Hospital auxiliary celebrating 60

FAIRMONT – “Give us the strength to labor diligently.” These simple words, part of a prayer recited by auxiliary members at Mayo Clinic Health System in Fairmont, exemplifies what the organization has done for 60 years.

The group met recently for coffee and cake and honored the 35 presidents who headed the group since Mildred Nightengale first took the helm in 1954.

Photographs of auxiliary members and events flashed on a screen throughout the gathering, and the memories came flooding back.

“For more than 60 years, this organization has served this community through many changes,” said Jan Wolfgram, current president, as she gave a rundown on the history of the group’s fundraising efforts.

Previously named the Fairmont Community Hospital Auxiliary, the group sold everything from baked goods and cookbooks, to jewelry and suckers to raise money for hospital equipment and patient comfort items. Once, they even held a rag drive, with a caution to donors that no girdles would be accepted.

“Members sewed bed linens and instrument wrappers, and even 60 pairs of drapes,” Wolfgram said.

They raised funds for portable adjustable bedside tables, an X-ray machine and air-conditioning units.

“When this new facility opened in 1970, auxiliary members used their driving services and personal vehicles to help transport patients,” said Wolfgram, calling the situation “an insurance nightmare” nowadays.

Students pursuing health care careers have received more than $51,000 in scholarship money, while more than $700,000 in cash and equipment has been donated to the hospital, all through the efforts of the auxiliary.

“Today, we just honor the past,” Wolfgram said. “We work today and prepare for the future.”

Carole Lohmann, who served as auxiliary president from 2010-12, had served as head of the anesthesia department when the auxiliary bought three gas machines at $30,000. Although this equipment has been replaced twice since, she said the initial gift was a greatly appreciated addition to her department.

Auxiliary members also volunteer to work in its gift shop in the hospital lobby. The shop is filled with a variety of items, from sandals and purses, to flowers and toys.

Talk of the gift shop evoked an anecdote from Arlene Saxton, who served as president from 1994-96. When she worked in the shop, she ordered 12 teddy bears. She was shocked when the supplier sent 12 cases of teddy bears instead. While the toys are popular gifts for younger patients, the shop didn’t need quite that many in stock.

Bob Bartingale, hospital administrator, offered praise and gratitude to the auxiliary members.

“I’m extremely humbled to be here,” he said. “This is an incredible group – 60 years of fundraising efforts. Sixty years is a great milestone, and the patients appreciate everything you do for them.”

Kris Tietz, regional director of volunteer and chaplain services for Mayo, and Mary Jean Oliver, district chairman of Health Care Auxiliaries of Minnesota, also offered their congratulations to the local group.

“Volunteers are love in motion,” Oliver said.

“The most important thing we all give is our time, and we give a lot of that,” Wolfgram said.