Outstanding Hospital Volunteer of the Year award recipient Cris Vrabel encourages all veterans to "get involved." Craig Roberts

Alaskan is Hospital Volunteer of the Year

Alaskan Crucelina “Cris” Vrabel is a “Lower Forty-Eight” expatriate, but she loves the territory known as The Last Frontier as if she were native to it. When she first arrived from her home city of Brooklyn, N.Y., she cast eyes on the Alaskan wilderness and was enthralled immediately by the scenery. “Every morning I wake up, look at those mountains, and thank God that I found it. It reminds me that there is a God,” Vrabel said.

Her adopted home isn’t the only thing she views with religious fervor. She embraces her work with equal devotion. An operating room nurse with 44 years of experience, Vrabel works in the much-lauded Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, 16 miles from her home in Eagle River.

Being an OR nurse is tough business. More than a few in her line of work have burnt out in half the time she’s been at it. When asked how she’s stood the pressure for 40-plus years, Vrabel replies simply, “I love my work.” A Navy veteran, she especially enjoys working with fellow vets - so much that in her downtime she volunteers to care for them not only at her workplace but at a nearby VA hospital.

Vrabel’s dedication to veterans health care was recognized by The American Legion’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Commission during the organization’s Washington Conference this week as she was presented the division’s Outstanding Volunteer Hospital Worker of the Year award. In accepting the honor, Vrabel admitted that she had never heard of its existence before being notified that she’d been chosen as this year’s winner.

Vrabel has been a Legionnaire for 16 years, currently attending meetings at the all-female Aurora Borealis Post 21 in Anchorage. She serves as the Western District Zone 1 Commander for the Department of Alaska.

She will soon undergo hip replacement surgery and, after more than 40 years on her feet, says she may retire from her full time job next year. Predictably, she plans to spend her retirement years doing more volunteer work.