Coworker’s team creates booth in her memory

Vancouver | November 14, 2018
members of PeaceHealth's patient financial service team pose in front of Patti's Pumpkin Patch booth
Patti’s Pumpkin Patch helps turn caregivers’ grief into a celebration of life

Where would you find piles of pumpkins, a mini tractor and wagon, real cornstalk, bags of popcorn, hand-spun cotton candy, donut-bobbing, temporary tattoos, a fun-photo corner and a prize-wheel?

Patti's Pumpkin Patch ready for kiddosAll at a very special booth at the 2018 Halloween event in PeaceHealth’s Vancouver headquarters. Only one thing was missing from the big red and white booth — the one person who might have enjoyed it the most.

And she was the inspiration for it.

That person was Patti Neudorfer, a caregiver who had worked in PeaceHealth’s patient financial service department until mid-August, when she and her beloved husband, Willie, were tragically killed in a motor vehicle accident.

Losing a cherished co-worker

The sudden loss left her colleagues stunned and heartbroken. PeaceHealth’s chaplain immediately began helping Patti’s team start processing their grief over losing a cherished friend and co-worker.photo of Patti and Willie Neudorfer in tattoo corner of Patti's Pumpkin Patch booth

A few weeks later during the team’s daily huddle, talk turned to the upcoming Halloween festival, an annual costume party co-hosted by PeaceHealth and fellow building tenant, Hewlett Packard, for the families of employees who work in the building located in Vancouver, Washington.

The staff tossed around some ideas for a theme and then someone said, “Patti’s Pumpkin Patch.” From that moment, the details of the booth all started to come together, according to Sheri Gailey, one of the booth organizers.

Going all out

“Patti was a firecracker. She bedazzled everything so we wanted to go all out and make this booth special,” says Sheri.

piles of "zombie" hands at Patti's Pumpkin Patch boothFrom packaging 300 “zombie hands” (gloves filled with candy corn and popcorn) to the messy work of hand-spinning 300 bags of cotton candy in Patti’s favorite color — pink, the group worked tirelessly to make everything perfect as a way to honor her.

The whole team got involved, Sheri notes. Not everyone could do shopping or crafting or other hands-on work, so many donated funds or loaned items. And everyone contributed ideas and moral support. Another department also showed support by happily moving their own booth space, so Patti’s Pumpkin Patch had room to grow.

Bumps in the road

As with most great things, there are bumps along the road to achieving it. Just a day before the event, the team was dismayed to discover several of their pumpkins had gone missing. Caregivers in the nearby cashiering department heard about the disappearance and quickly took up a donation to buy replacements.Sheri Gailey hangs donuts for the donut-dunking game

“What was a setback ended up being a blessing…to us and to the caregivers from the other team who were very happy for the chance to pitch in,” says Sheri.

Preparing for the booth was only the tip of the iceberg. The event routinely draws sizeable crowds. This year’s attendance was 675 kids and adults, so the team “panicked a little” when they realized how much help they’d need to run the booth during the three-hour affair.

Last minute plea for help

Lacey Ochs, another booth coordinator, put out a plea on social media the night before the festivities to her son’s wrestling team at Mountain View High School in Vancouver.

a unicorn "bobs" for a donut“The response was exactly what I was hoping for,” she says. “They all quickly gave up their Friday evening plans and graciously worked the event from start to finish — even offering to stay to clean up.” 

“I was really impressed with how professional and sweet they were to the kiddos. My heart is bursting with gratitude and pride over them,” says Lacey.

“We could not have done it all without them,” echoes Sheri. “I think it was a great experience for everyone involved.”

After the sleepless nights and long hours of planning and preparing, Sheri, Lacey and others on the team agreed the booth was just what they and the team needed to honor the life and memory of their colleague.

Young "gecko" explores the pumpkin patch“It was a really incredible tribute to Patti and Willie. Our thoughts and love for them didn’t end when their earth-side adventure did. The impact they made on those around them has remained and will remain,” says Lacey.

It seems Patti and Willie were at the festivities all along . . . in spirit.

Top photo:  Key booth coordinators, Lacey Ochs, Jeri DiFuria, Sheri Gailey, NeCole Wieland