STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. - People visit hospitals for any number of reasons, some serious, some happy, some hopeful, some sad.
Staten Island Advance/Anthony DePrimo
Whatever the reason they walk through the front door, it’s comforting when the first person they speak to is someone who can give them the information they need and point them in the right direction with a smile and a caring word.
One such person at Staten Island University Hospital North is Mary Buttermark.
“Her gracious demeanor and welcoming smile serve to ease anxiety for those who desire information, whether it be the location of pre-surgery testing, a patient’s room, or simply directions to a particular service area,” wrote SIUH President Anthony C. Ferreri in nominating the Great Kills resident as a Woman of Achievement.
Describing the perfectly coiffed and always impeccably attired Mrs. Buttermark as “a mainstay of the hospital’s volunteer corps,” Ferreri continued, “through her volunteer work at SIUH, she has given nearly 5,000 hours of her time in support of the health care of the people of Staten Island.” In recognition of that support, Ferreri noted, she was named the hospital’s 2011 Volunteer of the Year.
And it doesn’t look like she’ll be stopping the clock any time soon. Mrs. Buttermark, who has been volunteering at the hospital for 26 years, can be found at the information desk in the main lobby every Friday and, according to Volunteer Services Manager Patricia Codoner, any other day she’s asked to cover a shift.
She found her way to the information desk 15 years ago after stints in the hospital’s human resources department and gift shop.
“I had back trouble and couldn’t stand for too long,” Mrs. Buttermark said of why she left the gift shop. “So I ended up with Dorothy at the information desk and have been there ever since.”
A FRIEND NAMED DOROTHY
“Dorothy” would be the late Dorothy B. Rapp, wife of the late Dr. Michael S. Rapp. As Mrs. Buttermark explains it, the two met after she and her husband joined the Richmond County Country Club in 1974. Both she and Mrs. Rapp were avid golfers and played together for many years.
A retired nurse, Mrs. Rapp volunteered at SIUH as a member of the hospital’s Women’s Auxiliary and thought Mrs. Buttermark would enjoy volunteering as well.
“She’d always ask, ‘Mary, when are you coming?’ and I’d tell her, ‘I’ll get there. I just have to know where the five kids are.’”
Those would be the five children she has with her husband of nearly 60 years, well-known Island businessman Louis Buttermark.
“I met her on May 8, 1949, on a blind date,” he’ll tell you, adding, “and I’ve been [blinded by her] ever since.”
She was Mary Burns then, and lived with her family on 8th Street in New Dorp. The lifelong Islander was born in 1930, attended Our Lady Queen of Peace School and, she proudly announces, graduated with the New Dorp High School Class of ‘47.
Mrs. Buttermark said she wanted to go into nursing, “but it never came to be.
“I was born at the height of the Depression. There wasn’t any opportunity or money for me to go to school for nursing,” she said. “I worked in the city as a secretary to help my parents pay off the mortgage on the house on 8th Street.”
Both her father and grandfather were New York State licensed master plumbers (they owned James Burns Plumbing in Great Kills), so it’s not surprising she wound up marrying Buttermark, a master plumber whose namesake plumbing and heating company has been operating on Staten Island for 52 years.
On hearing his wife mention that she was a member of the New York State Plumbing and Heating Association Auxiliary for many years, Mr. Buttermark was quick to note that she was at his side when he first started the business. “We used to work in the basement ‘til midnight,” she recalled.
Mr. Buttermark retired 10 years ago, turning over the company to the couple’s three sons, Louis, Paul and David. “I still do a little,” he said, explaining that he’ll go to Borough Hall to file permits and such. But, he’d rather be playing golf, which he does four times a week.
A FAMILY OF DUFFERS
All the Buttermarks are golfers, including daughters Kim and Jill, although Mrs. Buttermark has been away from the sport since suffering an accident three years ago.
“I used to play every Tuesday and Thursday, but I had a bad fall and fractured my right shoulder,” she said. “I’m a lefty and my doctor feels confident I’ll be able to play again, so I’m hopeful.”
But if that doesn’t work out, she still has her other love, bridge, which she plays every Monday.
“I enjoy the friendship and the competition, too,” she said, sharing that she and her partner have done very well of late, having their names published in the Advance several times lately.
A member of the Huguenot Garden Club for nearly 10 years in the 1970s, three of them as the club’s secretary, Mrs. Buttermark said she still enjoys growing vegetables and has fond memories of doing the same with her father, competing with him to see who could grow the most tomatoes, all those years ago on 8th Street.
Above all, though, there’s her work at the hospital, which includes answering telephone requests for patient information and greeting visitors in the main lobby.
“We work in twosomes in 4-hour shifts,” she explained, noting that the phones are open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. “The number of phone calls is tremendous,” said Mrs. Buttermark, who also belongs to the hospital’s Women’s Auxiliary.
Asked about the greatest changes she’s seen in her years at SIUH, she observed, “Staten Island is so big now and there are only three hospitals serving 500,000 people, where we used to have five hospitals for 300,000.”
On the positive side, though, she said, “The hospital now has a burn unit and the heart tower, so people don’t have to be rushed or helicoptered off the Island for care.”
Of her dedication to the hospital, the 82-year-old believes it’s connected to her early desire to enter the nursing profession.
“For me, it’s very rewarding,” she said. “I’m contributing, being helpful to people, often at a time when they are in difficulty.”
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