Williams retires after 39 years as RCH chaplain

Rochelle Community Hospital Chaplain Judy Williams is retiring this month after 39 years in her position.

‘I hope that I gave a lot of love while I was here’

ROCHELLE — Rochelle Community Hospital Chaplain Judy Williams is retiring this month after 39 years in her position. 

Williams has spent her time at the hospital supporting and giving spiritual guidance to RCH staff, patients and their families. She lends a friendly ear when someone wants to talk or is going through a tough health or personal situation. 

“From minor things to major things at a hospital, people have emotions about them,” Williams said. “It's about showing people that what they're going through is important and trying to give them some love from Christ in all of that. It blesses me to be able to do it, and I hope I could give some hope and comfort to them.” 

Williams would typically spend her time as chaplain coming into the hospital each morning and checking to see what sort of patients the hospital had that day and if there was someone who was going to potentially pass away or just found out about a disheartening diagnosis. She would go and see patients that told staff that they wanted to see the chaplain. 

Williams’ job as chaplain required her to be available at all times and she occasionally received a call in the middle of the night to come into the hospital. She believes that half, if not more, of her work involved being there for and talking with RCH staff members.

“This is a stressful place,” Williams said. “Sometimes it's staff members stopping by and giving them a little encouragement. Sometimes it's praying with them and sometimes it's just letting them talk. People need to talk to be able to continue to function and I like to think I was a safe place and people could share things with me and be able to keep doing their good, every-day job.”

Williams called most days as a hospital chaplain “difficult, emotional and painful,” but said she believes God prepared her to shoulder that emotional weight. Before she was chaplain, she worked at RCH in admitting and in the emergency room. She believes that even before she got certified, she was a chaplain in her heart “from day one.”

“When you've seen really terrible things happen and you know that you can maybe help that person through, it makes it better and gives you a sense of, 'I'm doing what I'm supposed to do,'” Williams said. “I am where I'm supposed to be, being the chaplain here. I love my job. I'm blessed that I got to come here. I hope that I gave a lot of love while I was here. I hope I made a difference in some people's lives. I believe that God does, and I wanted to share that with them. God is the strength, not me. I'm just the delivery woman. That makes me happy.”

Williams also spent time officiating weddings for people she met through RCH as chaplain. She’s often officiated funerals as well, some honoring people she spent time with at the hospital during their treatment. She wants to continue doing those things in retirement. She doesn’t want to give up being “chaplain of the community.”

“I want to keep doing that,” Williams said. “I want to continue to reach out to people and do things like funerals and weddings and help where I can. I just won't be on call 24/7 here, and that's hard. I won't be coming in in the middle of the night anymore. Unless they call me. If they call me, I'll come. I hope the community knows that I'm still chaplain."

Williams plans to spend her retirement with her husband, and the couple is planning on doing some traveling. She’s already had her last day of work and has cleaned her office out. RCH hosted a retirement celebration for her on Feb. 23.  

"It's going to be really tough to leave this place and the people here,” Williams said. “I've already cried a lot. I had my last day where I gathered up my stuff and left. I couldn't go and visit everyone here because I would've cried and been here until the next day. I've made a lot of valuable friends here. Because I come from a small family, this family became my family. They made my birthdays special or felt for me when I had my hip replaced. Those are the hard parts of leaving a place. It's the people who you’ve made friends with that support you. I felt very supported here."

Williams believes the small-town aspect of Rochelle has made it easier for her to be chaplain and to comfort those in need. She believes that having at least some sort of prior relationship with someone helps them to relate and open up. She thanked the RCH administration and her coworkers for all 39 of her years. 

“It's just been my dream job,” Williams said. “Some people probably wouldn't think that a little place like this would be a dream job. But it is. Because these are the people I love. It's my community. I'm going to miss it here a lot. I really love serving God. Being here, I can do that all the time.”