During what was thought by many of its attendees at St. Catherine Hospital to be a regular Wednesday staff meeting, one hospital staffer was given a unique honor he never expected.

Epifanio “Eppy” Garcia, a Garden City native who has worked at St. Catherine as a surgical technician since 1971, was shocked when Dr. Guillermo Garcia notified the 50 people in attendance that a scholarship would be put in Eppy’s name.

Eppy was seated toward the front of the room, and as it became clear that he would be the focus of the day’s meeting, everyone’s eyes got a little wider, especially his.

“I didn’t expect this,” Eppy said, holding back tears as he accepted his certificate.

The Epifanio “Eppy” Garcia Scholarship for surgical technology students at Seward County Community College in Liberal has been made a reality by the Garcia Charitable Foundation.

“I never thought I had friends,” Eppy said jokingly. “It’s a big surprise. I’m happy, really happy.”

According to Travess Funk, clinical coordinator of the surgical technology program at SCCC, two scholarships worth $250 apiece will be awarded to students during their spring semester in the one-year program, which conducts many of its clinical pearls at St. Catherine.

“Even though we’re based out of Liberal, we’re still a part of the community up here because we do a lot of clinicals here,” Funk said, adding that “not many people” in attendance, even six of his students he brought along for the reception, were aware of just what would happen.

Funk said Eppy has had an impact on all of the program’s students for years as a preceptor, adding that he and Ashley Davis, surgical technology program coordinator at SCCC, were both impacted by Eppy as they passed through the program.

“I went through this very program that we’re now teaching,” Funk said. “Eppy trained us when I went through the program in 2003. All the surgical techs that are here that have gone through our college, Eppy has had a hand in training.”

The program has been around since 1986, Funk said, and 12 students participate each year, meaning Eppy has helped train about 372 surgical technicians. Those students, Funk said, go on to become doctors, nurses and career surgical technicians.

“We’re just super proud of Eppy,” Davis said. “He’s been working really hard for a really long time, and it’s a good thing to recognize him.”

Eppy got his start in health care when he served in the military in Frankford, Germany. When he came back to Garden City in 1970, St. Catherine staffer Belva Kester hired him because she, too, had served in a medical capacity in Frankford, though neither of them ever crossed paths, according to Elaine Garcia, Eppy’s wife.

Mrs. Garcia described Eppy as “a little jokester and a prankster,” but noted that nurses and other staff at St. Catherine always get him back.

“You can always count on him,” Dr. Garcia said. “He will never say no. You can call him just to do anything, and he will always be willing to do that. He’s always willing to help out in every possible way.”

Dr. Garcia said that dedication applies in both Eppy’s private and public life.

Eppy is a member of the American Legion, a fourth-degree knight in the Knights of Columbus, a member of Vets for Veterans, a former member of the Beef Empire Days Rodeo Committee, a volunteer at St. Mary Catholic Church and a former coach of women’s baseball.

St. Catherine CEO Scott Taylor was also present to congratulate Eppy.

“St. Catherine hospital is blessed with a large number of wonderful associates like Eppy Garcia and a caring medical staff like Dr. Bill Garcia,” Taylor said. “It’s a great honor to be associated with these folks. I’m very proud of Eppy. We are proud of Eppy and the example that he sets for future generations of health care workers.”

Contact Mark Minton at mminton@gctelegram.com.