Sarah Seybold sits among items for sale at Ashland's Hospice Unique Boutique, one of the places where she has spent many hours volunteering since retiring from teaching nursing at Southern Oregon University. - Denise Baratta

Passion for involvement

Sarah and Jack Seybold moved to Ashland in 2001, presumably to retire. Instead, Sarah Seybold soon accepted a position teaching part time in the nursing program at Southern Oregon University, utilizing her experience with chronic illness and end-of-life care, and volunteered as a parish nurse at Trinity Episcopal Church in Ashland.

"I am a person who gets involved if it's something that's a passion," she says.

"When I worked as a hospice nurse in the Bay Area, I heard a group of women singing at the bedside of hospice patients. It's called music thanatology. I wanted to join, but I moved away. Fortunately, I met a woman here, I'lana Cotton, who had a similar interest, and together we created the Southern Oregon Threshold Choir. By now both Ashland and Medford have active groups."

For the past nine years, teams of three or four women go to the bedsides of hospice patients to sing. They sing three times per week in private homes and nursing facilities around Ashland and Medford. Not affiliated with any church choir, they have learned songs in Hebrew, Christian and Buddhist traditions.

"Most of the songs we sing are not songs commonly known because we're trying to help people let go and release, not stay with all their memories," Seybold explains. "We have sung together for so long that we can usually intuit what to sing when we meet the person. I always feel lifted and privileged after our visits."

Seybold's passion also led her to start the Hospice Unique Boutique at 1618 Ashland St., in Ashland, run by the nonprofit Southern Oregon Friends of Hospice.

"I observed that there wasn't anything here like I had seen in Eureka and Grass Valley, Calif., — small boutiques that helped to support local hospice houses where people are cared for at the end of life in a very compassionate way."

There is no residential hospice house here at present, but proceeds from sales of the donated items provide financial support to other end-of-life-care programs in the Rogue Valley. The boutique has donated more than $30,000 in the past three years.

While volunteerism has defined Seybold's life, she says she has been impressed by the number of like-minded people here.

"There is a spirit of volunteerism that's wonderful. Of course, people who offer their help learn that they get back as much as they give," she says, recalling the start of her own volunteerism as a young nurse responding to President John F. Kennedy's call to service.

"I remember the excitement of filling out my application for the Peace Corps, then serving for two years in Turkey," Seybold says. "The experience changed me and gave greater meaning to my life. I came home challenged to improve myself.

"When you work in a situation like that, you realize how much more you need to know, so I went back to school to get my master's degree. Then I met my husband, and we served in the Peace Corps together in Brazil. Newly married, naive, living in a tiny village far up the Amazon. A bonding experience for sure! We came together with common values, and it cemented us."

With two children and her supportive husband, Seybold expanded her horizons again in the early 1980s, joining the Center for Citizen Initiatives, a group that made trips to Russia to improve relations between the countries — getting to know people in order to break down stereotypes and dispel personal prejudices. This led to a request for help from a group of recovering-alcoholic women to promote Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in Russia.

"My job as coordinator was to set up experiences," Seybold says. "We went to prisons, met with professionals, with hospital personnel who treated alcoholics and the patients. I learned so much about these women in recovery and their dedication to help others. Overall, I participated in 14 trips to Russia."

One experience has led to another, and another, with volunteerism the core of Seybold's life. She is modest about her accomplishments but has left a trail of rich experiences for herself and many others. And she still has dreams. Maybe a residential hospice house in the Rogue Valley?

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