One by one, the women shake the hands of several Lodi Health administrators, before filing into the room.
“Isn’t this beautiful?” one asks, surveying the cake with bright yellow frosting, the rustic place settings and a horseshoe-shaped table, and the buffet of salad, green beans, pasta and chicken beneath an autumn-themed banner thanking the Lodi Memorial Hospital Auxiliary for their service.
The women at Monday’s luncheon are the last of a hospital auxiliary organization that was once so large, it had to be split up into a main auxiliary, and branches with names like Flame Tokay, Zinfandel, Alicante and Petit Sirah.
With 20 members originally, in its heyday the auxiliary boasted a membership in the hundreds.
The 22 women of the Mission branch — the last remaining — gave their final donation to the hospital on Monday during a luncheon held in their honor.
“We wanted to honor your work and all the other auxiliaries’ work,” said Wayne Craig, president of the Lodi Memorial Hospital Foundation.
President Susan Balogh and secretary Ginger Appleton were the longest-serving members in attendance, with more than 35 years each. Others had been members for decades and given hours of volunteer work.
Some joined because they had mothers or mothers-in-law who were in the group; others were simply looking for a way to serve.
But after years of waning membership, the group had decided: It was time to retire.
The roots of the hospital auxiliary organization go deep. The group formed in 1948, before Lodi Memorial Hospital was even built, and helped to raise money for the medical center. They literally went from door to door asking for donations, Craig said.
Over the course of its lifetime, the auxiliary — stem and branches — raised more than $2 million for Lodi Memorial Hospital, an impressive feat considering how far a dollar went in the 1950s, he said.
In a News-Sentinel article from Nov. 8, 1962, then-hospital administrator Imelda Witke announced during a tour of the hospital’s new wing that the auxiliary had donated 12 new HiLo beds to the hospital.
But the auxiliary’s main contribution went beyond fundraisers.
Members volunteered for the hospital, in the gift shop, carrying mail and newspaper to patients, working in the hospital’s medical library and more. Others spent their time sewing and knitting items for patients, especially children, and for new babies.
Members worked thousands of hours, some racking up as many as 7,000 or 8,000.
Made up mostly of women from the Clements area, this particular branch, the Mission branch, formed on Jan. 11, 1949.
Each of the auxiliary branches had their own event, Balogh said, and Mission’s was the Valentine Luncheon. It began at the Buckaroos headquarters, before moving on to the memorial hall at Micke Grove Park. Then it went to Hutchins Street Square and St. Joachim’s Catholic Church in Lockeford.
“Our luncheons kept growing, and we’d outgrow the facilities,” Appleton said.
At early luncheons, the women in the group would bring card tables and place settings and lay it all out themselves, then cook using the Buckaroos’ kitchen. At their latest lunches, they had the co-ed Junior Auxiliary to help, along with Clements firefighters, and St. Joachim’s has tables and place settings already on-site.
But the changes reflect the problems the auxiliary has with attracting younger members. Nowadays, most women work full-time, and they have errands to run and children to take to karate, football, study groups, and all kinds of other extracurriculars.
“Back then, we only had 4-H,” Janice Mehrten said.
At Monday’s luncheon, former hospital administrators Richard Sandford and Joe Harrington offered high praise for the women in the Mission Auxiliary.
Between the two of them, Sandford and Harrington represented about 50 of the 66 years the Mission branch has existed.
The auxiliary and all of its branches were vital to the hospital’s operation in those early years, Sandford said.
“We moved a lot of mountains in those first years,” he said.
For example, in February 1974, the first Hospital Cut-Ups, a local talent show, brought in a whopping $14,000, he said.
The auxiliary’s community spirit has gone a long way in promoting the hospital and supporting the work of its staff, Harrington said.
“Thank you all for your service for the past 66 years,” he said.
Then Lodi Health’s new CEO, Daniel Wolcott, spoke to the Mission women.
While he’s new to Lodi Health, he has worked at several other hospitals in his career, he said. Lodi is the first place where he’s seen such community involvement in the hospital, he said.
“When I look at the auxiliary and your role in building the hospital, it really puts things in perspective for me,” he said. “This is a community hospital that’s here because of the community.”
Though the auxiliary is disbanding, Wolcott emphasized that there are still plenty of volunteer opportunities at the hospital, and Lodi Health still needs community involvement.
Volunteers are welcome to sign up at Lodi Health’s website, www.lodihealth.org, or to pick up an application at the front desk. There are openings at the hospital’s help desks, in offices, and more, interim marketing director Sarak Beasley said.
And the Lodi Memorial Hospital Foundation will continue to raise funds for the hospital.
After the luncheon, members of the Mission branch gathered in a circle to discuss their next meeting. They may not be gathering to raise funds for the hospital anymore, but that didn’t stop them from planning a Christmas potluck.
They chattered as they chose a date and decided who would bring the salad and who was in charge of lasagna.
One woman passed around a bag, each of the others laughing or smiling as she pulled out a red-checked apron. The women had all worn the bright aprons during their Valentine’s Luncheons for years.
“We’re going to miss it,” Balogh said. “We’ve had a great time doing it.”
But at the same time, the women were ready to move on.
“It’s a lot of work, and it’s been a long time,” Marianne Van Muyden said.
In honor of the Mission branch and all of the other branches of the Lodi Memorial Hospital Auxiliaries, the Lodi Memorial Hospital Foundation will place a bronze plaque for the Tribute Wall of the hospital’s Healing Garden.
Contact reporter Kyla Cathey at firstname.lastname@example.org.