Every Wednesday and Thursday, you can find Mary Bochanis volunteering ― a service she’s been performing for the last 73 years.
The sprightly 92-year-old great-grandmother is the longest-serving Red Cross volunteer in its history thanks to her years spent volunteering at Walter Reed. She has also offered her time to The Children’s Inn at the NIH since its founding in 1990.
“Thank God I’m doing it, I still have some energy,” Bochanis said. “People say, ‘You’re driving?’ And I say, ‘Of course I’m driving, how would I get anywhere!’”
The Children’s Inn houses families for free while their children participate in National Institutes of Health research studies and treatment. After more than 26 years serving at the Bistro, a cafe-like area in the inn, Bochanis is considered a staple of the ladies who work there. Each Wednesday morning she helps serve food and coffee ― and more importantly, listen ― to the families staying at the inn while their children receive treatment.
“You … reach out to these guys and they reach back ― and that’s the whole secret of it really,” Bochanis said.
Her presence is one to be reckoned with, according to Meghan Arbegast, the community outreach and volunteer program coordinator at the Children’s Inn. She says everyone always knows it’ll be a loud, vivacious day when Bochanis is around.
“I feel like she’s going to do it forever.” Arbegast said. “I can’t imagine it without her.”
Bochanis considers herself a hugger and a talker ― and sometimes that talking ends up being in Greek.
Bochanis’ family is Greek, and she started translating for some of the inn’s Greek patients years ago, accompanying them to doctors appointments and MRIs, explaining the technical terminology and walking them through their treatment.
Bochanis estimates she’s translated for over 100 families over the years.
Wednesday, Bochanis got the chance to finally meet Dr. Constantine Stratakis, the scientific director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, for whom she’d been helping translate for years.
They chatted, sometimes in Greek, about their faith, a patient they both were helping, and their own families.
And of course, how thankful Stratakis was for her service all these years.
“I do want to say how important it is for our patients to have someone [like Mary] who understands the cultures and answers their questions,” Stratakis said.
Bochanis received the Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s Lifetime Service Award this past October for her work, which she says was inspired in part by her late husband, Gus. She met Gus while volunteering at Walter Reed, as he recovered from a leg amputation from an injury incurred while serving in WWII.
They were married for 62 years, and he’s one of the main reasons she loves to talk to the families at Walter Reed and NIH about what they’re going through as they watch their loved ones undergo treatment.
“I just wish my husband were here. He’d be looking down saying, “You go, girl!” Bochanis said.
While she turned 92 last Sunday, Bochanis says she plans to be volunteering for quite some time.
“I like my soaps, and I do like to go home at 1 o’clock to watch them, but I can’t stay home [all the time], what am I going to do?” Bochanis said. “Being able to give a little bit, you get much more back, you really do.”