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Bonita & Estero Magazine

40 Years of Caregiving: At age 91, Glenna Hayhoe is still passionate about hospice care

Jan 24, 2023 08:00AM ● By Kathy Montgomery

Forty years after founding Collier County’s first hospice, Glenna Hayhoe still volunteers at Avow’s Hospice House. Photo courtesy of Avow.

Even when Glenna Hayhoe was a successful real estate professional in Naples in the 1970s and 80s, she knew her true passion was nursing. She volunteered at Naples Community Hospital and put her well-established career on hold to take classes at Lorenzo Walker Technical College to become a licensed practical nurse at age 52.

It was through her volunteer work at the hospital that she realized that many people were moving to the area who needed ongoing care but had no local caregivers. About the same time, she was captivated by a paper her daughter wrote for college about a then-emerging idea, hospice care, which was introduced to the United States in the 1970s in response to the work of Dame Cicely Saunders in the United Kingdom.

Glenna and the late Bruce Hayhoe when she received her LPN degree in 1983. Photo courtesy of Avow.

Under hospice, medical and social services are supplied to patients and their families by an interdisciplinary team of professional providers and volunteers, who take a patient-directed approach to managing illness.

Determined to champion this unmet need, Hayhoe set out to make herself as fully informed as possible. Journeying to cities across the nation, she attended hospice conferences while attracting an ever-widening circle of like-minded friends, neighbors and volunteers eager to inaugurate a hospice program in Naples.

“Forty years ago, the hospice concept caught my interest. Caregiving has always been part of my background,” Hayhoe said. “Many other organizations I was a part of had needs, but the hospice program was the one that became my obsession. Many patients had no local connections and were deprived of that family spirit. After spending hours listening to their families, I knew I would dedicate my time to caregiving.”

Hayhoe and her late-husband Bruce founded a nonprofit hospice program in 1983, bringing the essential service to Collier County. Without funding, Hayhoe’s passion for caring for those at the end of life, treating each person with dignity and respect and not wanting anyone to die alone drove her to find volunteers and donors to start Hospice of Naples.

One of the most important community supporters Hayhoe had on her side at the outset was the local newspaper. "We had the most amazing board of directors, and we were unstoppable!” she said. “By the time we were ready to announce our first call for volunteers, the Naples Daily News ran a full-page ad that read, ‘Hospice needs an injection!’ Fifty-seven people showed up and 44 signed up. We were on a roll!”

Seeing the first patient, a friend who passed peacefully at home with his daughter and wife curled up with him, changed her and made her more determined to expand hospice services into the community.

Glenna Hayhoe (center) at the groundbreaking for Avow’s Naples campus in 1991. Photo courtesy of Avow.

Bruce negotiated a deal for the land that would become the Avow campus at Whippoorwill Lane and Pine Ridge Road in Naples, with a lake that was a former borrow pit when Interstate 75 was built.

The Hayhoes helped create the longest-serving and only nonprofit hospice in Collier County, which has expanded over 40 years to include non-hospice palliative care in 2003 and comprehensive grief support for children and adults. Now called Avow, the hospice still receives the highest scores on patient family surveys than any other hospice in the county.

Nina Gray, former Avow staff member, Glennha Hayhoe and Karen Rollins, former Avow CEO celebrate Glenna’s recognition by The Women’s Foundation of Collier County as a Women of Initiative at its Women Rock Philanthropy luncheon December 6, 2022. Photo courtesy of Avow. 

Started with handful of volunteers, Avow now has more than 400 employees and volunteers and serves the community on a 22-acre campus with five buildings and a lake and has grown to be one of the largest hospices in the U.S.

“My vision for Avow is that it will continue to care and give comfort, peace and calmness to anyone who has the need,” Hayhoe said. “We are there for them.”

Today at 91 years old each, Glenna Hayhoe is still an active volunteer at Avow. She works at the front desk, talks to patients and employees and wheels the cookie cart through the hospice house. She and her husband come to volunteer orientations to share the story of how Avow began.

Hayhoe has also done many patient visits to give families a respite or to make sure a patient was not alone. She has listened to their stories, read them their favorite book, helped with their pets, and more. Hayhoe has been at the end of life for many community members who would have died alone. She has made them feel like they are the only ones who mattered in their last moments on Earth.

Kathy Montgomery has been writing for more than 30 years about Southwest Florida and the interesting people who live in the region.