It may be a patient that sees one, perhaps a doctor, a nurse, an anxious family member or a curious member of the community.
Amidst the gray rocks surrounding St. Luke’s locations in Boise and Meridian, you may find a brightly-colored one with a smiley face greeting you.
Lori Gayle, an administrative specialist in Breast Cares Services in Meridian, painted it.
Discovering a small bit of joy in all the gray has become disproportionately meaningful as St. Luke’s and the state of Idaho battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The second day I went around sneaking rocks all over, an employee from the hospital saw me looking through my little white to-go container where I’d carefully placed my smileys and whispered, ‘Are you the one putting all these rocks around? I love them! This is so great! We need this right now,’” Gayle said.
The stealth rock project has lifted Gayle’s spirits, too. The memory of her husband, Dan, served as the inspiration.
They met in September 2015, not long after Gayle started working at St. Luke’s Cancer Institute (then MSTI), where she says, “I was meant to work.”
They worked on the same crew of a hot air balloon during the Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic and hit it off instantly. She soon learned it had been more than a year since Dan was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer.
“I didn’t care,” Gayle said. “It was as close to love at first sight as could be, if not love at first sight.
“We never spent a day apart since that morning, and we made the most of every day we had.”
One activity the couple enjoyed was spending time in Boise’s parks – they met at Ann Morrison Park, after all. One chilly January morning in 2018, Dan told her to bundle up, and they took a walk around Esther Simplot Park.
“Babe, look!” Dan shouted.
They noticed that someone had painted a rock yellow. On one side, it read “Smile often,” with a painting of a small flower. The other read, “You’re the best.”
Gayle still has the rock.
The next summer, Dan ended up in hospice care for five months, but made what Gayle calls “a miraculous seven-month comeback.” During that time, he often told Gayle they should paint rocks like the one they had found, but never quite got around to it.
Gayle had transferred to Breast Care Services in February 2019, about a month before Dan passed away. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it had been a year since she lost Dan. Gayle admits she “was a bit lost,” but had been attending grief groups through St. Luke’s Hospice.
“It was a crazy time for both of us, and I’m so grateful for my St. Luke’s family, who helped me get through it,” Gayle said. “Dan would have been taken aback by all the kindness and support I got and continue to get.”
As the pandemic continued, Gayle started to think of ways to focus her mind and started to hunt for smooth rocks that would be good for painting. On neighborhood walks and lunch breaks walking around the Meridian campus, Gayle hunted rocks, careful not to disrupt landscaping or planters.
In September, around her birthday, Gayle started to paint. Friends came over for physically distanced driveway dinners that became painting parties.
Initially, she hid the rocks around her neighborhood, but the project was kicked up a notch when she saw a post on a local Facebook group (Boise “Rocks!”) that Oct. 1 was World Smile Day, along with a challenge to paint 100 rocks and place them around town. Gayle had 150.
She began tucking them in around the campus, because the work and the care meant so much to her and Dan.
At one point, an acquaintance doing cleaning rounds saw Gayle placing her painted rocks and asked about them. Gayle told her to pick one out of the box to have a “friend” accompany her the rest of the day.
So far, Gayle has painted and hidden more than 200 rocks and is nearing completion on her next batch of 100. They’ve been placed around the Boise and Meridian hospitals. A few have made their way to Pastry Perfection in Garden City, where she and Dan would get donuts each Saturday.
“If Dan was still here, he would have taken all of the plain rocks I found and spray painted them solid colors while I was at work so I could get right to painting after,” Gayle said.
“He absolutely loved helping me complete my crazy projects, so when I saw the challenge, I knew he’d love watching me get it done.”
To see his wife spread a little joy during tough times would have Dan very proud.
Dan and Lori, looking over the Boise River near Lucky Peak.
Dave Southorn works in the Communications and Marketing department at St. Luke's.