Sioux City, IA--
On April 23, 2017, Sioux City lost a man few had the fortune
of knowing, a true hero that slipped away as quietly as he had arrived.
If Daniel (Danny) G. Harris’ life was summed up in facts
only, his story would be a rather short one; most of the details gleamed from a
1971 job application at UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s. Danny was born on December 28, 1946, place of
birth unknown, and worked at Harvey Dry Cleaners in Sioux City for a short time
before applying at the hospital. On June 16, 1971, Danny started a 40-year
career at St. Luke’s, retiring on December 31, 2011.
That is Danny’s story told strictly in vital records.
However, as is often the case with unsung heroes, there is much more to Danny
Harris’ story and the indelible mark he left on those who had the opportunity
to know him.
Danny was not a typical hero by most standards. When he
applied at St. Luke’s in June 1971, he requested a position in the laundry department,
one can only speculate that he did this based on his prior dry cleaning
experience. While he was a hard worker who strongly believed in “getting the
job done,” Danny had speech difficulties, often making it challenging for him
to communicate with other employees. Danny’s move from St. Luke’s laundry
department to an overnight janitorial position in the hospital’s surgery area
freed Danny of these challenges, allowing him to work by himself to get St.
Luke’s operating rooms in pristine condition for the next morning’s surgeries.
On a nightly basis, Danny would undertake the daunting task
of stripping and waxing the surgery area’s entire floor, changing all of the
cubicle curtains and essentially cleaning the hospital’s operating rooms from
floor to ceiling. On several occasions, surgery staff would catch glimpses of
Danny on his hands and knees using a small brush to clean out the cracks and
crevices in the department’s surgical suites. Danny’s explanation for doing
this was simple: “I don’t want anybody to catch anything, because I missed
cleaning something,” he would say.
One of Danny’s co-workers once said that, “while Danny may
not get a lot of attention while he is at work, people would certainly notice
if Danny missed a day of work.” Fortunately for those that were touched by his
tireless efforts, Danny never missed a day of work during his 40-year career at
St. Luke’s. It’s hard for many to imagine never missing a day of work for
illness or extreme winter weather conditions, except those people never had the
opportunity to meet or work with Danny.
In recognition of his incredible heart, soul and dedication,
St. Luke’s nominated Danny for the Iowa Hospital Association Iowa Hospital
Heroes Award in 2009. An award typically given to health care professionals
working in direct patient care, Danny became the first hospital housekeeper in
Iowa to receive the highly regarded IHA Iowa Hospital Heroes Award. His
co-workers made sure Danny was able to receive the award in person, traveling
with him to Des Moines and proudly looking on as Danny walked onstage.
In his free moments, Danny displayed the same passion for
his hobbies as he did for his work at St. Luke’s. He loved taking bus trips,
traveling alone to places as far and away as California. He was notorious for
returning to work after a few days of vacation, and to his co-workers’
amazement, proudly announcing his latest travels. In typical Danny fashion, he
did not let his challenges get in the way of allowing him the delight of
experiencing the world around him.
In addition to traveling, Danny was passionate about his
“paint-by-number” paintings, often bringing his latest masterpiece to work. His
paintings were so detailed, so colorful—the type of artwork one could stare at
for hours. Today, St. Luke’s proudly boasts a collection of more than a dozen
of Danny’s works of art. In particular, three of Danny’s paintings are
displayed with nameplates bearing his name, something which brought a huge
smile to Danny’s face when he first saw them years ago.
Danny famously said that he hoped his paintings would make
those who saw them smile or give someone the confidence to try something new.
There’s little doubt the footprints Danny left at St. Luke’s will continue to
make others smile for years to come.
Danny’s family at St. Luke’s would like to welcome those who
knew Danny to a memorial service on Friday, May 26 at 11 am in St. Luke’s
Auditorium. A lunch in the hospital’s Auxiliary Dining Room will immediately
follow the service. Danny’s paintings will also be on display, a beautiful
tribute to a man who so beautifully touched those around him.