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Phoebe's Celebration of Life Paver Program continues

Wendy Mathis gives a musicial performance at a paver dedication ceremony at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital on Thursday. The ceremony is conducted on an annual basis in recognition of the new names added over the last year to the brick walkway outside the hospital’s entrance.

Wendy Mathis gives a musicial performance at a paver dedication ceremony at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital on Thursday. The ceremony is conducted on an annual basis in recognition of the new names added over the last year to the brick walkway outside the hospital’s entrance.

ALBANY -- Each spring brings with it new life as well as new promise.

Spring also inspires the timing for the annual paver dedication ceremony at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital.

This year's event, held at the hospital Thursday, celebrates the past year's addition of more names to the paver bricks on the exterior walkway between the entrances to the main lobby and Medical Tower 1.

Officials say the project is meant to provide a special way of honoring the birth of a baby, a memorial to a loved one or a special "Thank you" to a friend. The ceremony recognizes those who have added new bricks over the last year as well as those honored on the walkway.

Anita Hudgens, director of development for the Phoebe Foundation, said there are now 2,300 bricks on the walkway. A program provided at the dedication ceremony shows that 21 bricks were purchased in honor of someone, while an additional 41 were purchased in memory of someone in 2011.

The program also lists 33 donors who contributed to the walkway's new additions.

Among those names now included are Grace Walker, a 94-year-old who has been volunteering at the hospital for 29 years.

"In 1983, she came to us after becoming a widow," said Dianne Owens, coordinator for Phoebe Volunteer Services, said of Walker. "For 29 years, Grace and those like her have been the foundation of our organization.

"She is a friend, a mentor and an inspiration."

Those now being memorialized include Jo Neal Freeman, wife of Albany State University President Everette Freeman, who died last month. Also included is Lillian Sullivan, mother of Phoebe Senior Vice President of Strategy and Development Tom Sullivan, who died in late February.

While he has had contact with those touched by the paver project before, Sullivan said the true impact did not hit home until his mother's passing -- and until he learned that someone had purchased a brick in her name.

"She was full of life," Sullivan recalled of his mother, for whom the 2011 Lights of Love ceremony was dedicated. "It was her family that she put in the center of her life."

Sullivan also went on to talk about the family's reunions, and the recreational vehicle trips he took with his brothers growing up.

"To see her name on the walkway is very touching," he said. "My mother loved this hospital, and she would be honored to know her name was etched (on the walkway)."

Also now on the walkway is John Lane, a long-time employee of Phoebe Environmental Services who died suddenly in January, officials say.

There, with Lane's family present at the dedication, Environmental Services Director Willie Willis said a few words about his late employee.

"John loved his job, and was very good at it," Willis said. "When he said: 'I got it. I'm on it,' I knew he was on it. Over the next (few) years, he became the go-to guy.

"John was a believer. John Lane was a good man, and had a good heart. The world would be a better place if we had more people like John Lane."

Also, there was a list of Phoebe's 2011 retirees -- as well as one from 2008 -- whose names were read aloud at the ceremony. In all, there were 67 names read, and included those who had served from five years for as long as 43 years.

Established nearly 20 years ago in conjunction with the opening of Medical Tower 1, Hudgens said the project started with 300 bricks the first year and has continued to grow since.

Now, with the addition of bricks over time, volunteers have since composed a chart to make it easier to find an individual brick -- or at least the section it is in, Hudgens said.

"Sometimes people treat it with tremendous reverence," she said of the paver project. "Gifts come from all kinds of folks.

"It is something where people can pick a defined way to put a name in a permanent place."

The new bricks, traditionally put in during the spring, are expected to be added to the walkway over the next few days. The funds raised from the paver purchases will go toward helping Phoebe patients, officials say. Pavers can be purchased for $75.