The woman her family called “Edie” died 15 years ago in Allentown, Pa.

“Afterwards my sisters and I looked at each other and said, ‘Those hospice workers were angels on earth’,” said Judie Bortness. “Within a matter of six months or so I took volunteer training and I became a Sunday afternoon volunteer.”

For three years, she volunteered. Then, she joined the team. The care Bortness’ mother received inspired her to start a second career caring for others just like her Edie.

So, when Bortness was asked to toll the bells at Suncoast Hospice’s 40th anniversary memorial service on November 16, she knew her answer was a resounding yes.

“It’s an awesome privilege to be able to do that,” said Judie. “When I was first asked to toll the bell, I was honored.”

Bortness is only ringing bells because of Lori Williams. When Bortness joined the Suncoast Hospice team she saw Williams tolling in regional memorial services. It sparked an interest in the instrument and led to the two tolling together.

“I consider that a privilege to do that,” said Williams, who has been tolling for Suncoast Hospice for six years. “There are a lot of lives that we’re going to be honoring on Thursday.”

The 40th-anniversary memorial service will honor the over 167,000 patients the care facilities have worked with over the past four decades. Family members who have lost loved ones can sign up to have that loved one’s name read during the ceremony. Bortness and Williams will toll after names are read.

The opportunity to remember past patients in that way is something both women are eager to be a part of.

“Every time I have tolled the bell, my whole body is shaking,” said Bortness. “It’s this awesome feeling of having been part of something larger than myself.”

Suncoast Hospice’s Community Memorial Service will be held Thursday, November 16 at 6 p.m. at the First Baptist Church of St. Petersburg, located at 1900 Gandy Blvd N. St. Petersburg, 33702. RSVPs are required. Those can be made at (727) 523-3444 or

Special guest speaker Rev. Dr. Carla Cheatham and musical guest Concordia Vocal Ensemble with conductor Dr. Matthew Caine will perform. The service is inclusive of all faith traditions.

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