A walk to remember

Anne Chiefari was joined by her co-workers for her final trek to work

Anne Chiefari, center, was mobbed by roughly 20 co-workers during her final walk to work on Sept. 6. Chiefari has been walking the 1.1 mile trek to Jefferson Hospital since 2003. (Anthony J. Mazziotti III/The Sun)

The average person will burn 80 to 160 calories per mile walked. For Anne Chiefari, who served 41 years as an operating room nurse at Jefferson Hospital in Washington Township, her daily 2.2-mile commute was never about burning calories per se.

The story begins in 2003 when Chiefari’s car was in the shop for repairs and she was left without a vehicle to drive to work. She decided to take the shoelace express, and just like that a habit was formed.

“I didn’t realize how close I was, I thought it was two or three miles but my husband clocked it and it was 1.1 miles,” she said. “I can do that.”

Chiefari was always into exercise, noting bike rides through the neighborhood were her go-to, but she enjoyed the relaxing aspect of a walk to or from work as a way to refresh her or prepare her for the day.

“For years, I lived so close to the hospital when I drove I’d be home in two minutes – it gives you a chance to unwind or prepare for your day.” she said.

On Sept. 6, Chiefari made her final walk to Jefferson Hospital. With her shift set to begin at 7 a.m. on the dot, she and her husband Tony embarked on their morning walk. As the pair came down Hurffville-Cross Keys Road around 6:30 a.m., they crossed over Bells Lake Road. It appeared to be a normal, chilly morning. Little did Anne know roughly 20 of her co-workers were a half-block away, ready to surprise here and walk the last two-thirds of a mile with her.

“When we found out she announced her retirement, I said ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we all took her last walk to work with her?’ and I mentioned it to one of my co-workers and it spiraled out of control,” Colleen Gurovich, a surgical scrub technician and co-worker of Anne’s for the last 16 years.

“She is always positive no matter how things are. She’s our resource, she knows every nook and cranny of this hospital, she can tell you things that happened 30 years ago.” Gurovich added.

With the plan to surprise Anne in motion for a few weeks, Tony kept the secret from his wife. The look on Anne’s face when her co-workers emerged from behind a bus in the dawn lighting was worth it.

“It was really heart-warming and wonderful,” Tony said. “I can’t tell you how much she deserves this. She’s always been a very conscientious and hard worker. She did what’s right all the time. She’s very caring. This could have been the nicest send-off I’ve seen.”

Anne, who was pleasantly surprised to see her co-workers before her shift, had nothing but nice things to say about her job and co-workers.

“They’re such a great crowd,” she said. “I’ve been at the hospital for 41 years. In 1989, I went to the operating room, I worked with a lot of great doctors and nurses. It’s a really tight community, we share a lot of hard times, good times, it makes you feel good.”

Anne’s husband has been taking the walk with her since he retired roughly eight years ago. He would walk the 1.1 miles to the hospital, the 1.1 miles back to their house, the 1.1 miles back to the hospital at the end of her shift and the 1.1 miles back home afterward. Walking has always been an integral part of the couple’s lives – Anne and Tony spoke about growing up in New York City and living there into the 1970s.

“We always walked a lot, you get used to it,” Anne said with a smile.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “It’s not about the destination, it’s the journey.” Truer words could not be spoken in regard to Anne’s final day of work. Walking down a busy road with cars honking in support is something all 20 or so people who participated in the walk will remember for the rest of their lives. A bond shared between co-workers, the family that’s chosen, will live on forever.

Anne made it to work on time that day. She said she will miss all of her co-workers but looks forward to visiting them one day in the future.

“I’ll make a coffee cake – it’s my specialty. I’ll have to walk up here and bring it to them.”