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Gundersen employee turned volunteer still going strong at 90

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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) – The year was 1955; Dwight D. Eisenhower was President, Winston Churchill resigned as Prime Minister of United Kingdom, Ray Kroc opened the first McDonald’s restaurant.
And Al Lien started working at what was called Lutheran Hospital in La Crosse.

Most of us will be lucky to hold the same job for 35 years.
Probably even luckier to live past our 80’s.

Al Lien can proudly boast both of those accomplishments.

At 26 years old, he was hired at Gundersen as the personnel director.
The hospital had 12 doctors then. Now with 500 doctors, a lot has changed.

But Al remains a crucial member of the staff, finding a new way of giving back to his hospital community.

In his prime, Al spearheaded Purchasing and assumed other administrative roles until he was appointed Vice President of Human Resources.

“I kinda bumbled into that. I had no idea of working in a hospital but it turned out to be a nice career and a long one. It was just a lovely accident.”

He held that position for a decade until his retirement in 1990. It was the very next year he began his tenure as a volunteer.

“My heart’s been here the whole time. I needed to keep track of what was going on here.”

“Volunteers are here out of the goodness of their heart,” said Lori Van Lin, director, Volunteer Services.

Today, Al does a variety of tasks from handling paperwork to delivering flowers. “He is just this quiet, unassuming, wonderful gentleman, He is servant leadership,” described Van Lin.

Betty Ehrsam, a fellow employee turned volunteer said, “I always call him Al-nicest person ever as his last name.”

“He’s an inspiration to our patients and families,” said Van Lin.

Al just turned 90 years old, “sometimes I feel old but then other times not so much,” said Lien.

After surviving a heart attack 15 years ago which led to quadruple and triple bypass surgeries, Al said it feels right to give back.

“What we do is because we enjoy doing it which is kinda selfish in a way. Good to feel you’re giving something back because of all the blessings you’ve received,” explained Lien.

Al has been married to his wife for 68 years. They have four children, multiple grandchildren, three great-grandchildren.

By our calculation, Al has put in nearly 6,000 volunteer hours during his time at Gundersen.

There are 600 total volunteers at Gundersen, 20 of whom are 85 years old or older. They can start as young as age 14. Those volunteers put in 80,000 hours last year and Van Lin said they are always in need of more.

Brittany Lake

Daybreak Anchor

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