It’s a little slow at the information desk at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center Torrance, so Wanda Damberg works a crossword puzzle. The 94-year-old volunteer prefers the excitement of working the Emergency Department, but she’s needed at the desk because of her computer skills. A few clicks and she can direct visitors to patient rooms, manage flower and balloon deliveries and route those with confusion in their eyes around the sprawling hospital.
Five-and-a-half years from the century mark, Wanda is sharp, quick to respond and remembers intricate details of her dramatic life story – from years as a World War II POW where she smuggled medicine to the camp infirmary to marriage and children to her adventures travelling the world.
A 51-year resident of Palos Verdes, Wanda began volunteering at the hospital 35 years ago after her four children were grown. She’s watched it grow from a small community hospital to a premier medical center providing state-of-the-art care. She has missed a few shifts – after her husband’s death in 1990, she’s taken time to travel, and there was that near fatal infection a few months back that brought her to this hospital as a patient. She bounced back and returned to the desk, stunning even her doctor with her recovery.
Wanda’s Dutch father was stationed in the Philippines before the war broke out, but once battles began she, her parents and her sister were taken captive by the Japanese. Later, she was one of very few women who testified in Tokyo in the war crimes trials there, providing testimony about very hard living conditions that were recounted by daughter Alice Damberg Ewing in her book “Courage & Deliverance; Our Mother’s Story.”
She doesn’t dwell on the tough times, but laughs about the one judge who whistled in appreciation when the beautiful witness took the stand, following 350 male witnesses.
Today, Wanda volunteers twice a week at the hospital, plays bridge, drives her 1987 silver Oldsmobile and loves to cook her family’s favorite dishes.
She’s worked in the ER, ICU and several other departments throughout the hospital. But when Providence Little Company of Mary switched from rolodexes to computers, she was one of the few who learned the systems. And to this day she’s a fixture in the lobby, her signature smile and melodic voice providing the compassion for visitors anxious about a loved one.
She is the hospital’s longest-term volunteer and proud to hold the record for hours served. Wanda –mother, grandmother, volunteer – is a true person of Providence, providing compassion, care and a smile to the vulnerable for 35 years! She isn’t fazed by her longevity.
“I guess the good Lord has something he still wants me to do,” she says. “I do believe we are all here for a purpose.”