Winnie Medin, one of county’s most celebrated volunteers, dies at 83

Winifred Medin (COURTESY PHOTO)


Winnie Medin’s 30 years of work in nursing, including a long run managing Sonoma County’s mental health crisis clinic, was only the portion of her lifetime of serving, comforting and caring for others for which she was paid.

Medin was a whirl of productivity and one of the region’s most celebrated volunteers. She assisted victims of Russian River floods as the local Red Cross disaster response coordinator. She co-founded Sonoma County’s first hospice program. She tutored students and incarcerated women in reading. She fed people through Catholic Charities’ rural food program. She co-hosted Sebastopol’s first Celtic festival. She counseled victims of domestic violence and loved ones of murder victims. She foster-parented children. She repaired books on tape at the Sonoma County Library. She taught classes on death and dying. And she conceived a service that checks on seniors who live alone.

In her free time, Medin grew and showed roses, raised miniature goats, traveled, painted and tinkered with early gasoline engines.

She died Sunday at her Santa Rosa home. She was 83.

“She is an example of the spirit that makes this a great community to live in,” said longtime friend Paul Kelley of Healdsburg, the former Sonoma County supervisor.

Another friend, Cloverdale resident Elaine Gregg, who worked for Medin at Sonoma County Mental Health, called her “a woman of many hats.”

“She was a wonderful boss,” Gregg said. “She cared about the employees, she cared about the patients. She was very hands-on. She had your back.

“If you had her for a friend, you were very fortunate,” Gregg said.

Medin retired from nursing in 1986, and amid all of her volunteering savored more time with her husband and hero, retired law enforcement officer Bill Medin. Said their daughter, Anmarie Medin of Fair Oaks, “Mom said that Dad literally saved her life by rescuing her from her abusive mother.”

The couple had been married for 54 years when Bill Medin died in 2013 following a siege of Alzheimer’s disease. Throughout his decline, his wife was his caregiver and constant companion.

“Her mission in life was to take care of him,” Anmarie Medin said. “He’d taken good care of her.”

The former Winifred Hetherington was born March 31, 1934, in Chicago. She would tell her children that her single mother was ill-equipped for parenthood and tormented her as they moved from Illinois to California, staying for a time in Los Angeles before settling in San Francisco.

Winnie studied at St. Francis School of Nursing, graduated in 1957 and went to work as a staff nurse at San Francisco General Hospital. One day she enjoyed a conversation with a San Francisco police officer who was guarding a prisoner in need of medical attention.

The nurse and officer, Bill Medin, dated for a time, then eloped to Reno. The year was 1958.

Bill Medin switched to the California Highway Patrol in 1961 and several years later was transferred to the CHP’s Sonoma County office. The Medins moved into a house a few miles west of Santa Rosa.

Winnie Medin was hired at Oakcrest, the county psychiatric emergency services center located across Chanate Road from what then was Sonoma County Community Hospital. She became the head nurse and was responsible for evaluating whether agitated people brought in by police officers should be admitted to the mental health clinic or booked into county jail.

Medin worked at Oakcrest for 17 years, and in 1986 retired at the age of 52. She’d always worked many hours a week as a volunteer, and in retirement made service to the community and to individuals in need a virtually full-time avocation.

Her volunteer work during the 1995 Russian River floods prompted former regional Red Cross chief Timothy Duncan to praise her as “our most dynamic volunteer.”

“We could not have successfully gotten through the recent flood disaster without her,” Duncan told The Press Democrat in 1995.

That same year, Medin was honored in Sacramento as one of four recipients of the First Lady of California Volunteer Award, presented by Gayle Wilson, wife of then-governor Pete Wilson.

Also in recognition of her countless hours of volunteering for a wide range of service organizations, Medin in 1996 was afforded the privilege of helping to carry the Olympic torch on its passage through the North Bay.

Serving people in need brought her immense joy, her daughter said.

“That was her whole life,” Anmarie Medin said. “Even right up to the end, she was all about helping others before herself.”

Winnie Medin’s children were with her when she succumbed to complications of a stroke.

In addition to her daughter in Fair Oaks, she is survived by sons Brian Medin of Rohnert Park and Dave Medin of Santa Rosa, and four grandchildren.

A celebration of Medin’s life will be at 1 p.m. on March 10 at Legends restaurant in Santa Rosa.

Her family suggests memorial donations to Memorial Hospice, 439 College Ave., Santa Rosa 95401.