A new hospice care unit will open this fall at the Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center – and it is going to be named after a man who worked nearly 50 years on the hospital’s kitchen staff.
“David’s Path,” named for David Winker, is scheduled to be completed in September and will be a 14-bed unit dedicated for residents under hospice care at the Schoellkopf Health Center nursing home on the hospital campus, officials announced Friday. The operation is a joint effort by Memorial and Niagara Hospice.
Winker rode his bicycle to and from work nine months out of the year. Since he was 19, and for the nearly 47 years that followed, his destination was Memorial Medical Center.
He’d leave his home in Expressway Village, a mobile home park four miles from the hospital, in the wee hours of the morning to show up a few hours before the start of his usual 7 a.m. shift, just to make sure he wasn’t late.
Earlier this year, Winker started losing weight rapidly. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February, a little more than a month before he planned to finally retire.
The 66-year-old man, who loved to fish and make lawn ornaments in his wood shop, died last Sunday.
Winker will now always have a place at the hospital.
As a teenager in the early 1970s, Memorial President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph A. Ruffolo worked alongside Winker at the hospital as a dishwasher.
In the decades he spent working there, Winker, who had a mental disability, became a staple of life around the hospital, Ruffolo said.
“Memorial was his life, Memorial was his family and now Memorial is going to be his home,” he said.
Residents at the Schoellkopf Health Center nursing home have long been eligible for Niagara Hospice’s services, and now a unit will exist that will boost the level of comfort that can be provided, Niagara Hospice Chief Executive Officer John Lomeo said.
Winker started at the hospital as a dietary kitchen helper on May 16, 1966. He was promoted to senior attendant in 1970 and became responsible for the food store room in 1983.
Ruffolo said he remembers how pristine Winker kept the stocked shelves, with the labels on all the cans neatly facing forward.
They were “organized better than the shelves at Wegmans,” Ruffolo said.
Rick Dorato, Winker’s friend for more than three decades, recalled when Winker told him he’d only called in sick once. Winker also had a big smirk on his face when he mentioned he wasn’t actually sick that day, Dorato said.
Winker was a regular guest at Christmas at the Dorato household. At least once a month, they went to breakfast at Ponderosa.
His two boys and two girls came to call Winker “Uncle Winky,” Dorato said.
Winker came to know many of the vendors who made food deliveries to the hospital. One of them, Dorato said, even visited Winker in the hospital before he died.
Dorato added: “I don’t think he realized how many friends he had.”