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Longtime Memorial Hospital volunteer, WWII veteran, honored for service

Ed Farmer remembers all the details of his time in Europe during World War II.

He speaks of storming the beach at Normandy, of crossing the Rhine, of being hit by shrapnel and spending weeks in a Paris hospital.

He also speaks of the people he helped at Memorial Hospital for more than 20 years.

“Mr. Ed,” as his fellow volunteers call him, was a fixture of the entrance at the South Bend hospital. Fifty years after World War II ended, he joined the volunteer crew.

It started as a way to be near his wife, Ruth, while she worked at the Memorial gift shop. But Farmer, now 95, soon realized the volunteer shift had many more benefits.

“I was able to help people,” Farmer said. “It gave me a reason to get out of the house. It also kept me out of trouble.”

Farmer was born in 1924 into a family of veterans. His father was in the Air Force in World War I. His brother was in the Air Force, as well.

After he graduated from high school in 1942, he started working for Studebaker in South Bend as a tool maker. When some of his coworkers at the Studebaker plant decided to join the Army in the middle of World War II, Mr. Ed joined, too.

He attended boot camp in Mississippi before shipping off to Europe. He spent time in England before heading to France and fighting with Allied troops across Europe. “I was in Belgium when I was hit in the leg by some shrapnel,” he said. “I was lucky that I didn’t break any bones, but it cut my leg.”

Mr. Ed was treated in a Paris hospital for six weeks before rejoining his fellow soldiers just after the Battle of the Bulge. “I was in Paris, but never got to explore,” he said.

Farmer received a Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman Badge, and earlier this year, he received the World War II Victory Medal from Indiana Senior Senator Todd Young at the Indiana National Guard, Armed Forces Reserver Center in South Bend.

His family and friends attended, as well as representatives from the Naval Academy and West Point.

Memorial’s Ambassador Coordinator Alice Hightshoe says Farmer carried the persistence he demonstrated in his years of service to our country, into his volunteer work at the hospital.

In his more than two decades of volunteering at Memorial, he racked up thousands of volunteer hours.

“He just doesn’t call off,” she said. “He’s a different type of person. Even when he lost people in his family, he still made sure his obligations were met.”

Farmer said he used other lessons from his military service during his Tuesday and Thursday volunteer shifts. “I learned the importance of being on time,” he said. “And I learned to help when I’m needed.”

After the war ended, Farmer returned to Studebaker and worked there until they closed down his department in the 1950s. He worked other jobs around South Bend and Mishawaka until he retired.

While in Texas in the mid-90s, he suffered a heart attack. When he returned to South Bend, a member of his church suggested that he volunteer at Memorial to stay active. He joined the team in 1995 and escorted people around the hospital until he stopped volunteering in 2017.

Even though he doesn’t volunteer anymore, Mr. Ed is still seen around the hospital. He likes to grab lunch about once a week at the cafeteria and still chats with other volunteers he met over his 22 years of service.

“He’s 95 and he’s still hustling,” Hightshoe said.

“That’s Mr. Ed.”