Former housekeeper earns St. Barnabas employee of the year honor

Deborah Deasy
| Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

Dust-busting Marie Riggs never imagined making an award-winning career of scrubbing floors or cleaning kitchens.

“That would not have been my choice,” said Riggs, winner of the 2013 Hoppy Award from St. Barnabas Health System.

“I'm not that fond of housekeeping my own house,” said Riggs, a grandmother from Penn Township, Butler County.

Coworkers nominated Riggs, a former housekeeper at St. Barnabas Village, for the Hoppy Award, which annually recognizes an employee of the year among St. Barnabas Health System's more than 660 workers.

“At first you're so shocked. That's the epitome of being appreciated,” said Riggs, who received an inscribed trophy and white roses.

“I lost my mother when I was 18, so the residents really mean a lot to me,” Riggs said. “They were like stand-in mothers.”

At 64, Riggs no longer pushes a vacuum for pay, but she spent two decades doing that for residents of the more than 250 apartments at St. Barnabas Village and Washington Place in Richland.

“It definitely was a workout. It gives you exercise,” Riggs said about her nearly 23-year run as a housekeeper for residents.

“They'll train you exactly how they want you to do their apartments, bless their hearts,” Riggs said, laughing. “Some of them are such sticklers. They're old school on how you do everything.”

Riggs first worked part time as mail carrier when she joined the staff at St. Barnabas Village in 1991 — after living in Virginia and North Carolina.

She also worked briefly in the dietary department of St. Barnabas Nursing Home in the early 1970s.

Riggs still works two days a week at scheduling fellow housekeepers, preparing apartments for new residents and assisting her boss. She cleaned until August.

“She has been an inspiring employee who has mentored all of the housekeeping staff, including myself,” said Patrick Doyle, director of housekeeping at St. Barnabas Village.

But Riggs misses her connections with residents, and her routine visits to their apartments.

“I thoroughly enjoyed that part of my job. That's what I miss,” Riggs said.

A graduate of Knoch High School, the former Marie Eckel first worked as a service girl at the former Bobbie Brooks clothing factory in Butler County.

She then met husband, Ron Riggs, a Richland High School graduate and retired lab technician for former Cowan Metal Finishing on Pittsburgh's North Side.

For 19 years, the Riggs lived in Lynchburg, Va., and Albermarle, N.C. The couple will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary on June 13.

They have two children — Brian, 33, of Bellevue; and Kelly Weston, 36, of Penn Township — plus, six grandchildren.

The Hoppy Award is named after the late Ralph Blessley, a 19-year employee of St. Barnabas Nursing Home, and former patient known for his unusual gait due to a bone disease. He died in 1984.

A maintenance worker, Blessley also raised plants, built a greenhouse, and made tables for the nursing home residents.

Blessley raised $2,300 for St. Barnabas Nursing Home by selling the items.

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or

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