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Ladies Hospital Auxiliary: A heartfelt healthcare mission accomplished

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Hospital Volunteers Norma Ellison (l) and Sandy Wright check out merchandise purchased by customer Brooke Riddle (r) at the hospital gift shop recently. A clearance sale of store merchandise continues at the shop through its official closing date of Feb. 15. After decades of operation by the Henry County Memorial Hospital Ladies Auxiliary, the shop space will be leased to local business “Every Good Thing” beginning Feb. 18.
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Gail Anderson, long-time treasurer of the Henry Community Health hospital gift shop, stands with Lis McDonnell, Volunteer coordinator and Nursing Office Manager. The gift shop, a mission of the Henry County Memorial Hospital Auxiliary for decades, will close Feb. 15. The space will be leased by “Every Good Thing,” a privately-owned New Castle business, beginning Feb. 18.

By DARREL RADFORD - dradford@thecouriertimes.com

Just a day after valentines are exchanged, one of the most heartfelt healthcare missions in Henry County history will officially come to an end.

The Henry County Memorial Hospital Auxiliary, an organization of dedicated women who have raised thousands of dollars in support of the facility and the healthcare profession, will perform their final duties as an organization and close the gift shop for the last time Friday, Feb. 15.

While the work of Auxiliary volunteers reaches a finish line, it will be a new start for the programs they have so faithfully supported. The facility is being turned over to local business owner Teresa Southerland, owner of “Every Good Thing,” a flower and gift shop next to Aldi’s.

Southerland will have gifts appropriate for people who are hospital patients as well as items employees may want. For the first time, fresh cut flowers will also be available. She plans to be open Monday, Feb. 18.

But the best part of the change will be what doesn’t change at all, according to Southerland.

The funds from Southerland’s leasing the space will go to the Henry Community Health Foundation and will continue to support similar programs to those supported by the auxiliary.

“I’m glad I get to help perpetuate that,” Southerland said.

As the gift shop conducts its final clearance sales in preparation for closing, it’s a bittersweet time for Gayle Anderson, who has been treasurer here since the early 1980s.

“I’m sad,” Anderson admitted. “I could cry. This little gift shop started around in the early 1970s. We were across the hall in a much smaller room, with a little cash box where volunteers wrote down all their sales and figured their own sales tax on scrap paper. That’s how the gift shop started.”

The gift shop has lived up to its name in so much more than just merchandise. Manned by 34 volunteers from the Ladies Auxiliary, it has provided blessings for those who have lost spouses.

“A lot of them are widow ladies and their dedication to the shop is just extraordinary,” Anderson said. “It gives them something to do, gives them a purpose.”

The Henry County Hospital Women’s Auxiliary dates back to the mid-1960s, when a group of ladies banded together to support not only medical needs here, but to also encourage young women to enter the medical field, via scholarships.

Names on that first Auxiliary Board of Directors reads like a “Who’s Who” for New Castle. The list included Wilma Borders, Janet Hermenet, Penny Koger, Pansy Redd, Mary Ann Wright, Molly Denny, Marion Copeland, Edith Pidgeon, Sylvira Koons, Helen Rogers, Nadine Casey, Helen Garritson and Helien Tryon.

Of that list, Anderson remembers three people in particular – Tryon, Redd and Koons – were the driving forces behind starting a gift shop at the hospital.

“They were the first ladies who campaigned for volunteers to staff the gift shop,” Anderson remembered. “Helien and my mother-in-law, Ellen Anderson, one of the first volunteers out here, are the ones who got me interested in doing this.”

Today, even age can’t slow down these dedicated ladies. Bonnie Myers, wife of the late Dick Myers, is one of the many senior citizens who work here. Another, June Van Buskirk, “is the youngest old lady I’ve ever been around,” Anderson said. 

Ricci Atchison, Henry Community Health’s public relations director, has experienced the wonder of the Ladies Auxiliary in multiple ways. Before coming to work at the hospital, she worked as Neighbors Editor for The Courier-Times and covered numerous auxiliary events.

“I remember back in the ‘70s, they were such a vibrant organization,” Atchison said of the ladies auxiliary. “These wonderful women had huge fundraisers and did awesome things for the hospital. In a bygone era, it was the ‘in’ group. I remember what a big event the Auxiliary Ball used to be. And the ladies who were taking care of the gift shop, they just gave and gave and gave until they gave out.”

What they gave has been a blessing to new mothers, hospital patients, aspiring nurses, and so much more.

“We have raised tremendous amounts of money,” Anderson said. “All the money generated from women’s auxiliary fundraisers and gift shop sales goes back into the hospital.”

Over the years, the auxiliary has purchased warmers, fetal heart monitors, education materials and other items for the Women and Children’s Unit. Most recently, a special telemetry unit for transporting patients that tracks heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and other vitals was purchased using auxiliary funds. 

Atchison says she’s confident the gift shop tradition of giving will be carried forward in this upcoming changing of the guard.

“We’re very excited for Teresa to come and bring her expertise to help us sustain the gift shop,” Atchison said. “I think it’s going to be a good transition.”

As marked-down merchandise makes its way out the door, a flood of memories fills Anderson’s heart and soul.

She remembers doing the work of a treasurer on big ledger sheets before Tandy Computers came along.

“I took a few computer classes and never looked back,” she said.

Anderson also remembers the daily joy of seeing people come into the shop.

“It was really, really nice to meet the public each day,” she said. “You meet all kinds of people and you see faces you haven’t seen for a long time.”

Sometimes, the gift purchases aren’t for the patients, but the care-givers.

“I remember a lady wanting to find a gift for the nurses who took care of her mother,” Anderson said. “She bought a huge box of Abbotts Candy for them. We sold Abbotts for many years.”

Anderson has worked closely with Jackie Swim for decades at the gift shop. Swim managed the shop and did purchasing of items there.

She remembers the growth of the shop – and the relationships that grew along with it.

“When we moved from the old smaller location to the new one across the hall, my husband and I along with another couple worked on it late into the night,” Swim said. “I have met so many, many friends and really nice ladies over the years I would not have met otherwise. I just enjoyed the whole thing. I really did. It was fun.”

While saying goodbye to the Ladies Auxiliary may be hard, saying something else isn’t.

“Thank you.”

“We been blessed with wonderful volunteers and an auxiliary that really cares for the hospital and cares for the gift shop,” said Volunteer coordinator and Nursing Office Manager Lis McDonnell. “You know, it’s kind of like the end of an era, really, so from that standpoint, it’s sad. But we’re excited too that Teresa is coming in. Like anything else, it will be a change, but we certainly owe a debt of gratitude to the ladies of the auxiliary and the gift shop.”