From the Perspectives Newsletter: A Lifetime of Service

Ingrid Murphy retires after 34 years at Places for People

From the Fall/Winter 2015 Perspectives Newsletter

In 1981, Ingrid Murphy sat on a beach in Michigan and decided she was ready for a career change.

It was on the sand that Murphy decided to apply for a position in the Club program at Places for People. Thirty-four years later, Murphy retired from Places for People.

Before working at Places for People, Murphy taught art to children with special needs at a detention center, then went on to volunteer at a nursing home. “What I found there was a lot of people who could probably manage to live on their own,” she said. That inspired her to find a job with a housing corporation where she evaluated people for independent living.

At the same time, she started volunteering at Places for People, helping her friend Dottie Cohen in the Club’s thrift store and art program. Murphy, a native of Yonkers, NY, felt comfortable at Places for People, and enjoyed getting to know the people served by PfP.

When a full-time job opportunity opened up, she decided to take a chance. She wanted to help PfP’s clients reach their full potential.

“A lot of our folks who came from the state hospital, they had some incredible stories. Their journey in life was amazing. People who had no choices for an eternity could finally have some choices about where to live and what to do – that really spoke to me,” Murphy said.

When she started at Places for People in 1981, there were six employees in the Club program, including future executive directors Francie Broderick and Joe Yancey.

“I know no one person makes a program, but still it is hard to imagine the Club without Ingrid or Ingrid without the Club,” Broderick said.

During a tribute to Murphy during her retirement ceremony in the Club, she was described as one of PfP’s constants – a rock for the organization. Broderick agrees. “Sometimes the nature of a person’s illness was that they would do well for long period and something changes in their life and they spiral downward, and often that was when they came back to the Club. It was so reassuring to them and to other staff that Ingrid remembered and knew them and could re-engage with them in their recovery.”

One of the keys to Murphy’s longevity at Places for People was her ability to navigate change.

Over the years, change happened frequently. To keep pace with best practices and the latest guidelines, “every 10 years things would change,” Murphy said. During a stretch in the 1980s when PfP had to make changes to keep up with Department of Mental Health regulations, the future of the Club program was in doubt. The entire organization worked together to develop a road map for the future that kept the Club intact.

“That was an incredible process that was kind of thought out and developed by the entire agency staff. That was a beautiful thing to see.”

Over the years, Murphy also saw a change in the backgrounds of people served by PfP. In the early 1980s, Places for People clients were part of the deinstitutionalization movement of the 1970s and 1980s. Later in the 1980s and into the 1990s, the organization started seeing younger adults living with mental illness, then clients who lived with several co-occurring disorders, including substance abuse, trauma and homelessness.

“We ran into the problem of homelessness and drug addiction,” Murphy recalled. “When the crack epidemic hit here, it was really hard because of our neighborhood and where we were. Some of them I could get in, and some of them I couldn’t.”

A grant helped Places for People work more with people dealing with substance abuse issues in addition to mental illness.

“I could go out and open the doors and say, come on in. That was the best feeling, because it’s so difficult to see people who could be helped not be helped.”

Places for People’s Co-Clinical Director Scott Bayliff has worked with Murphy for the past 17 years. “Ingrid has consistently shown herself to be a genuine and caring person who has always been ‘person-centered,’” Bayliff said. “She has always been willing to do whatever is needed to get the job done and has always been one to make sure that the interests and opinions of the client is spoken for among any staff discussions about services or programming.”

In a job that called for a little bit of everything, one memory that stood out for Murphy involved a client who went into labor at the Club. “I never thought I’d be at a delivery. That was not on my plan of what you do at work, help babies come in, but you wound up doing that, too.”

Broderick also has a vivid recollection of that delivery.

The mother-to-be, who was a Club member, was deaf.

“Ingrid and I became labor coaches and, unfortunately neither of us were proficient in sign language, and we were asked to inform her that she needed a C-section and make sure she understood the risks,” Broderick said. “I remember how we tried to act that out.”

“We were there when her baby was born and I treasure that memory – along with many others.”

For many clients, thoughts of Murphy helping prepare special holiday meals provide indelible memories. Murphy and friends helped provide the Club’s Thanksgiving meal since 1982.

“I think the first year I was here, I went to New York for Thanksgiving, and that was the last time I went. When I came back from that Thanksgiving and when I talked to people and found out what it meant to them, I said I can do this.”

That sense of community meant a lot to Murphy. When Murphy’s husband passed away from cancer in 1985, co-workers and clients rallied around her. “This community was so supportive to me. I couldn’t have asked for a better support group.”

The decision to retire for Murphy was not easy, but she looks forward to spending more time with her husband.

“I realized that half of the staff was born after I started working here. I think that’s a good thing. There’s a lot of younger people, they have a lot of energy. I think we have a good quality of social worker,” she said.

Murphy never felt burned out in her more than three decades at Places for People. She explained, “You focus on what you can do, and have a belief that what you are doing is meaningful.”

Murphy’s current husband, Ron, retired from the Department of Mental Health in April. The pair will eventually split time between St. Louis and a new home in Marathon, Texas. “We picked out Marathon because it is 25 miles from a big national observatory and 25 miles from a small university. In every direction you go, there’s something different.” In Marathon, Murphy will have a friend nearby – it is also the community where Broderick lives in retirement.

Broderick said, “I know few people who could say they contributed as much with their lives as Ingrid Murphy.”