This past Saturday, Cutchogue resident Toni DeMeo turned 89. But age has not stopped this active woman from going to work every week.
Since 1995, DeMeo has served as the chairwoman of volunteer services at — which nowadays relies on 300 volunteers companywide. DeMeo is essentially the human resource manager for volunteers, who work in every department of the hospital — clerical, the gift shop, emergency, etc. She works about four and a half hours a day on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and sometimes Mondays — but never more than four days a week.
“At the end of your life, every day counts,” DeMeo said. “I like being in charge, and I like that I still have an impact around here. Eastern Long Island Hospital is a very different place — there’s a lot of smiling going on, and what you see is what you get.”
DeMeo makes sure that volunteers put charts together properly so they can be picked up by each department head in the mornings. She assigns certain tasks to certain people — she said she tries to put as many men as possible in the ambulatory surgery and emergency units where a lot of heavy lifting is required, for example. Most volunteers are retired professionals, De Meo said, but one man is active in the local construction trade and still finds time to volunteer.
“The perception at one time several years ago was that the only people who volunteered at the hospital were gray-haired old ladies stuffing envelops,” DeMeo said. “But that is not the case — we currently have a retired nurse, an assistant district attorney, an ex-financial planner. These are bright, well-educated, all extraordinary people.”
Applying to be a hospital volunteer is like applying for a job. Applicants have to study a code of conduct, a volunteer handbook, and safety procedures. All are required to take a test and go through an orientation with DeMeo. Once they’re accepted, they get a badge like any other hospital employee and are directed to a department that fits them.
“I have to figure out where to put people,” she said. “I’m a good judge of character.”
A native of Tarrytown, DeMeo was a nurse’s aide for the Red Cross during World War II. She was educated at the College of Mount Saint Vincent and took courses at St. John’s University, eventually working as a certified financial planner, but she lost interest in the profession after a only a few years. DeMeo and her husband, Roy, bought Island Visuals — a company specializing in printing and plastics fabrication — in 1964.
After the couple sold Island Visuals in 1986, they moved from Franklin Square to Cutchogue full-time, and DeMeo took a job at the hospital-run She has since served several roles at the hospital, including: president of the hospital auxiliary board from 1994 to 1995; chair of volunteer services from 1995 to present; and chair of the hospital’s corner shop in the lobby for the past five years. In the early to mid-1990s, DeMeo also headed up a Medicare committee to help people make sense of confusing piles of Medicare-related bills and policies.
In 2002, Eastern Long Island Hospital awarded DeMeo the Theodore Roosevelt Award for her years of service.
DeMeo is the mother of two children, Peri and Roy, Jr., and grandmother to three grandchildren, Robby, Katie and Jessie. Her husband teaches boater safety classes through the U.S. Coast Guard at the for young people ages 10 through 18.
During her off hours, DeMeo likes to play Bridge and Mah Jong with friends and spend time boating with her husband during the warmer months, as they both always have done during their years on the North Fork. But DeMeo, a lifelong hard-worker, says that the good, honest work that Eastern Long Island Hospital provides still keeps her going — and retirement isn’t even a thought.
“What would I do with all that extra time?” she said. “I lose myself in this job. Everyone has their aches and pains here and there, but when I’m here, my attention is taken away from myself for a while. And that works for me.”
Interested in volunteering at ELIH? Contact Toni DeMeo at 477-5196 to request an application or complete the form here.