From Prisoner of War to Hospital Volunteer: 94-Year-Old Shows Them How It's Done

A 94-year-old South Bay resident went from a prisoner of war to a hospital volunteer.

Wanda Damberg has lived a very full life, and through it all, she's felt a connection to medicine.

Damberg started volunteering at the Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Torrance in 1980 and she's been at it ever since.

Damberg rarely lets the phone ring more than once or twice. She's quick and she's computer savvy.

"She's sharp as a tack," Lou Knox, a volunteer, said. "That's the thing I enjoy: When people come up to her and they have a first impression — as soon as she starts talking they say, 'Oh OK, you're with it. You know what's going on."

There may not be anyone else who knows the hospital like Damberg does after 35 years as a hospital volunteer.

Her connection to medicine began long before this chapter. Damberg's father was stationed in the Philippines in 1937.

Not long after, her whole family was taken captive by the Japanese. At 20 years old, Damberg was a prisoner of war.

"That's the most important picture because that's when we did the smuggling in prison camp," Damberg said.

In prison camp, she risked her life to smuggle medicine to the camp infirmary.

Was it dangerous? Yes. But it was Damberg's connection to helping others that compelled her to do it.

She has plenty of stories, like the one that earned her the nickname "Wow."

"I call her 'wow' -- which was a response from the judge," Knox said.

It was in Tokyo when Damberg caught the eye of a judge. She was one of the few women to testify during the war crimes trials. His whistle was mistakenly heard through the courtroom when he saw her.

"He had the gavel, and he said, 'Miss Werff, I am sorry if I embarrassed you but I meant every whistle of it!" Damberg said.

Her daughter writes about the lighthearted incident and so many of her mother's life stories in a book called "Courage and Deliverance."

But Damberg's spirit and energy proves she has many more chapters to go.

"I can't just sit and do nothing," Damberg said. "I mean, I gotta do something with my hands."

These days, she keeps busy as the hospital's longest-term volunteer, and on her days off, she knits blankets for babies, which she gives to the hospital gift shop to sell.

Damberg's colleagues say they learn so much from her.

"She's a great lady and a real great inspiration," Knox said.

They say her compassion is her greatest chapter of all.

"I feel very comfortable in a hospital," Damberg said. "While I can, I'm still at it."

Damberg says she prefers the excitement of the emergency room, but they needed her at the hospital information desk because out of all the volunteers, she has the sharpest computer skills.  

Contact Us