NEW ALBANY —
For 24 years, Melinda Spaulding has been specializing in second chances. Many of the ladies she assisted as a house mother at St. Elizabeth’s Maternity Home in New Albany found themselves in some tough times. Pregnancies made things even tougher. But with an optimistic smile, a loving wit and quite a few words of wisdom, the Ramsey resident always tried to get these women back on track so that both the future mothers and their children could find better tomorrows.
After touching more than 400 women’s lives, Spaulding has decided to retire from her beloved work at St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities. The organization held a retirement celebration Friday for its longtime employee who had been there from its inception.
“To do what Melinda did for 24 years is amazing in that it takes more than just showing up. She’s put real heart and soul into it and for 24 years, she wasn’t only there, but there with bells on,” said St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities Director Mark Casper. “She’s seen a lot of young women who have come through here. Melinda has worked with them, lived with them, cooked with them, cried with them.”
“And joked with them,” Spaulding added with a grin. “I’m the joker.”
Much-needed laughs were always welcome at the maternity home. Since 1989, pregnant women from around the country have sought refuge within its walls. What began as a floor of five girls when Spaulding started has grown into a multi-building complex that can house more than 30 women and their children. Some of the ladies place their babies in adoptive homes after delivery. Others choose to raise their children. Either way, St. Elizabeth’s always has offered financial, educational and emotional assistance to anyone in need.
For up to 24 hours at a time, several days a week, Spaulding watched over the women. Stories were told and tears were dried. In the evenings, the lights would be turned off and good-nights said as she checked on them in bed. Mornings with Spaulding consisted of a cheery “Good Morning, Sunshine” in a high-pitched, floating voice.
“They’d say, ‘Melinda, we used to hate you for that, but now we miss it,’” she said. “It’s just like being a mom. We’re therapists and we’re doctors. You nurture them. That’s what you need to do.”
Becoming too close to the residents without getting hurt, at first, was the most difficult aspect for Spaulding. Through the years, she learned to cope. To her, the work at St. Elizabeth’s has always been more like a calling than a job. It wasn’t unusual for her wards to accompany her home for the holidays or for her to hold a young girl’s hand during childbirth.
Following her retirement, Spaulding will devote much of her time to caring for the horses and chickens on her farm and spending time with family. From time to time, she’ll volunteer at the maternity home. As always, former residents will still be able to contact her and tell her about all the happenings in their lives and everything St. Elizabeth’s had taught them.
Of course, learning wasn’t just a one-way street. Spaulding said she gained as much from the St. Elizabeth’s residents as they did from her. Although now a different path has emerged for the house mother, one that has her following some of her own advice.
“I always tell them, ‘Girls don’t accept the word no and always take a chance on life.’ You have to do that,” Spaulding said. “And you know what’s funny? My horse’s name is Chance.”