Liz and Dick Dauphinais of Litchfield, who have logged more than 1,000 hours as volunteers for the Malta House of Care mobile health clinic in Waterbury, relax inside their home recently. (Photo by Mary Chalupsky)
LITCHFIELD – When the Knights of Malta were looking for a driver for their new mobile medical van in Waterbury, that receives funds from the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal, they looked no further than Dick and Liz Dauphinais.
Not only does Dick have a commercial license to drive the van; but Liz is a registered nurse. She has helped to care for patients who have been receiving free primary health care services since the van first rolled into service in August 2010.
Both credit the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal, which helps fund the van, for the mobile clinic’s success.
"In my lifetime I’ve never seen anything as progressive and full of strength as the appeal," said Dick, "because it’s promoting something new in the medical field. Nobody’s ever heard of anything like what we do" by providing free health care services to the uninsured.
"The appeal is the organization that made it happen," he continued. "Without the money and initiative from the appeal, this [the Malta van] would have never happened," said Dick.
For Dick and Liz, who have been volunteering virtually their entire lives, the request that first involved them with the van was just par for the course.
"We’ve done it all," said Dick matter of factly … "parish, community, everything": 41 years as a volunteer fireman in Bantam and Litchfield; 20-plus years with the Bantam ambulance service; 21 years with the Torrington Soup Kitchen; 41 years helping at the Abbey of Regina Laudis; and about the same amount of time with the Lourdes of Litchfield Shrine, where Liz used to make beds, cook and clean, while Dick worked outside painting, mowing, raking and repairing.
In the early ’90s, Liz and Dick started a "Food for the Needy" program at the Lourdes’ Pilgrims Hall that at its prime aided five local organizations with the help of 335 volunteers who filled 23 freezers with food and canned 1,600 quarts of tomatoes, corn, squash, parsley and basil.
Dick said that the inspiration for all of it started when he was an infant.
"I was born with a cancerous tumor that went from my eye to the tip of my nose; and at 6 months old, my parents took me to a hospital in New York City to have it removed," he said. "In 1943, this was serious.
"My father was not a very active Catholic," said Dick, "but after the surgery, he told my mother, ‘If this child lives, I’ll take him every year to the St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal.’ And for the next 21 years, that’s what he did. And on my 21st birthday, he said, ‘Son, you’re on your own.’ So, that’s what I did."
"Every year for the past 43 years since we’ve been married, we go to the oratory for our anniversary," he said. "And we pray for people every year. Three years ago, it was up to 107 people. And you know what? There’s never been one time a prayer was not answered … not always what we wanted; but a lot of things come through the back door.
"Like she’ll say to me three months later, ‘You know, I never thought it would work out like that. But they’re all right.’ So we save all the lists every year and go to the oratory to pray for them."
It’s that unshakable faith, and belief in family, friends, community, service and hard work that has carried the couple through the years, in fact, virtually from the time they met.
"I wouldn’t be here without my faith," said Dick. "I was supposed to die when I met her."
Another medical obstacle, this time, an obstruction, caused him to lose 49 pounds in 18 days, said Dick, and at the age of 25, he landed in St. Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury, where he collapsed before receiving treatment. His nurse was Liz.
"After I was discharged, I asked her out and told her I was going to marry her," he said.
"I told him he was crazy," Liz said, laughing.
Dick proposed to Liz in the bathroom of her family home as her seven siblings listened at the door. And a year later, on Oct. 18, 1969, they were married at St. Rose Church in East Hartford.
"My parents gave us an acre, plus we kept 10 acres from a campground in Bantam that they managed," said Dick. Initially, he worked in a manufacturing plant and Liz, who graduated from St. Mary’s in 1968, worked at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford and then New Milford Hospital before staying home to raise their two daughters on a farm.
For about 15 years of their marriage, they lived on an acre and managed another 305 acres that had as many as 43 cows and 1,000 chickens; and grew hay and corn along with squash, tomatoes and cucumbers.
"It taught the girls responsibility and caring," said Liz. "At the time, we always did everything together."
"And they worked right along with us," said Dick, who simultaneously took a job as supervisor for the Connecticut Department of Transportation from 1979-97, supervising road maintenance. "Our kids were 9 and 10 years old, and driving a tractor because we didn’t have enough people to help.
"Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t easy," he added. "But, the kids did all the chores with us. We were always together. And today, that’s how they’re raising their family. They’re beautiful girls, spectacular."
The girls saved their own money from the work they did and crops they sold, lived at home during part of their college years, and earned their college degrees.
"They both have beautiful jobs," said Dick, "and nobody owes a dime."
The penchant for volunteering is in their blood. For Liz, who was one of the first students to graduate from East Catholic High School, it’s part of her Catholic heritage.
Similarly for Dick, it’s part of his roots. "I grew up in a neighborhood where everybody helped everybody," he said. "We went through the flood of ’55; and there wasn’t a person on either side of our street who wasn’t out to help someone."
With a twinkle in his eye, he offered, "We have a little business on the side to help people who have nothing. You name it, we do it. We get calls all the time from doctors, lawyers, insurance people asking for help, resources, information. After all, we’ve been here 50 years. They know us."
One time, however, the tables turned and the help was for Dick. About three years ago, he was hospitalized with intestinal cancer, he said. Two days later, it turned into a staph and intestinal infection that led to double pneumonia."
"If he could have gotten anything, he got it," said Liz, recalling the memory.
"She didn’t allow any visitors," said Dick, "and that was a good thing. When I got home I had 357 cards, two and a half cigar boxes full."
But the couple wasn’t deterred by the setback. For five years, they’ve been part of a Tuesday program in Lent with about 17 churches of all denominations in Litchfield that take turns serving soup and bread; and for another 20 years, they’ve sold flowers at the Goshen Fair to raise funds for the soup kitchen.
"On Mother’s Day weekend, we also sell flowers in front of the Methodist church," said Dick. "One year, I came home and said to Liz, ‘I gotta say three Hail Mary’s to the Blessed Lady and I’ve gotta get Saint Joseph going because we gotta make money.’
"Our garage was full of flowers. But at 6:30 in the morning people started calling, asking to help. We got every car, truck and station wagon to move the flowers, set up the tents, and all of a sudden, there was no place to park. We sold $4,000 in flowers by noon, more than any in our history.
Dick credits the good things in his life to prayer. "These young people who can’t pray today, they’ve got a serious problem when they get older and they have health issues or family problems."
Liz and Dick believe that the secret to their 42-plus years of marriage is flexibility and partnership.
"I get up in the morning and he’ll ask me ‘What are we going to do today?’" said Liz. "And I’ll say, ‘I’m open to whatever happens.’ And no matter what, it always changes."
"For me," said Dick, getting in the last word, "she’s the entire bottle of glue."