At nearly 90 years old, three-war Navy veteran chooses to spend his days volunteering at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford

joe-manfrey-volunteer-stanford-childrensSee this Veterans Day feature on Joe Manfrey by the San Jose Mercury News –

* His son was treated for cancer over 40 years ago, and Joe Manfrey, 89, still carries his son’s “before and after” cancer photos with him to give new patient families hope.

* Having already served over 12,500 hours, Manfrey will celebrate his 25th anniversary as a volunteer alongside the hospital’s 25th anniversary in 2016.

Joe Manfrey, who lives in Sunnyvale, has seen and done a lot in his 89 years: serving in three wars, 42 years of marriage, and seeing his child beat cancer back when the survival rates were far less positive than they are today.

These days, on Tuesday or Friday, you might find Joe Manfrey in hallways of the hospital’s Bass Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Diseases, going about his business of chatting with families and staff and checking in on patients, passing out toys and making everyone feel just a little bit better.

In his front shirt pocket, you’ll find two laminated photos that Manfrey is very proud of, both of his son. One shows his son at age five, when he was being treated for leukemia. The other photo is a more recent photo of his son, today a healthy, 47-year-old man who is married and lives in Nevada.

“I just hope that I can bring families some hope by sharing my son’s story, and help in any way to ease their burden, even just for a minute,” Manfrey said. He always tries to have something for the kids: a toy, sock monkey, or maybe a book. He carries these around the hospital to the units he visits.

The soft-spoken Manfrey served in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam. As a member of a landing ship troop, he was in the Pacific during the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. He retired from the Navy in 1963.

After settling in the Bay Area in 1970, Manfrey and his late wife Millie started their family. His son was diagnosed with leukemia at age five, and fought a two-year battle. Battling pediatric cancer in the early seventies meant survival rates at 15-20% versus today’s of 70-90%.

His experience with his son is what inspired Manfrey to begin volunteering when the hospital opened in 1991 and twenty-five years later, and 12,500 volunteer hours served, he still looks forward to each week.

“I don’t think I could give you one story that encompasses everything Joe means to our hospital,” said Maryellen Brady, director of volunteer services. “He is known and appreciated by so many here. I think it’s his constant presence, his routine, his smile, the personal story of his son, and a playful spirit that makes Joe so comforting and memorable,” added Brady. “And we really admire his many years of service with our armed forces.”

“It’s a privilege to be in this hospital and around these families,” said Manfrey, “and I wouldn’t want to spend my day any other way.”

Nurse Leslie Griffith has known Joe for 20 years and admires his commitment to “something greater than himself,” she said. “Aside from his volunteer work, he fundraises for events for organizations that support children and families going through cancer treatment. He has such a big heart and embodies the meaning of being a ‘giver,’” she said.

Manfrey spent this year’s Veterans Day marching in a parade and saluting other veterans in San Jose. The hospital, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2016, will honor Manfrey for his 25 years of service in April 2016 during National Volunteer Week. He has already received the Presidential Award from the hospital for lifetime achievement in volunteer service, as well as a Bay Area Jefferson Award.

Thank you to Joe and all of our veterans and volunteers.


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