacted participation in the Guild’s ‘Cuddle Quilt Program’.
“We couldn’t get together in person to sew, but the executive team figured out how to keep the guild active by switching to online meetings. We continue to make cuddle quilts for donation to various agencies across the region, as well as memory blocks, which are gifted to the family after their loved one passes.”
On behalf of the guild, Hyde delivers the cuddle quilts to a local nursing home and one of the social agencies in the area.
Hyde also pivoted her sewing skills to produce more than 400 masks, donating more than a hundred to a local mask donation initiative, as well as providing a healthy supply to friends and family.
“You just have to be a little flexible and adjust how you help others.”
Denise Hyde’s Volunteer Words of Wisdom
The great thing about volunteering is that your commitment can be as big or as small as you want. Organizations will welcome you with open arms and appreciate whatever degree of time and effort you offer. That might be a few days a year, a few hours a month or a lot more. Social media is an effective way to source not-for-profits that could use a hand. Find out what’s going on in the community, who needs help and how you can be of service. For example, I saw on Facebook there was a call out for producing PPE and that’s how I got involved sewing for the ‘Masks for all Greater Sudbury’ project. The intrinsic rewards of being a volunteer far outweigh what you put into the act of volunteering. Put whatever you're passionate about to good use by sharing your special skills and interests with others. Everyone has a skill set to match the many opportunities out there. Tailor what you’re good at to suit the opportunity.
Marlene Holkko Moore is a local communications professional and regular contributor to Sudbury.com.