After 113 years of giving, Phoenixville Hospital Auxiliary to fold

Phoenixville Hospital Auxiliary President Debbie Francis

PHOENIXVILLE — More than a hundred years ago, the doctors of Phoenixville Hospital asked the newly-formed Phoenixville Hospital Auxiliary for the first of what would become many donations.

“The doctors came to the auxiliary and asked for them to build a shed for the horses out front for the horses for the winter,” said Debbie Francis, the current president of the organization.

Over 113 years, the auxiliary has donated more than $1.8 million to the hospital for things ranging from that stable for the doctors’ and ambulance horses to funding new beds and hiring a massage therapist for cancer patients seeking treatment at the hospital.

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The organization formed in May 1889 when 20 women answered a call for the formation of an auxiliary.

“It was always whatever was needed: whatever monies were raised, then (the auxiliary bought) whatever was needed,” said Pam Leiby, the director of volunteer services at Phoenixville Hospital.

Unfortunately, the time has come for the auxiliary, one of the last of its kind, to fold, as its membership ages and the membership has dropped to nine.

“Right now, it’s very emotional, because we have to close,” Francis said. “We have nine members and seven are over 80. It’s depressing, it’s a little sad, but it’s the passing of an era.”

Current membership includes Francis, Vice President Louise Vance, Secretary Mary Jane Powell, Treasurer Cathy Larkin, Pat Leahy, Mary Jo Mackavage, Frances Hickey, Mid Wilson, and C. Anita Wynn.

In the past, most families had at least one spouse who did not have a full-time job and could devote themselves to working for the auxiliary.

“In this day and age, everybody works and it’s difficult to make the time to do a fundraising effort” Leiby said. “That’s really their main focus, doing the fundraising.”

A retired school teacher, Francis became interested in helping out when her husband, Baylus, received treatment for cancer around 18 years ago.

“I was giving back,” she said. “I could be here while he was receiving treatment.”

After Baylus died, Francis officially joined the auxiliary. Six years later, she became president.

In the efforts to raise money and help out, members of the organization ran the hospital’s gift shop, The Gift Box, and the used bookstore on campus, the Bookworm.

Although the Bookworm will close at the end of June, the Gift Box will continue on under the care of the company currently providing food and other services there, Sodexo.

The auxiliary made sure to keep in touch with hospital staff to figure out what they wanted.

“It was something to aim for. If we work a little hard, we can get something more,” Francis said. “It was sort of like a list of priorities. The more we could take care of, the better we felt.”

In addition to the hospital, the auxiliary donated to a list of other non-profit community organizations in Phoenixville.

Beyond the fundraising, many of the auxiliary members volunteered like Francis.

The main focus of Francis’ volunteer work was in the operating suites at Phoenixville Hospital.

“I loved it,” Francis said.

She ran charts and tests for doctors and nurses and also transported patients through the halls, something she particularly enjoyed.

“If the patient’s nervous, I can stand there and talk,” she said.

However, she said she wasn’t above teasing some former students on their way to surgery.

“I told them, ‘I have you exactly where I want you,’” she laughed.

Leiby also said the auxiliary members who ran The Gift Box, located in the lobby facing Nutt Road, served as “point people” for relatives or friends who might’ve been a little frantic coming into the building.

“You walk in the front door, and you’re like, ‘Where’s the emergency room and I need to know that yesterday,’” Leiby said. “It’s nice to have that extra layer of information. And the girls are always walking folks where they need to be, as opposed to (giving directions). You’re not paying attention to what people are saying ... it’s a nice resource.”

As the organization winds down, Francis said she plans to continue volunteering.

Additionally, they’ll present one last donation at the end of the summer, estimated at approximately $20,000.

“From my perspective, they’ve just done so many wonderful things and been such a benefit, either donating to the hospital or keeping the name of the hospital in the community through donations,” Leiby said. “It’s been a nice blend.”

“It’s the end,” Francis said. “It’s sad but there’s accomplishment.”

Follow Frank Otto on Twitter @fottojourno.