Monday Profile: Danville man visits hospitals and sings to sick children
DANVILLE - The staff at Janet Weis Children's Hospital had a surprise for Woody Wolfe Thursday when the singer arrived at Geisinger Medical Center to entertain sick boys and girls.
Wolfe, armed with a guitar, a supply cart and a hearty laugh, entered the room of 16-year-old Miranda Lappan. The ever-present grin on the Danville native's face grew even larger.
It was a bittersweet moment for both parties. Wolfe had not seen the teen in two years, but here she was, back in the hospital. Wolfe has known Miranda for 15 years - the majority of her life - as she returns time and again for treatment. This time around, she was having a electroencephalography (EEG) for her seizures.
Helping children through such difficulties has represented the world of Woody Wolfe for the last 21 years.
"I meet kids who make me want to live my life to the fullest. Every day, they remind me that life is precious," said Wolfe, 59. "We shouldn't take anything for granted."
To Wolfe, these children are his heroes.
"Most people don't get to meet their heroes. I get to sing to my heroes every day," he said.
From Danville to Phoenix
As part of Wolfe's nonprofit music outreach, Heart to Hand Ministries, he is at Geisinger every Thursday. But that's his home game. Every Monday, he goes to St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, every Tuesday he's at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and every Wednesday he's at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital. Friday is usually an office day, but he's been meeting lately with an adult stroke victim group at Central Pennsylvania Aphasia Center in Danville.
Additionally, one week a month he travels out of state to places such as Palmetto Health Children's Hospital in South Carolina, Phoenix Children's Hospital in Arizona and The University of Arizona Medical Center Diamond Children's Hospital, and other hospitals in Virginia, Tennessee, Idaho and North Dakota.
He doesn't charge for any of his appearances. Monetary support comes from churches, private donations and occasional stipends from the hospitals.
Wolfe arrives in the rooms with his guitar in hand and musical cart in tow. It holds additional instruments such as a banjo, ukulele and harmonica, CDs of his music to give to the children, an iPad with song lyrics and music, and materials for magic tricks.
His repertoire of songs is varied. He does covers of popular songs, such as "Big Green Tractor" by Jason Aldean, and children's songs, such as "Itsy Bitsy Spider," and his own original tunes, such as "I Need To Walk My Dinosaur."
Made for this
From 1981 until 1992, Wolfe worked at Geisinger in Life Flight and the cardiac lab, but he decided to leave that job.
"It was a matter of finding out what I was supposed to do with my life. We all have unique gifts and we're created to be what we are. We waste a lot of time," he said. "I found that part of me that says, 'this is what you were made for.'"
At nearly 60 years old, Wolfe said he has managed to avoid working for a living.
"I'm walking proof that God has a sense of humor. Out of anyone, he allowed me to be part of this journey," he said.
It still amazes him that families with sick children would allow a "crazy, bald-headed guy with a guitar" into their lives on their worst days, but they do. He not only laughs with them, he cries with them.
"He always brightens Miranda's day," Denise Lappan said. "She shut downs a lot, but he always makes her smile, no matter what."
Stories are humbling
Wolfe treats everyone - strangers included - as friends, she said.
Stephanie Johannes, of Equinunk, agreed after meeting Wolfe for the first time Thursday.
"It just seems like you know him," she said.
Her son Joshua, 8, was in the hospital since Tuesday for an abscess.
"It was nice of him (Wolfe) to come around. It gives something for the kids to look forward to," Johannes said.
Each family affects Wolfe differently, but he is humbled by each story. Thursday, after not seeing Miranda for two years, he was amazed to learn she and her mother were talking about him recently.
There was also once a 14-year-old girl who asked him to write a song for her funeral, an emotional request to say the least.
"She said, 'Don't go getting sad on me. You're old. You could die before me,'" he said. "She made a very valid point. We aren't guaranteed another breath. Every moment is worth living. I feel blessed with these children and their families."
The value of a smile
In his free time, Wolfe enjoys walking with his wife of 41 years, Debbie, and riding rollercoasters with his 7-year-old granddaughter, Morgan Wolfe.
Otherwise, Wolfe has very little time for much else. He doesn't watch television. He's never seen a reality show. If he's not spending time with his family, he's in his studio playing his guitar.
He once had dreams of playing music professionally, but the last time he was a member of a band was in 1971.
"I can honestly say those dreams pale in comparison to what I do now. Putting me in a stadium full of people shouting my name wouldn't be as valuable as one intensive care patient smiling at me," Wolfe said.
Name: Woody Wolfe
Wife: Debbie Wolfe
Children: Todd Wolfe, 40, and Matthew Wolfe, 36
Grandchildren: Morgan Wolfe, 7
Plays: Guitar, ukulele, banjo, harmonica
Interesting facts: Featured in the Philadelphia Enquirer and on a special 30-minute special on Lifetime
On the Web: http://hearttohandministries.com/