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North Shore University Hospital's 1st employee, longtime volunteer, dies

Jan Senecal, who died this month at age 92, spent 63 years with the hospital in administrative roles and as a volunteer. She was a world traveler, having visited China, Japan and countries throughout Europe.

Jan Senecal was the first employee at North

Jan Senecal was the first employee at North Shore University Hospital who in retirement remained active as a volunteer. She grew up in Old Westbury, was hired and worked out of a school building in Great Neck before the hospital was completed. Photo Credit: Northwell Health

Jan Senecal, who spent 63 years at North Shore University Hospital in administrative roles and as a volunteer — and who held the distinction of being the institution’s first employee — has died. She was 92.

Senecal, who lived in Bayside, Queens, during the last years of her life, held several administrative positions at the Manhasset facility and spent more than two decades as a volunteer after her retirement in 1994. She logged more than 4,000 volunteer hours at the hospital. Senecal died March 12 of natural causes, her friends and colleagues said.

“The employee number that was on her badge was No. 1,” said Kathleen Nocera, of Forest Hills, Senecal’s friend for 42 years.

The day North Shore opened in 1953, Senecal began her career as a personnel assistant and over time rose to personnel director. She also worked in the dean’s office helping new medical residents get oriented to their fast-paced roles as doctors-in-training.

“She was totally devoted to North Shore. It was her home as well as her employer,” Nocera said. “She was a dynamo. Physically she was very small, probably no more than 4-foot-7. And as one of the doctors said, he never saw her walk slowly. She was always running.”

Nocera also remembered Senecal as a world traveler who visited China, Japan and countries throughout Europe.

“She never married, never had children. She lived in Great Neck for probably 60 years,” Nocera said. Senecal moved to a skilled nursing facility in Bayside when her health deteriorated.

“She was a woman of deep faith, prayer and meditation," Nocera said, noting her friend was a lifelong parishioner at St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church in Great Neck.

Lisa Breiman, North Shore’s director of volunteer services, recalled an ardent Mets fan and volunteer who would go out of her way to help North Shore’s patients.

“She was a special person. She was so kind and nice. North Shore was her life. She didn’t have much family, so she dedicated her life to the hospital,” Breiman said. “She liked visiting with patients and talking with them.

"She headed up the patient library and very carefully selected the latest books and magazines, then offered them to the patients when she visited their rooms."

Both Nocera and Breiman remembered Senecal’s devotion to the hospital’s junior volunteers, high school students who log hours helping patients. Many visited her at the skilled nursing facility where she lived after ending a 22-year stint in 2016 as a volunteer.

Senecal was born in New York City on June 12, 1926, but spent most of her school years in Great Neck before enrolling at Stevens College in Missouri, where she was educated for two years. She returned to New York to complete her undergraduate education at Columbia University, where she was one of only three women majoring in business, Nocera said.

The women students didn't have the same opportunities that were offered to their male counterparts, Nocera said Senecal told her. But that disparity never fazed Senecal.

“At a time, when women were often treated as second-class citizens, she was always confident of her own abilities,” Nocera said.

Northwell officials remembered Senecal for more than six decades of service.  

“Jan Senecal was employee No. 1. That really was her number,” Ralph Nappi, executive vice chair of Northwell Health’s board of trustees said in a statement. “She was a gentle human being and a wonderful employee who really set an example for others.”

Senecal had no survivors, outside of her friends and colleagues. A sister predeceased her about a dozen years ago, Nocera said.

Funeral services were held March 17 at the Doyle B. Shaffer Funeral Home in Little Neck. A funeral Mass was offered the next day at St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church in Great Neck.

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