Like the dahlias he grows at his Jenison homestead, Richard Lamberts’ life is rooted in colorful variety.
He’s a Vietnam veteran, cancer survivor, flight instructor, promotional marketing sales retiree and Spectrum Health volunteer.
Lamberts, 67, spends every Tuesday morning at Spectrum Health’s Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center surgical family lounge, casting cheer and conversation wherever he can.
Every day he volunteers during the growing season, he brings a vase of dahlias to the heart center and plops it on the welcome desk.
According to family lounge coordinator Amy Glerum, the flowers shout “welcome” more than the desk does.
“When people come in on Tuesday they ask if it’s dahlia Tuesday,” Glerum said. “Every week it’s something different. People always stop and comment on the varieties.”
Glerum sees more than blossoms when she watches Lamberts mingle with families in the lounge.
“It’s almost like a metaphor,” Glerum said. “He can cultivate relationships with diverse people. He has a very good feel for people and lightens their mood as appropriate. It’s good to have somebody who can interact so fluidly in a very high-stress environment.”
Fact is, most of the people Lamberts encounters are tense and worried about their loved one, who is typically having some type of heart procedure.
The flowers, and Lamberts, brighten their day, even if in some small way. They sow hope.
“If I just leave them on the stem, they’re going to die anyway so I might as well let people enjoy them,” Lamberts said of his 250 dahlia plants. “I plant and water them, but God grows them.”
On a recent Tuesday, a woman from Morley, Michigan, approached Lamberts near the welcome desk and asked him about his flowers.
Lamberts proudly shared how he digs them up every year, splits them and stores the bulbs for the winter.
He told her about the flower show he’ll be competing in August 29-30 at Frederik Meijer Gardens.
Next, Lamberts approached a woman whose husband was having heart surgery.
“Would you like to come with me?” he asked her. “I’m going to put you in a conference room and the doctor is going to come and talk to you.”
The news turned out to be good. Her husband’s surgery had been successful.
“He’s very helpful,” she said. “If you need something, he’ll either get it for you or tell you where it’s at. I looked at his flowers and told him mine are just coming into bud.”
‘Way of giving back’
Lambert’s life wasn’t always so full of buds and beauty. In 2003, doctors diagnosed him with prostate cancer. It later spread to his vertebrae.
He went to the Spectrum Health Cancer Center for radiation on his back.
“They did another bone scan and found spots on my ribs,” Lamberts said. “They couldn’t do radiation on that because they had to go through the lungs.”
Instead, Lamberts gets a blood test every three months and a hormone shot every six months. So far, it’s working.
“They call it ‘supressed,’” Lamberts said of his cancer. “They say at this point there’s no cure for cancer in the bone. We just keep treating it and so far the treatments are working. I guess the Lord has more plans for me.”
Part of those plans apparently include volunteering. Lamberts has logged almost 500 hours since he started at Spectrum Health two years ago.
“This is just my way of giving back,” Lamberts said. “Now that I’m fully retired, I’m thinking I could do a full day (volunteering). In the summer, there’s lots to do outside with the flowers and other projects. Once winter rolls around, there’s not much to do except shovel and clean the driveway.”
Like his 250 dahlia plants, Lamberts said he most enjoys the variety of people he meets during his volunteer gig.
“I love hearing their stories,” Lamberts said. “Sometimes I’ll say a short prayer for them when I’m walking down the hall. I’m not going to preach to anyone, but God has been good to me. By his grace, I’m still here.”
And still helping others.
“Tuesday morning when I’m sitting and having breakfast, I pray, ‘In some small way, Lord, let me touch somebody’s life today.’ Usually I leave well-satisfied, even if it’s joking with people or just talking about the flowers.”