When she peeks around the door to greet you at the Morgan County Health Department (MCHD), the first thing you notice is the wonderful smile that even lights up all the way through her eyes. Carol Hungerford is retiring on June 30, 2017, after 41 years at the Morgan County Health Department; that is a year longer than she has been married. The MCHD is holding a reception honoring Hungerford’s retirement on June 30 from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.at Hamilton’s. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to come.
Hungerford began her career at the Morgan County Health Department before she had even graduated from high school. Her Jacksonville High School business teacher, Mrs. Flystra, recommended her to then director Bill Meyer for a part-time position. Hungerford had afternoon study halls, so she was let out in the afternoon to work as a file clerk from 1 – 4:30 p.m. during her senior year. It was 1976 and many schools at the time were doing away with the arts. Hungerford had been planning to go to Utica College to study and become an art teacher. When the MCHD offered her a full-time job before she graduated, Hungerford looked to an unsure future as an art teacher, and the reality of a full-time position, and chose to stay at the health department.
“It’s never been boring here, things are always changing,” said Hungerford. “I’ve held positions as file clerk, administrative assistant, family planner, office manager, Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) and have done the billing,” she listed. She said she had planned to retire a few years back, but when her current boss public health administrator Dale Bainter came on board, Hungerford stayed to be his administrative assistant and continued with the PHEP. “Dale is a go getter and has a plan for tackling new health issues.”
“When I started here, there were no fees, no walk-in immunizations. The budget has gone from $200,000 to $1.3 million,” Hungerford recalls. “Grant programs constantly change. We later began taking walk-ins from WIC.” The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is a supplemental food program for low-income pregnant women, postpartum women, breastfeeding women, infants and/or children up to their fifth birthday from low-income families who are determined to be at nutritional risk.
When talking about the Morgan County Health Department, Hungerford justifiably becomes very sentimental. “I grew up here, I’ve seen the number of employees grow and my life happened here! I’ve gotten married, had kids and grandkids. I have had three great bosses who have always had my best interest at heart. If there was an emergency or death in the family, each would say, ‘What do you need?’ I gave them loyalty and the same care in return. It’s a family atmosphere and I think that also helps us in dealing with all the families we serve here.”
Hungerford married her husband, Frank, when she was 19 years old, approximately a year after she began with the health department. Frank Hungerford is retired from the United National Benevolent Association and currently serves as pastor at Lynnville Christian Church. They have three children, Bethany Miller, Ann Hungerford and Clifton Hungerford, plus three grandchildren.
“As I said, it’s never boring here – everyone drops what they’re doing and gets the job done. Like during the flu shot season, we give between 1,200 and 1,500 shots in two days.” But she also notes the Morgan County Health department is not just for the underprivileged, they work for the people of Morgan County.
“The only thing consistent in public health,” Hungerford states emphatically, “is change.” Talking about some of the changing issues she sees facing the Morgan County Health Department in future, she notes, “We are constantly checking on trends. Our coordinator in charge of communicable disease relentlessly checks to see what issues are coming our way. There are water issues, food issues, health issues. Every five years, we develop an IPLAN (local needs assessment plan). We go through a community committee and discuss issues in our community and set up programs to deal with those specific issues in our community.” Hungerford says the health department also has a new computer program for billing to help keep up with the ever-rising number of people who walk through their doors. “We are right on the cusp of change,” she said. “Our grants are perpetually transforming and so are we. Dale has great plans for the future of the health department and I know he is the right person to be in that position.”
What does Hungerford plan to do during her retirement? Well, she can’t quite step away yet from her work family, so she plans to work part-time hours starting in the fall, administering vision and hearing screenings as needed for the department. She says plans to spend lots of time with her husband, kids and “grandbabies” – and do some traveling, too.
Recall that she wanted to be an art teacher when she was younger? Hungerford still remembers her art mentor/art teacher in junior high and high school, Judy Moore, and managed to find a painting of Moore’s at a sale once, which she treasures. And while she has put her art on the back burner, Hungerford has joined the Jacksonville Art League, located on South Main Street, and has a space there where she is able to paint. Over the years she has enjoyed doing art projects including painting a 12 feet by 6 feet landscape mural at her church – which makes you feel as if you could walk right into it. She has also led a paint-and-pour at her church. A Carol Hungerford original painting of a daisy hangs in City Hall, as well. So, could we see a show at the Strawn Art Gallery some time? Hungerford said she is ultra critical of her own work, but from what this writer saw and the perceived joy she takes in her paintings, it would seem that like the love she has showed for the health department during the last 41 years, we can only hope and look forward to it, someday.