2015 Coshoctonian Speech as delivered by Kirby Hasseman

| April 20, 2015
Barb Emmons

Barb Emmons

COSHOCTON – This year’s recipient of the Coshoctonian Award has been described in several ways. She is a gifted visionary; a mentor; innovative; an awesome nurse; resilient; a positive role model in the community; a pioneer in healthcare; and absolutely dedicated to Coshocton.

One of her nominators stated that she is already a Coshoctonian in the truest sense of the word. Every new endeavor she has initiated has evolved out of concern and caring for her fellow citizens. When there were unmet needs identified in the community, she found a way to meet them.

Those we interviewed shared that ‘she’s been dealt bumps along the road, but has moved forward in a positive way’; ‘she has the ability to see the potential in others and encourage them to reach even higher than they believe possible’; ‘she puts others first’; ‘she has a wacky sense of humor’; ‘she won’t let you “not” have a positive attitude’; ‘she has the biggest heart and most caring soul’; ‘she thinks outside the box’; and ‘she makes me want to be a better person’.

Our recipient, Barb Emmons, was born in the Akron area, growing up in Tallmadge, Ohio, the middle child with two sisters. We are told by her sisters that Barb likes to have fun and that they are all very ornery.

They were all involved in dance lessons when they were young and enjoyed performing for the neighborhood. They would to put their hair in long braids and perform dance shows for the neighbor kids in their family’s garage.

She graduated from Tallmadge High School and attended Mt. Sinai Nursing School in Cleveland. After receiving her nursing degree, she then went on to receive her bachelor’s degree in psychology from St. Joseph College in Maine.

Her older sister Linda recalls that Barb must have known early on that she wanted to be a nurse, because as a teenager, she was a candy striper at Akron Children’s Hospital and was also a member of the Future Nurses of America.

Her other sister, Janeen, shared that when Barb got her nursing degree, their whole family was sitting at the graduation when the emcee began to share information about the Gold Key Award for the ‘all around best nurse’. None of the family had any idea she was receiving the award, including Barb! Janeen says that when they read her sister’s name as the recipient they were all so very emotional and proud of her.

Her husband, Steve Miller says that her medical history is unbelievable! She had numerous nursing jobs in Cleveland while her first husband, Dr. Richard Emmons, was attending medical school. She helped open the first coronary care unit at Mt. Sinai Hospital and she was also a nurse cardiology assistant at that same hospital working to oversee the heart catheterization laboratory and outpatient services.

She moved to Coshocton in 1980 with her husband Dr. Richard (Dick) Emmons and their young children – son Josh and daughter Amanda to begin practicing medicine at Family Physicians with Dr. Robert Johnson and Dr. Norm Wright. Helen Wright recalls that they entered into everything from the very beginning at the practice and that they looked forward to years of association with them. Helen shared that Barb and Dr. Emmons had the same philosophy that Dr. Wright and Dr. Johnson had of taking care of people whether they could pay or not.

Cathy Hudson shared that Dr. Emmons became a well loved and respected physician and Barb became a busy mother and a very community minded person here in Coshocton. Sadly, Dr. Emmons was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. In his medical journals he had read about the idea of the hospice approach to caring for the terminally ill and encouraged Barb to look into the idea of hospice care for the Coshocton area. During his illness, Barb and their children cared for him at home. After his death in early 1985, she took his advice and joined an already formed group of local individuals interested in bringing the idea of hospice care to Coshocton.

Helen Wright recalls that even though they had been in Coshocton only 4 ½ years, they had already immersed themselves fully into the community and that when Dick died, there was no question that she was going to stay here. Coshocton had become her home and she elected to remain here and raise her young family–Josh who was age 7 at the time and Amanda was age 5. She embraced the Coshocton community and she planned to work hard to make it a better place.

She and her husband, Dick had quickly gotten involved in many community projects including Coshocton’s Montessori Preschool where their children attended and she served on the first board of directors for the organization. They also founded the Families and Friends for Children adoption group in Coshocton (since their daughter Amanda was adopted). Helen Wright recalls that when the Emmons moved to Coshocton they choose their house on Buena Vista because it had a large enough kitchen to have a long table to fill up with adopted children.

Kim Hayes shared that Barb held a variety of titles in the early days with the newly formed Hospice organization, starting on a part-time basis in the role of volunteer training, then quickly moving to an assistant director position, followed by the title of coordinator of patient services and volunteers.

When Hospice started accepting its first patients in January 1986, she was the first staff nurse to serve the agency in giving patient care, while the agency coordinator at that time, Pam Gwinn, concentrated on the administrative aspects of building the new program.  Barb was in the first group of nurses nationwide to sit for Hospice Board exams and become board certified in Hospice palliative care at that time. She was moved into the hospice coordinator position in March 1987.

Hospice was a very new concept in the mid-1980s. Barb would research what kind of programs were cutting edge in other communities and found a way to make that happen here.  She also encouraged Hospice volunteers and staff to brainstorm and seek out what other needs were out there in the Coshocton community.

The rest, as they say, is history. From October 1987 with a Hospice budget of just over $50,000, to today with an annual budget of over $2 million, Barb and others have grown the agency into a program with multiple divisions serving the needs of very diverse populations within our county.

“She has a gift for seeing opportunities to expand into new areas that both help meet a need in Coshocton County and that fit our team approach to healthcare,” shared Kim Hayes.  “Currently, thanks to her vision, Health Services and Hospice of Coshocton offers the community six distinct types of services  –  Hospice; Home Health; Waiver – which serves those with developmental disabilities; Extra Care – for those needing extra help with personal care or homemaking tasks; Passport; and The Healthcare Connect Emergency Alert System.”

The non-profit philosophy resonates deeply with Barb as every decision she made for the Hospice organization was with concern for what was best for the patients and families, while also being a careful steward of the resources.

As Hospice and Health Services of Coshocton diversified and grew, so of course has the staff. According to Kim, it is fortunate that Barb and the board had the foresight to build and move the agency into its own building in 1996 because soon thereafter, Barb purchased the hospital’s home health program and the staff doubled almost overnight.  Currently the agency employs 60 nurses, aids, social services and administrative personnel having quite an economic impact in this county in terms of employment.

In 1990, Dr. Norm Wright sponsored Barb to join the Coshocton Rotary Club. This organization has become a very big part of her life over the years, and she has chaired and served on various committees and has held the offices of President, Past-President, recording secretary, foundation chair, and has been actively involved in the Rotary Exchange Student Program. She is a Paul Harris Fellow and has gifted several of these as well to other members.

She also worked with the local club to create the Rotary Employee of the Year Award that (as you know) is given out at the Coshocton Chamber Dinner each year. According to members of the Coshocton Rotary, Barb is a mentor for the new members and someone to look up to. She tells her husband, Steve, that she loves Rotary because through this one organization she can contribute to the community, our nation, and the world.

Barb has also been active in numerous other local organizations including serving on the Central Ohio Technical College Coshocton Campus Board; and several school committees when her children were in school. She currently serves on the Coshocton County Library Board and is a trustee for the Coshocton Foundation.

Our Coshoctonian began dating Steve Miller in 1987 and they were married 1999. Steve shared that when Josh and Amanda began high school, she had their basement finished into a rec room. It became a hangout for Josh and his friends. According to Steve, the young people would start arriving at 5 p.m. on Friday and be there on and off the whole weekend. “They’d play cards, video games, and watch movies,” he shared.  “There were kids everywhere! They all signed their names and drew life-sized cartoons on the walls, but none of that bothered Barb.  She said if they were at her house, she knew where they were and what they were doing.”

Many people we interviewed shared that Barb is a wise mentor and positive role model to everyone who crosses her path and that she truly helps others without expecting anything in return. She has the ability of seeing the potential in people, encouraging them to reach higher, and assisting them in finding a way to achieve their goals.

Barb is that rare person who is not only a gifted visionary, but is equally adept at the human relationship side of the business equation. Kim Hayes and Angie Taylor shared that all staff, no matter the position, were always treated with the utmost respect and valued for their contributions to the mission of the agency. “Barb has been a mentor to each and every one of us above and beyond the working relationship,” they said.

“Barb has taught me how to live my life without fear, to be a better mother, and a better community member,” said Angie. “She also taught me that life is about doing what’s right and whenever I feel conflicted, those are the words I remember.”

“She was always particularly focused on the importance of education, shared Kim, “and she frequently hired home health aides knowing they were also in college working on nursing or other types of degrees. Barb made it a priority to encourage them and to work around their school schedules as much as possible.”

Dr. Bob Gwinn told us that Barb is resilient and has been able to overcome adversity with a persisting, positive, constructive, and hopeful attitude.

She is innovative and when she sees opportunities she works to find solutions. “Barb is able to bring multiple parties to consensus and has become a strong unifying influence in the community,” shared Dr. Gwinn. “Collaboration is one of her strengths and she has developed trust and the necessary working relationships within the business community, medical community, families, and friends for the ultimate betterment of the whole Coshocton community.”

It’s clear that Barb loves Coshocton and has worked tirelessly for years to benefit the community through her work and volunteer efforts, but we don’t want you to get the wrong idea that Barb is all work and no play. We have learned from many people we talked with that there could be nothing further from the truth! She is a wonderful friend to many and truly likes to have fun.

Shelley McCarty recalled the time they decorated Dr. Gwinn’s yard for his birthday; and then the time Barb became inspired to make a memory quilt from her dad’s flannel shirts. “Just ask her about crawling on the office floor to work on her quilt and her special sewing attire!” shared Shelley.

According to Pam and Dick Baker, in the past 25 years of friendship with Barb and Steve, they have enjoyed going to dinner, attending plays and have gone to over 800 movies together!

Kim shared that even though their work could be rather somber, Barb had an antidote for that.  “Barb loves to laugh,” said Kim. “She would always have a fun theme for our volunteer appreciation dinners to find ways to lighten things up.”

Barb has a great sense of humor and Dr. Gwinn still laughs about the night she sprayed tube feeding solution all around a patient’s living room.

Barb retired from Health Services and Hospice of Coshocton in December 2013, after 28 years of service. Under her leadership and direction the organization has bloomed and flourished and has served well over 2,000 patients since its beginning.

Over and over again throughout the years Barb could say to family members that she understood their concerns and their worries as they cared for their loved ones because she too had cared for her husband.

“Barb creatively enhanced the quality of life for patients from putting a child’s blue plastic swimming pool in patient’s backyard so he could have his own hot tub and soak his feet while sitting in his wheelchair; to lovingly helping a young mother dress a wound on her husband,” shared Shelley. “Barb realized the reality of widowhood and raising two young children herself, and was able to offer comfort to the patient and hope to his wife.”

Everyone we talked with shared that winning the Coshoctonian Award is definitely not something Barb has ever strived for. Here are some of the comments we heard.  ‘She is very dedicated’. ‘She continuously gives back to the community and her friends – behind the scenes’.  ‘She’s not in it for herself – and has never done anything for personal gain.’  ‘She does what she does for the greater good of the community’.

Her son, Josh says, “My mom is insanely ambitious, which may be a little odd to say, because normally great ambition comes coupled with a certain ruthlessness that couldn’t be farther from her nature. When she sees something that can be improved, mom rolls up her sleeves and gets to work.”

Her daughter, Amanda shared that her mom is not only the hardest working person she knows, but she also has the biggest heart and most caring soul. “I admire mom’s ability to raise my brother and me on her own after many months of caring for our dad,” Amanda said. “She made balancing her busy and demanding career while being very much involved and supportive as a mother look easy even though there is no doubt that it was often extremely tough and challenging. I feel so very blessed to have such an amazing woman as my mother, and I am so proud of her. There is no one more deserving of this honor than her.”

According to Barb’s sisters, volunteering and serving others was modeled for them by both of their parents – so she comes by it naturally. Her mother, especially was quite a volunteer, and she was so proud that her daughters had also become involved in serving others. Both of Barb’s parents were named ‘Citizen of the Year’ in Tallmadge, Ohio.

Steve shared that Barb always said she felt she was put on this earth to be a Hospice nurse and a mother, (and we might now add ‘grandmother’). Retirement has allowed Barb and Steve to focus unconditional love on their two grandchildren, Walker Emmons – age 3 ½ and Asher Emmons – age 1.

She said to Steve recently, ‘The rest of my life I’m going to spend helping people’. Barb, like her parents, truly does things for others because it’s the right thing to do.

I am proud to present the 2015 Coshoctonian Award to Barb Emmons.


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Category: People & Places

About the Author ()

I started my journalism career in 2002 with a daily newspaper chain. After various stops with them, I am happy to be back home! I graduated from Coshocton High School in 1998 and received a Bachelor of Arts in Communication in 2002 from Walsh University. I also earned several awards while working for daily papers, including being honored by Coshocton County’s veterans for the stories I wrote about them. I am honored and ready to once again shine a positive light on Coshocton County. I also am the proud mother of a little girl named Sophia!

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