Richard Cornwell has volunteered more than 4,000 hours of service at Southeast Hospital

Monday, October 1, 2012
Richard Cornwell reads through a transportation request Sept. 18 in the radiology department at Southeast Hospital. Cornwell, who recently received the Veterans Service Award from Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, has been volunteering at the hospital for four years, mostly helping move patients to and from radiology. (ADAM VOGLER)

When Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder presented Richard Cornwell with the Governor's Veterans Service Award in July, Cornwell was caught off-guard.

"I have no idea why I was chosen for the award," he says. "It came as a total surprise."

Cornwell was chosen for the award because of his heart for service. In fewer than four years, he has volunteered more than 4,000 hours of service at Southeast Hospital.

"I volunteer at the hospital five days a week for 10 hours a day," says Cornwell. He currently serves in the imaging department, where he transports patients between locations. To say that he gets an early start each day in an understatement: "I go in around 4 a.m. every morning," says Cornwell.

The fact that he volunteers more hours per week than most people work for pay is impressive -- but Cornwell remains modest about his award.

"Truthfully, I thought there were other people who deserved it more than I did because they've volunteered here longer," he says. "I [volunteer at the hospital] because I have compassion for people, not for awards and pats on the back."

Cornwell was born in Paducah, Ky., in 1951, and his was not an easy childhood.

"I was in an orphan's home from the time I was 8 until I was 13," says Cornwell. "Then, I was homeless from the time I was 13 until I went into the Marines."

Cornwell served in the Marines from 1969-19 during the last years of the Vietnam War, and he was stationed in San Diego.

"I didn't get to go overseas, and I didn't see any action," says Cornwell. "We were primarily 'mop-up,' so we dealt with supplies that were being shipped back from the war."

In 1973, Cornwell joined the Navy with plans to become a fireman on a ship, but poor eyesight got him discharged early.

"I'm more than a little nearsighted, so my eyesight wasn't acceptable for the Navy," says Cornwell. He worked as a crane operator in a steel mill in Hammond, Ind., and then spent most of his life working on the river.

"I was a deck hand and worked primarily in the lower Mississippi," says Cornwell.

Visiting Southeast Hospital with a relative is what made him want to volunteer there.

"I saw a guy running around in one of those volunteer vests," says Cornwell. "I followed him to the volunteer office and told them that I wanted to wear one of those vests. I've been here [volunteering] ever since."

Cornwell says his faith inspires him to donate so many hours of service.

"The good Lord is who inspires me," he says. "I'm an avid Bible reader, and I stop at the chapel in the hospital every day before I go in to work. I pray for those who are having surgery, and those who are sick and hurting. I also pray for the people that I work with."

Cornwell also enjoys interacting with the people he serves: "I love to put a smile on a patient's face," he says.

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