The Sheepscot Valley Health Center in Coopers Mills now has a granite bench surrounded by flowers and a reading corner with free books to give to patients ages 6-14. Both are memorials to Dr. Carol Anne Eckert, who worked at the health center for 31 years.
It has been 10 months since Eckert died after being struck by a car while riding her bicycle, but her legacy lives on, husband Jeff Frankel said. Family members and Sheepscot Valley Health Center staff gathered for the dedication of “Carol’s bench” Tuesday, Aug. 15. An inscription on the bench reads, “forever in the hearts of her patients.”
“She was so loved by the patients,” co-worker Karen Curry said. “They still talk about her.”
The Sheepscot Valley Health Center Board of Directors decided to install the bench in the peaceful garden area in front of the health center, a spot Carol loved, board President John Opperman said.
The bench is meant to be a meditative space where staff can center themselves, Opperman said.
Eckert worked at the health center from its founding until about four years ago. She then worked as a floating doctor for HealthReach Community Health Centers, which operates the Sheepscot Valley center and similar rural health centers in Maine, until the accident Oct. 10, 2016. She passed away three days later.
“She has a place in the hearts of everyone here and at all the HealthReach clinics where she worked,” Opperman said.
Her influence spanned generations, co-workers said. Eckert helped deliver the babies of women she had delivered. Nioka Pease was delivered by Eckert and later became her co-worker at the health center.
The staff at Sheepscot Valley Health Center thought long and hard about a way to honor Eckert’s memory, said Julie Bailey, who worked with Eckert at the center for more than 20 years. In June, they introduced Carol’s Corner, a bookshelf full of free books for the center’s young patients.
In addition to caring for her patients and her family, serving on numerous federal, state, and local boards and committees, biking, hiking, practicing yoga, and immersing herself in the outdoors, Eckert loved to read, friends and family said.
The Sheepscot Valley Health Center was already part of a program that gives free books to patients up to 5 years old. Carol’s Corner expands that program to older children. “She would love the idea of putting books into the hands of children,” Bailey said.
The health center stamps a message into each book: “In loving memory of Dr. Carol Eckert – love heals, love holds, love hopes.”
Bailey spoke with Eckert’s children, Sam and Hannah, to find out what books she read to them when they were growing up, so the health center could offer them to patients.
“Everything on these shelves has meaning,” Bailey said. The coffee mugs that serve as bookends were Eckert’s. Bailey made the teddy bear on the bookshelf from a dress Eckert gave to her. A framed picture of Eckert reading sits over the bookshelf.
“It was an honor to do this for her, after everything she’s done here for us,” Bailey said.
The board’s decision to dedicate a bench to Eckert means a lot to the staff, and is a “beautiful tribute” to a woman who helped build the Sheepscot Valley Health Center, practice manager Christina Clark said.
Friends and co-workers have also organized a “Share the Road with Carol” bike ride to take place Oct. 1 in honor of her passion for biking. The ride will begin and end at the Windsor town office, with 12-mile and 27-mile options.
The remembrances have enormous meaning for Eckert’s family, Jeff Frankel said. “It’s been a long road from grief to healing,” he said. “We’re not there yet, but how consoling and heartwarming for the family to have this remarkable woman whose loss we felt so keenly, remembered in such a way.”
For years and decades to come, Frankel said, he hopes the bench at the health center will serve as a place where staff can sit and reflect, if only for a moment, on Eckert’s contributions to the health center and the community.
Eckert dedicated 31 years of her life to the health center and was “tremendously devoted to her patients,” Frankel said. “I like to think she’s here with us today.”