Mary Jane Marquart loves holding babies, especially those in the neonatal intensive care unit at Mercy Children’s Hospital in Creve Coeur where she volunteers as a cuddler.
Her connection with the babies shows that people need each from the day they are born, Marquart noted.
In fact, she can’t even recall how many she has held.
She has seen love and pain in the infants’ eyes.
Marquart began volunteering after she retired from the Bank of Washington where she worked for more than 45 years.
She was the secretary for bank owner Louis B. Eckelkamp Sr. and Vice President Robert Vossbrink.
Just like Marquart shows the babies kindness she was treated with compassion by her bosses and parents.
Her philosophy on life is to treat others the way you would want to be treated.
Born in Washington, Marquart is the daughter of the late Catherine and Leonard Marquart.
Her dad worked for the International Shoe Company in Washington before going to work for McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis. Her dad also ran an 80-acre farm where he raised crops and animals.
Her mom was a homemaker, raising six girls and two boys. Marquart noted that it was unique that both of her parents also came from families of six girls and two boys.
Marquart thought she would marry and have lots of children, but she did neither.
“It’s different when you haven’t had your own children,” she said.
But she loves children, and family is very important to her. She has 14 nieces and nephews and 15 great-nieces and -nephews.
A graduate of St. Francis Borgia High School, Marquart said she was approached by a pastor to see if she wanted to teach. Right after high school, she entered the convent for a few months. She then taught at Borgia Grade School for a year when she was 18 but decided that is not what she wanted to do.
“Back then, it wasn’t go to college, it was get a job,” Marquart said.
Her parents encouraged her to go to the Bank of Washington to work. Starting out in bookkeeping at the bank she moved to teller next, and was summoned by the “big wheels” one day. She thought, “Oh boy, what have I done?”
But she learned she was getting offered a promotion to be the secretary for the bank’s top officials.
To brush up on her secretarial skills she attended night school in St. Louis.
Her parents’ encouragement helped her succeed, she said, adding that her mom and dad had strong ethics and beliefs.
If her parents did not have the money, they did not buy it, and they taught the children by their actions.
Marquart also had lots of support at the bank, saying Eckelkamp and Vossbrink were the best bosses someone could ask for.
“Those two men saw me through losing my dad,” Marquart said.
Soon after Marquart’s father passed away, Eckelkamp told her that they would always be there for her.
“They guided me,” she said.
Before fully retiring from the bank, she saw a TV show about people who cuddle babies.
“I had never heard of such a thing,” Marquart said. “For some reason this struck a chord with me.”
She thought about it for a while until one day she was driving on Interstate 270, and she got the urge to go to the hospital to see about volunteering.
“It was like I got knocked on the head, and the good Lord said, ‘There’s the hospital, pull over’” she said. “I drove on in.”
Now she has been volunteering with the hospital for 12 1/2 years. She holds and loves babies when their parents are not there. Many of the babies are premature or ill.
Sometimes the babies are too sick to be held, and in those cases she just puts her hands on the babies. The power of the human touch can do a lot to make a baby feel better, and it also makes Marquart feel good.
The babies grab tightly to her fingers, and this has brought her to tears. “They say the babies can feel your feelings,” she said.
She sings softly to them, and two of her favorite songs are “Jesus Loves You” and “You Are My Sunshine.”
It is hard not to get attached to the babies, adding that she has been to wakes after they died.
Other than helping the babies, she also volunteers with Pregnancy Assistance in Washington by purchasing baby clothes.
Life has been so good to her, she just wants to give a little back, Marquart said.
And she gets rewards in return such as the time a nurse gave her a note that said, “The warmth of an angel’s light can comfort and illuminate the whole world. Thank you for sharing your wings with God’s smallest angels.”