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Local hospital auxiliary celebrates 50th year

The auxiliary began in 1972 with the wives of doctors and administrators as charter members.

Sanford Hospital Auxiliary
Members of the Sanford Hospital Auxiliary and board of directors gathered for a photo after a celebratory brunch Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, at the Elks Lodge in Worthington. The auxiliary was established 50 years ago.
Julie Buntjer / The Globe
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WORTHINGTON — What began as the Worthington Regional Hospital Auxiliary in 1972 by the wives of doctors and hospital administrators has grown in 50 years to include a hundred volunteer members with countless projects to benefit not only the hospital, but the community.

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Last Thursday, dozens of auxiliary members gathered for an annual brunch sponsored by Sanford Worthington Medical Center, who continues to support the now Sanford Hospital Auxiliary.

Ruth Sieve is a charter member of the organization. Her husband was the clinic administrator 50 years ago, and she said the auxiliary was established as a form of good will. There wasn’t much that the auxiliary did back then, she said.

“But it was all a build up to what we have today,” she added. The cost for charter membership was $50 in 1972 — the same price as it costs to become a lifetime member of the auxiliary today. Annual dues are just $5, and the proceeds — combined with the money they raise in an annual bake sale and biannual jewelry sales at the hospital — are used to fund scholarships for individuals pursuing a career in the medical field.

Initially, the hospital auxiliary wasn’t open to the general public, but when it did begin accepting outside volunteers, Donna Meinders-Hodnefield was one of the first to sign up.

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“I’ve always been interested in the medical field and helping people,” she said. “I enjoyed working on the floor for many years, and when my first husband was sick, I scheduled volunteers to work on the floor.”

As a volunteer, Meinders-Hodnefield said she did what she could to help the nursing staff at the hospital.

“You would run errands that would take work away from the nurses, so they could be with their patients more,” she said. “We’d take water, deliver mail, take messages — whatever we were needed to do.”

For years, auxiliary members also operated the hospital gift shop. The shop closed about a year ago, and it’s unlikely to reopen.

Still, there is plenty for volunteers to do, said Carol Johnson, who joined the auxiliary four years ago after retiring from 35½ years of hospital work.

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The designation also includes the contiguous counties of Jackson, Murray, Nobles, Redwood, Brown and Watonwan.

“We try to be community based,” Johnson said, noting that in addition to funding scholarships — ranging from $500 to $1,000 and awarded annually to two or three applicants — the group has purchased items for the EMTs.

“We find out what the EMTs really need,” shared Bernice Camery, a 34-year auxiliary member. “At one time they were taking a lot of training and we paid for that.”

“We furnished the pediatric room on second floor,” chimed in Jeanne Goettsch.

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“And we redid the dialysis room,” Camery shared.

“They’ve done a lot of beautiful things over the years,” Johnson said. “As an employee, I appreciated the volunteers. They give me joy. I cannot say enough for what they have done for this community. I’m so proud of them.”

Like Johnson, Goettsch also worked at the local hospital. After retiring in 1988 from her role as a surgical nurse, she wanted to stay involved in the hospital.

“I didn’t want to give that up totally,” she said. “So, I continued with the volunteer work.”

One of her jobs was to distribute menus to the patients and help them get their orders in for meals.

“We took books and magazines up to the patients, too,” Goettsch said. “That ended during COVID.”

Now, though, the auxiliary is launching a snack cart that volunteers can take into patient rooms and have some interaction with the people again.

In addition, auxiliary members volunteer to stack garbage bags on carts for the departments, create folders for patients, serve as guides in the hospital lobby and oncology center and offer help when and where they are needed.

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“During COVID, we helped people get through COVID shots,” said Johnson. “I worked nine hours a day, helping individuals and thanking them for keeping our community safe. That was a big project.”

Some auxiliary members work more behind the scenes, such as knitting caps for the nursery — every infant is sent home with a knit cap handmade by an auxiliary member or volunteer.

“During the pandemic, they made masks,” Johnson said. “They used to make blankets, too. They were given to pediatric patients.”

Auxiliary members have also taken up a collection of clothing in a variety of sizes. The clothing is available to patients as needed, such as someone who was involved in an accident and can’t wear the clothes they came in with. It’s the newest program auxiliary members have become involved with.

The Sanford Hospital Auxiliary meets about eight times a year in the hospital classroom in Worthington. The group is always looking for new members, of any age, who are willing to volunteer some of their free time. Just 5% to 10% of auxiliary members are past medical professionals, noted Johnson.

The Auxiliary will host its next jewelry sale Oct. 12 in the hospital lobby, and plans a bake sale in early December.

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Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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