Sanford inaugural ambassadors reflect on surprise getaway

"If the purpose of us being here is to feel loved, you've accomplished that"

Sanford Health employee ambassadors sit inside theatre watching live Lady A performance

Imagine getting an invitation from the leader of your organization to take a trip with just a few days’ notice.

That’s what happened to 20 employees of Sanford Health and Good Samaritan Society. It was a surprise getaway none of them saw coming.

“We set out to try and figure out a really unique way that we could say ‘thank you’ to 48,000 employees of Sanford Health — not just for all they’ve done in the past year, but all they’ve done for us forever,” chief marketing officer Kimber Severson told Sanford Health News.

In a letter to each of the employee ambassadors, President and CEO Bill Gassen wrote:

“Because of your extraordinary commitment to Sanford Health, the work you do and the people you serve, you are part of a select group of employee ambassadors who are about to take flight for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. … We know this is a lot to take in, but this is happening for you, because of you. The difference you’ve made is impossible to ignore and we are going to celebrate it.

We can go farther together – and we know that because of people like you. We can’t wait for you to find out what’s next!”

The letter came to each employee inside a suitcase which included an eye pillow, earplugs, a power bank to charge a cell phone, and a selfie stick.

They’d soon become the inaugural Sanford Health ambassadors and they were off to Nashville for two very special days.

Read more: Sanford celebrates employees with unforgettable experience

The group included a diverse cross-section of employees representing nursing, radiology technology, food services, environmental services, security, and patient and guest services, among others. Sanford Health News caught up with a few of them after their trip.

One traveler is about to celebrate her 41st work anniversary at Sanford.

“I’m just in awe. I’m very honored,” Carol Cressman said. She’s the director of pediatrics, PICU, pediatric outpatients and child life services.

“That’s what I told my staff. I said, ‘You know, they called us the inaugural group. That means first. It means that many other people will come behind that’.”

The trip of a lifetime

Another employee on the trip was Felix Nyangamoi, a learning and development specialist in Sanford’s environmental services.

“This thing has turned my head upside down and I’m still trying to digest it,” Nyangamoi said. “This is something truly very unique that I wasn’t expecting at all.”

The trip included a stay in downtown Nashville, live entertainment during their meals, a rooftop reception to mingle with leadership, a stop inside Nashville Boot Company and a private tour of the historic Grand Ole Opry theater, where they received the biggest surprise of all.

As the group sat inside the legendary hall, a curtain opened to reveal multi-platinum record selling, Grammy Award-winning country trio Lady A on the Opry stage.

They had produced a song called “This Too Shall Pass,” written in honor of Sanford Health caregivers. The ambassador group heard it performed live for the first time.

Listen now: Lady A performs ‘This Too Shall Pass,’ song dedicated to Sanford health care workers

Emotions were high and eyes filled with tears as they were all reminded of the challenges they have faced through the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than a moment

Carol Cressman wipes her tears as Lady A performs 'This Too Shall Pass' for Sanford caregivers
Carol Cressman wipes away her tears as Lady A performs 'This Too Shall Pass' for Sanford caregivers inside the Grand Ole Opry.

Photo by Jay Pickthorn, Sanford Health

For Cressman, it wasn’t just the song that brought her to tears, but her connection to the band many years prior.

“I had tickets to see Lady A … in Des Moines on January 28, 2012,” Cressman told Sanford Health News. “I never made it to that concert because my son died that day.”

She was overcome with emotion, calling it “surreal.”

“We never canceled our tickets because we had hope that Ryan would pull through and the day before, he didn’t,” she explained. “Those things happen for a reason so that will always be near and dear to my heart.”

She called it a “God moment” and is thankful for the experience she shared with her Sanford family.

“If the purpose of us being here is to feel loved, you’ve accomplished that because we really felt the love,” Cressman said.

As they left the theater, Nyangamoi turned to Bill Gassen, at a loss for words.

“Bill turns around to me and says, ‘Felix, this is for you. Thank you for making a difference in people’s lives. That’s what you do and that’s why we’re here, to celebrate you,'” Nyangamoi said. “So, that just kind of hit me right there.”

Maria Owen stands suprised when Lady A serenades her with their rendition of 'My Maria' by fellow country artists Brooks and Dunn
Maria Owen stands in surprise when Lady A serenades her with their rendition of 'My Maria' by fellow country artists Brooks & Dunn.

Photo by Jay Pickthorn, Sanford Health

Bar set high for new ambassador program

Maria Owen spent much of the last year caring for patients in the COVID-19 intensive care unit in Bismarck, North Dakota.

“It’s a pretty insane feeling. I guess I don’t really have words,” Owen told Sanford Health News. “The last year was terrible, to be completely honest with you. We were pushed very hard in many different ways and there were a lot of really tough things that we went through. It just feels really great to feel appreciated and know that everything I did, somebody recognized that.”

“This first year, we set the bar really, really high,” Severson added. “That is in thanks to the 20 who were chosen.”

Cressman, like the 19 others, is grateful to serve as a caregiver for an organization that shows it is grateful for them.

“It makes me so very proud for the future of Sanford and the path it’s on,” Cressman said. “It is an excellent place to work.”

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Posted In Awards & Recognition, Company News, People & Culture, Sanford Stories