LEWISTON — Whether she’s doling out juice to blood donors or knitting hats for cancer patients, you get the sense that Gilda Dennis is right where she wants to be.

The cheerfully social 95-year-old has an energy that would be daunting to a 25-year-old. She has to put all that energy to good work, she said.

“It’s what I do with my time, because God gave me good health for a reason,” Dennis said.

One day each week, Dennis spends time at The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing, knitting whatever patients need — usually stocking caps or blankets.

“I like it because I can socialize,” Dennis said. “We’re doing something good, but we can talk while we do it and catch up. We socialize.”

She’s also on call whenever the Red Cross has a blood drive in the Twin Cities. She’s the friendly woman who talks with you when you’re finished, quick with a cookie or a cup of juice if you need it.

“When you get done, you have to spend 15 minutes with me in case you get lightheaded or dizzy or you need to lay down,” she said. “Somebody has to do that. Some pass right out, and we have a little cot and I have little bell. The minute I see that they are getting pale, I ring my bell and the nurses come over and we lay them down. They get a cold compress and a cold bottle of water until they feel better.”

In fact, she was recognized last month by the Red Cross for volunteer work.

“She loves it, because she gets to visit with everyone,” said Pauline Bonney, Twin Cities volunteer coordinator for the Red Cross. “She’s an excellent, excellent volunteer. We need her a few times a month, and if I don’t contact her early enough, she calls me.”

Dennis began volunteering 30 years ago, soon after she turned 65 and retired from TD Bank. She volunteered at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, and was tapped to help register people at a hospital blood drive.

She learned it was right up her alley.

“My husband was hemophiliac — he was a bleeder and many times he needed blood, and he needed it right away,” she said. “Thanks to the Red Cross, the blood was right there. They had a good supply, and so I understood the importance. So, I said, ‘Oh my! This is just what I wanted to do.'”

But a few times wasn’t enough to keep Dennis busy. She also kept in touch with her work friend, Amanda Dempsey, going out to lunch and visiting, especially after Dempsey was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

When Amanda’s son, Patrick, founded the Dempsey Center in 2008, the family came looking for their mother’s friend.

“I always kept in touch with the Dempsey family, and they kept me involved,” Dennis said. “They said, ‘We are going to start a cancer center and we need knitters. Do you knit?’ And I said, ‘Of course I do.'”

Dennis said she’d learned her knitting skills during World War II, making sweaters for servicemen. So she jumped right in the middle of the Dempsey Center’s knitting challenge, making hats and blankets for cancer patients.

Not only that, she recruited friends and acquaintances to the task.

“Before I knew it, we had a room full of ladies,” she said. “I’d go up to any lady I knew and say ‘Do you knit? OK, come with me!'”

The group meets every Thursday at the Dempsey Center’s Lowell Street office, spending the morning knitting and chatting.

Dempsey Center Communications Coordinator Kathy Dion credits Dennis with much of the knitting group’s success. It started with six regular knitters, meeting on Wednesday nights. Thanks to Dennis’ recruiting efforts, there are now more than 30 meeting to knit and talk.

And Dennis said she doesn’t plan on stopping.

“It’s such a nice social thing,” she said. “Why wouldn’t you do it? You can do something useful and at the same time, you enjoy it. Where else can you do something you enjoy that turns out to be worthwhile? It serves two purposes for me.”

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