Providence Associate Celebrates 50-year Milestone

May 16, 2017 3:59 pm Published by

Asonia Smith Lead Switchboard OperatorThe year was 1967. Lyndon Johnson was president. Gas cost 33 cents a gallon. Elvis married Priscilla and America laughed at the TV antics of The Beverly Hillbillies. Streets were filled with those marching against the war in Vietnam and for civil rights here at home.

It’s also the year that 22-year-old Asonia Smith began a career at Providence Hospital that continues today.

The Gilbertown, Alabama native moved to Mobile right after high school graduation. After waiting tables at the Best Grill Cafeteria for $15 a week plus tips for several years, Asonia took a job as a dietary aid at Providence. She worked in the dishroom and the salad area, and was responsible for the breakfast menu.  “That’s where I met an extended family of loving people,” she said.

In 1971, Asonia became the first African-American to staff the hospital’s Information Desk. In a role that is similar today, she helped direct visitors by looking up patient names and room numbers. But back then, the patient directory was not computerized. Instead, Asonia kept track of patients by recording names and room numbers on a Rolodex, which she updated daily. She also created an innovative method for cataloging patients by name, denomination and home church for visiting clergy.

Asonia loved the interaction with the public that her job as information clerk gave her, but after 11 years, she was offered the chance to fulfill a lifelong dream by becoming a telephone operator for the hospital. She couldn’t say no. “As a child, when I went to work with my mother, I would answer the telephone. I always wanted to be a telephone operator and even applied for a job with South Central Bell but I wasn’t hired,” Asonia explained. “This job was my destiny. It allows me to minister through the phone. I get to help people.”

With a career that spans half a century, it’s no surprise that Asonia has seen many changes at Providence. “The computer has been the biggest change in the way I do my job,” she said. “And the hospital is bigger, more businesslike, much busier.”

Today, Asonia is Lead Switchboard Operator and still loves her job. “We have a strong sense of team in our department,” she said. “We work together. We help people. We are a ministry.”

In her spare time, Asonia enjoys travel. Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon, Mexico and a cruise to the Bahamas are all destinations she’s enjoyed in recent years. And when she’s not traveling, she stays busy with her work at Little Welcome Missionary Baptist Church where she serves as secretary of the Sunday School and president of the Usher Ministry. But if you’re thinking this busy mother of three grown sons and grandmother of three more boys might be considering retirement, you better think again. “Retirement is not in my vocabulary,” Asonia insists. “This is my home. There’s no other place I’d rather be.”