When Martha Bachmann first volunteered as a “Pink Lady” in 1962, Stanford Hospital was known as Palo Alto-Stanford Hospital Center. Over her long career, she has watched the hospital expand dramatically.
February 23, 2017 - By Grace Hammerstrom, Jana Chow
Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, Martha Bachmann drives her 1989 Buick LeSabre sedan up to the front of Stanford Hospital, hands her keys to one of the valet attendants and comes inside to start her volunteer shift. Like clockwork, she arrives smiling, 20 minutes early, ready to stock the patient shopping cart and head out on the floors. At 100 years old, Bachmann has had the same routine for 54 years.
When Bachmann first volunteered as a Stanford Auxiliary “Pink Lady” in 1962, Stanford Hospital was known as Palo Alto-Stanford Hospital Center. Over her long career, she has watched the hospital expand dramatically. But one constant has remained: her shopping cart. For more than five decades, Bachmann has pushed the cart through the hospital’s halls, bringing T-shirts, jackets, books, magazines, gum, candy, stuffed animals and toiletries to patients’ rooms.
“The shopping cart is my heart and soul,” said Bachmann, who shares the job with partners Betty Cowart and Pat Ricaud, her fellow Pink Ladies. “You get to meet the patients, their visitors and the hospital help. It’s one of the best jobs anyone can have in the hospital. We don’t stick. We don’t poke. We just bring some happiness.”
Her favorite part of the routine is visiting the newborns. Each shift, she pushes the cart to the maternity unit at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford to visit new parents, bringing every new baby a tiny, colorful beanie. She hand-knits the hats at home with help from her daughter and another volunteer.
Born in Germany in 1916, Bachmann came to the United States when she was 10, settling into the Lower East Side of New York with her family. After high school, she moved to California. She came to Palo Alto for a wedding in 1941 and rekindled a friendship with a young man she knew from her church choir. The two fell in love, married and had two daughters. In the early 1960s, with her children grown, Bachmann began looking for an opportunity to do charitable work with her extra time. Her friends from church invited her to join the Stanford Auxiliary and volunteer at the hospital. Today she is the longest-serving volunteer in Stanford Health Care’s history and one of its last remaining Pink Ladies.
‘Not all days are easy’
With her smile and occasional hugs, Bachmann does her best to bring some happiness to the patients she sees each day. “Not all days are easy,” she said. “It has its nice moments, and it has its sad moments. It’s a hospital. Sometimes, patients ask, ‘Would you just hold me for a minute?’ When I find myself with tears, I sneak my tears away. You can’t come to a place like this with a sad face. You can’t bring your miseries here.”
Bachmann is one of 850 active volunteers at the hospital. “We use her as a role model during volunteer orientation,” said Linda Velez, director of Volunteer Services. “She is so kind and selfless and always has a smile on her face. Martha affects everyone she interacts with and brings a glimmer of sunshine to patients, staff and visitors.”
While Stanford Health Care asks its volunteers for only a six-month commitment, Bachmann remains dedicated after 54 years and has no intention of retiring. Her biggest concern is that her driver’s license will expire in a little over a year, so getting to the hospital could become a challenge. Her health remains strong, and Bachmann attributes her longevity to not smoking or drinking and to remaining active. In addition to walking the halls of the hospital twice a week, she walks to the store near her home.
“I like to keep going,” she said. “I’m really blessed.”
About Stanford Medicine
Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit med.stanford.edu.