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"The most dedicated person'

(ran T, NS, S editions of B)

Edna May Luessen remembers what the physical therapy department of Morton Plant Hospital looked like in 1962.

"It was very small, and there were only two therapists and one assistant on hand," she said.

That was the year she began volunteering there. Now, 31 years and more than 42,500 work hours later, Mrs. Luessen, 84, still shows up every morning at 6 in her coral uniform, ready to tackle the seemingly endless paperwork and phone calls of an expanded department.

"I never thought it would last this long," she said. "In those early days, I only worked two or three days a week, but after my husband died, I began coming every day of the week. And I'm going to keep on coming until maybe, one day, I just can't anymore."

That dedication to her work has earned Mrs. Luessen numerous awards, including one at a recent Morton Plant Auxiliary luncheon, where she was honored for having logged the most hours of the almost 900 hospital volunteers. It also has gained her the respect of hospital employees.

"She's the most dedicated person you'll ever find," physical therapist Vicki Yasova said. "She does everything we ask her to do. She's active and alert and we just love her."

But recognition is not the reason Mrs. Luessen enjoys her job. Neither are the wooden plaques and certificates she receives annually. Instead, she sees her job as a chance to keep busy and help people.

"My favorite thing is to see the people that have come through here for therapy out at the store or something and know that they're doing okay," she said.

On a recent Monday, Mrs. Luessen sat at her desk in the middle of the department and efficiently managed a heavy workload. Mondays are the busiest days because things get backed up over the weekends, she said. Ringing phones and a large stack of patient information cards seem to confirm her statement.

"Keeping two phones going at once takes a certain talent," she said. "You'd be surprised at all the work I do around here. You name it, I do it."

Still, Mrs. Luessen rarely complains about her eight- and 10-hour workdays. As a child in New York City, she dreamed of going into nursing. Although she was never able to do that, her years of volunteering in the medical field have been a nice alternative, she said.

"I figured that this was the closest thing to what I originally wanted to do which, of course, was to help people."