Receptionists are greatly undervalued. When a newcomer arrives at a business, a receptionist is the first contact, and that first impression (good, bad, nasty) can have a huge impact on whether the newcomer will feel welcome and comfortable.
The Coborn Cancer Center is filled with good receptionists who are smiling, helpful and (so importantly) lots of fun.
The one I see every day is Denell Kruze at the Radiation Oncology wing. We love to play verbal tennis. Several weeks ago, on my first visit there, the woman at that reception desk looked so familiar. Then she gave me a big smile and said, “Dennis Dalman, I THOUGHT that was you.”
I drew a blank. Then she reminded me we’d had a good chat a couple years ago at the Sartell-LeSauk Fire Department Open House when I’d taken news photos of her two children, Maggie and Ryan. Denell lives in Sartell.
As we gabbed, I learned she is a “Ranger,” meaning she hails from Minnesota’s Iron Range – Hibbing to be exact.
“Hibbing?!” I asked. “No kidding! Do you like . . .?”
“Bob Dylan?” she asked, stealing my thought. “No! I can’t stand his music.”
Then she made an icky-sticker face, like the kind you see on bottles of rat poison.
“Shame on you!” I scolded. “How dare you not like Dylan? Something’s wrong with you. You need musical therapy immediately.”
“I bet you like Tom Petty, too,” she said.
“I do! In fact, I saw him and Dylan performing together back in 1987.”
She gave me a sympathetic look, as if I had endured hell on earth.
“You don’t like Petty?” I asked.
“Oh, gosh no!” she said, making another icky-sticker face. “Horrible! He’s as bad as Dylan!”
“Well, who DO you like?” I asked.
“Beyonce, Madonna and Pink,” she said.
It was my turn to make an icky-sticker face.
Every day at the cancer center, Denell and I (and sometimes her “sidekick,” fellow receptionist Tracy Rothstein) exchange smarty remarks.
“Denell will NEVER let anyone forget she’s a Ranger from Hibbing,” Tracy said, sighing.
“Say, Denell,” I asked. “I forget. WHERE did you say you’re from?”
“Oh, c’mon, you guys,” she said, groaning. “Gimme a break.”
One day, Denell told me her mom, Kathleen Clark, attended high school with Robert Zimmerman. Clark was a string bean then, only 90 pounds. One day in study hall, the always-quiet boy who sat in front of her suddenly turned around, touched Clark’s blouse and said a crude comment about her body.
“He said WHAT?!” I asked. “What did your mom do?”
“She was so shocked she said nothing.”
“What a jerk!” I said.
“I thought you liked Dylan?” she asked.
“Well, I did – I mean, I still do, but that was totally uncalled for.”
“You can say that again,” she said.
One morning, I walked up to the reception desk to see Denell smiling brightly.
“Guess what?!” she said. She told me she’d been at mother-in-law Mary Kruze’s house in Rochester the previous weekend. Mary was playing piano, and Denell was moved by the beauty of the song. She walked over to the piano and peered at the sheet music to see what song it was. She saw “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan.
“I couldn’t believe it!” she said. “I told myself I’ve got to tell Dennis this.”
“Well, you mean to tell me you’ve never ever heard that song?” I asked.
“No, and it was so beautiful!” she said, quickly adding, “But I wouldn‘t want to hear Dylan singing it – or Tom Petty.”
Last Monday I walked past the reception desk.
“Dennis, you must have cut your hair,” Denell said.
“That’s good,” she quipped, with a sneaky smile. “Now it won’t be blowin’ in the wind.”
We both cracked up.
There’s nothing better during a visit to the Coborn Cancer Center to encounter such a wisecracking smarty-pants as Denell Kruze.
But, oh!, if I could only force that Ranger to enroll in a musical-therapy course.