Harold Meininger cast a teasing grin at Eddie Welch.
"Eddie goes to the hospital twice a week except when he's sick. Then he stays home," said Meininger, 96. Welch returned a good-natured smile.
For Welch, 74, going to the hospital means reporting to Regional Medical Center at Bayonet Point every Monday and Tuesday to lend a hand — something he has been doing for 10 years, racking up an impressive 4,000 hours of volunteer service.
Welch works at Door B, directing friends and family members to loved ones at the hospital. His warm smile is ever-present.
"If someone doesn't have a smile, give them one of yours," said Welch. Before working at Door B, he assisted in the kitchen, rolling silverware into tidy bundles.
When Welch is not at the hospital, he helps as an ambassador at Atria Windsor Woods, the senior living facility in Hudson where he lives. That's how he met Meininger, who's also an ambassador. They greet new residents, help them find their way around, answer questions and offer friendship.
"They're like my right arm and I couldn't do without them," said Linda Nichols, engage life director at Atria Windsor Woods, giving credit also to five additional men and eight women ambassadors.
Welch hails from Naugatuck, Conn., where he grew up and worked as a school custodian for 34 years, the last 26 years at Andrew Avenue Elementary School. He received many awards there. When he retired, books were dedicated to him in the school library.
He married Patty 41 years ago and they had a son, now deceased. About 10 years ago they moved to New Port Richey. His wife resides in a separate local facility that assists with her needs.
Welch moved to Atria Windsor Woods four years ago and that's when Meininger, who was already living there, took him under his wing. The 22-year age difference means little and the two fellows bonded, both with a good sense of humor and positive attitudes. They also balance each other in odd ways.
"I give him my cucumbers and he gives me his cookies," laughs Meininger.
The two are dining room companions at Atria. Welch has an eye for good salads and Meininger favors sweets, something Welch can't indulge in due to diabetes. Their exchange of food items works for both.
They talk a great deal, sharing their pasts. Meininger has been at Atria for eight years. He was a die maker in Detroit for 38 years. He was married for 69 years to Eva, who died in 2004. They had two daughters and a son.
"I went back to Detroit for my 95th birthday. There was a surprise party with over 100 people," Meininger said, his voice breaking and tears brimming.
"Oh, you're going to cry," Welch said softly, gently touching his friend's shoulder.
Welch plans to return to Connecticut in the fall around the time of his 75th birthday. He doesn't think there will be a party. He's eager to see his lifelong friend, a former police chief. The two met as young boys when their moms were friends. They still stay in touch by phone.
Meininger's apartment is directly above Welch's. He says if it were possible, he could cut a hole in the floor and he and Welch could talk back and forth all the time. But that could only happen when they aren't helping other residents find their way to activities.
"When someone asks what we do all day, I ask them if they've looked at their calendar," Meininger chuckles, noting the current calendar has 32 activities for residents.
When Welch is not volunteering, there's a sign on his door extending cheer to others. It says, "If you can't stop in, smile as you go by."
"These two make Atria shine," Nichols said. "They are so positive. I've never heard either complain."