Essentia Health employee to retire after 4 decades with health care provider – Brainerd Dispatch

Brainerd – Deb Anderson was leaving. But she wasn’t going anywhere – not really anyway.

The 61-year-old grandmother from Ironton will be retiring from her positions as volunteer services supervisor, guest services supervisor and gift shop manager at Essentia Health on February 8. But at his retirement party at Brainerd Hospital, he vowed to return as a volunteer.

“I have seven grandchildren and I feel like spending time with them,” Anderson said. “And I think 43 years in one place is long enough – move on to that next chapter.”

Anderson was 18 when she began working with the Voluntary Services Department. She said that the health care setting complemented her compassionate nature and that’s why she continued to work for Essentia Health.

A cake and a plaque at Deb Anderson’s retirement party on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, at Essentia Health-St. Joseph Medical Center in Brainerd.

Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

“My son was born here. And since I was working in the volunteer department, I made him come and volunteer,” Anderson recalled. “And his dream job was always to work here, so he’s worked here for about three years.”

His son Ryan is a maintenance engineer at Essentia Health and “That’s All Folks!” For his mom’s retirement party at Essentia Health-St. Joseph Medical Center on Tuesday, January 17.

“Right now, I feel like going on vacation and going on vacation,” Anderson said. “But when I am not able to get back to work it will be a completely different story. What saves me is that since I love this place so much that in a year I will come back and volunteer.

Deb Anderson's retirement party.

With her lifelong friend Amy Swiatzewski, a registered nurse, by her side, Deb Anderson, right, tells how she encouraged the 14-year-old candy stripper to stick with the medical profession when Anderson was just 20 and Started my career as a volunteer coordinator. The friends have been “Ice Princesses” at the Brainerd Jaycees ice fishing contest, camped with their families and worked together at the hospital for 43 years.

Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

The floor-to-ceiling sign, created by his son, was in the style of the credits often shown with Looney Tunes cartoons, which featured Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, and other classic Warner Bros. animated characters.

Anderson said, “My son made it and put it in my office a week ago, which filled my entire office.” “I was very surprised when I walked in and had that huge thing in my office.”

His son said the Looney Tunes-inspired display took about 40 hours to build and was made of 1-inch Styrofoam and two 4-by-8 sheets.

“When I was 5, I used to run around this place and now I actually run around this place,” he recalled volunteering at the hospital as a child.

The River Grill Cafe inside Brainerd Hospital on North Third Street was the setting for the retirement party, complete with cake, trail mix, punch … and lots of laughs and some sadness.

Deb Anderson Retirement Party Gift Table

A table is filled with parting gifts and cards for Deb Anderson at a retirement party in Brainerd, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023. Ironton’s 61-year-old grandmother will be retiring after working for Essentia Health for four decades.

Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

“I will miss the volunteers the most – people who are willing to give of their time for nothing – and the long lasting relationships that I have really gained throughout my time,” Anderson said.

According to Anderson, Essentia Health volunteers can be found working the gift shop, escorting patients and visitors, running errands related to cancer treatment, and more.

“When people volunteer, they get more out of the organization,” Anderson said. “And they are great people. I have some volunteers here who have volunteered for over 25 years, almost as long as I have been here.

Amy Switajewski works as a Registered Nurse in Essentia’s OB-GYN department. But at Tuesday’s retirement party, she was busy arranging flowers and display tables because she and Anderson have been friends ever since Swiatzewski began volunteering at Essentia.

“Her mom and dad started volunteering here. Then they brought their little 14-year-old to come and volunteer as well,” Anderson said of Swiatzewski. “Since then, his son has volunteered as a teenager, so I’ve been working here for a while. Have seen three generations of volunteers.”

Swiatzewski said, “I think everyone is attracted to Debbie because she’s just a genuine person. And she’s always upbeat. She’s always been like that since the day I met her. And she’s always been like that.” Loves the work. And she’s always excited to be here.”

Essentia Health employees and Anderson’s soon-to-be former coworkers came to the cafe to send their regards, and more than a few of them had their pictures taken with the Looney Tunes display, which was located next to cartoonish sticks of dynamite and detonators.

“I’m going out with a bang, baby!” With his hand on the plunger and a smile on his face, Anderson told his well-wishers.

Frank Lee can be reached at 218-855-5863 or

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