The Volunteer Life

In 1961, Charlie and Jean Gibbens were Kansas natives living in Grinnell, Iowa, and looking for a new path. Charlie, a territory sales representative for Mobil Oil Co., needed something better, but with a young family to support, he was wary of shifting gears. That’s when his father, a banker, suggested credit bureaus and happened to know of one for sale.

Charlie had only been in a credit bureau once in his life. That was the sum total of his experience with the investigation of people’s credit habits. Further, he and Jean had no money for such an endeavor, but Charlie’s father offered to help them purchase the Credit Bureau of Columbia in Columbia, Mo.

“So we moved down here,” Jean says, “and never looked back.”

At 86 and 81, respectively, Charlie and Jean have been a part of the Columbia community now for more than 50 years. Charlie ran Credit Bureau Services until 1997, and Jean worked at Boyce and Bynum Pathology Labs for 25 years. Together, they raised three children and seven grandchildren and affected countless other lives in the process.

Volunteer Charlie

By anyone’s standards, Charlie Gibbens has been a busy man. He owned and operated a business and had a busy family. At some point in his career life, he was president of the Chamber of Commerce, president of the Rotary Club and on the board at the First National Bank, among other organizations. In between all of that, he found time to give back more.

Volunteering has been a part of Charlie Gibbens’ life for longer than he can remember. He can pinpoint, however, an event in 1961 that first brought him into contact with Boone Hospital Center (BHC) — a place at which he has volunteered off and on since the 1970s — his third child, Kim, was born.

Back then, the hospital was okay, Charlie says. There weren’t any big plans on the horizon and status quo was acceptable. That’s when, in the mid-‘70s, his friend Jack Estes challenged him to run for the BHC Board of Trustees. He won two terms, serving eight years.

Ten years later, he added an elementary school to his list of volunteer locations at the suggestion of friend Jack Waters, from the Columbia Daily Tribune. Benton Elementary needed someone to help before school, so Charlie stepped in.

“That’s where I really got hooked,” he says. Charlie’s role was to supervise the children who arrived early. He helped them with their homework, too.  As time went on, he loved that they remembered his name when he saw them in the halls.

Charlie’s volunteer efforts in the classroom and in the community, raising funds for school supplies, earned him the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award for individuals who have completed 4,000 or more volunteer hours in their lifetime.

When he didn’t win a third term on the Boone Hospital Board of Trustees, Charlie was good with that, he says. He had done his part, but in his time there, he had become involved with the volunteers. He discovered that he enjoyed meeting people, especially those he could help. In 1998, after selling his business and retiring, he stepped up his efforts at the hospital to help and became a regular volunteer.

The people coming into the hospital are typically not there under ideal circumstances, he says. Health issues weigh on them. They are scared to death.

To help ease the patients’ minds, volunteers assist them in finding where they need to be in the hospital, says Barb Shettlesworth, manager for Volunteer Services at BHC. Volunteers connect with patients through friendly conversation and a calm demeanor, and Charlie does this very well. He is one of about 20 volunteers in the admissions area each week.

“My bit with Boone and also the public schools, that’s me.” Charlie says. Though his health prevents him from being a regular at Benton today, he still manages his shift at BHC each Wednesday.

“I wake up, and I’m ready to go over there,” he says, “and when I get done with a four-hour shift — now it’s down to two — I walk away and say, ‘Hey, I did something good for several people.’ ”

Volunteers really bond with the employees as well, Shettlesworth says. “They enjoy each other, and that’s what makes it so special. Once you find a place, you like what you’re doing and you like the people that you work with, it’s just like in the real world — you stay.”

Continuing After Cancer

“She’s a golfer,” Charlie says of Jean. Indeed, she’s had four holes-in-one. They were both golfers until 2013 when Charlie was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Since then, he’s had to slow down some.

When Charlie got sick, Jean says, knowing staff and doctors at the hospital was a blessing. When he needed an MRI or an oncology visit, the person on the other end of the telephone line would get quiet and ask, “ ‘Is that our Charlie?’ Every place we went, that is what they would say.”

Charlie recovered, and he and Jean are looking forward to the five-year mark, a significant milestone for cancer survivors. In the meantime, they donated a nurse’s station to the Stewart Cancer Center through the Boone Hospital Foundation. An organization, Charlie says, is worthwhile because its programs serve citizens directly. Donations to the foundation come back in different ways right here in the community, and the nurse’s station was something that made them feel good to give back.

Before cancer, the Gibbens took golf trips and traveled with the Touring Tigers to countries around the world, but these days, they stick closer to home. Apart from the hospital volunteer work, you might find them at Rick Rother Physical Therapy, a favorite dining spot or in the stands at Mizzou men’s basketball games.

After some friends had heart attacks about 30 years ago, Jean and Charlie made the decision to incorporate an exercise routine into their lifestyle. They’ve been on an exercise program since then, working out two to three times a week with Rother. Rother was careful to adjust the workout for Charlie during chemotherapy, Jean says.

“We always feel better when we leave after exercise, and we can visit with the people there that we know that love us and have our best interest in mind,” Jean says. “It’s all hard work and you feel very proud of yourself when you get finished.”

Sports are a significant part of their lives in one way or another, whether it’s their own workout, a grandchild’s sporting event or Mizzou Tigers men’s basketball. The Gibbens have been supporters of Mizzou basketball since they became good friends with retired coach Norm Stewart when he began coaching in 1967.

“We were fast friends,” Stewart says. Charlie and Jean were members of a small group of people called the Tail Twisters that were a support group for the University of Missouri basketball team, he recalls. “When we started, the attendance was extremely low, but it soon developed into a very large following.”

Beyond basketball, Norm and Virginia Stewart and the Gibbens have raised their children together and helped one another during good and bad times, he adds, quick to recognize Charlie’s impact on more than their family, but also those he touches through his volunteer presence.

“When you are involved with something for 50 years, such as Charlie and his volunteer efforts at Boone Hospital, it is extremely difficult to cover all of the areas and people that he has touched,” Stewart says. “He has been a landmark that people from the community and from out of town look forward to seeing when they come to Boone Hospital.”

Charlie and Jean are glad they can help and grateful his dad suggested they come to Columbia.