What Goes Around, Comes Around: St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital Auxiliary Celebrates 50 Years


Imagine how much the world has changed in 50 years. Leaps in technology have revolutionized how we communicate. We’ve achieved huge advances in lifesaving equipment.

However, in a world that moves so fast, St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital Auxiliary has remained steadfast. In their 50-year history, they’ve evolved to fit the modern needs of the hospital and the people it supports, yet the objectives they established in 1967 – to enhance patient care and services, and to represent the hospital to the best of their ability – haven’t changed.

Through their dedication and hard work, they’ve raised almost $2.5 million for health-care initiatives at St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital, and have touched countless lives.

Joan Parker Crosbie, the first president of the auxiliary, has fond memories from the early days. “We had a great time starting the auxiliary and many new friendships were formed.

“One of the first events was a fundraising shower where members brought things to sell in the gift shop. Another event was a ‘Sale of Work.’  “We took to our knitting needles and sewing machines and all the Sisters of Mercy joined in.  They made the wonderful fudge, which was the first thing to sell out!

“We even had a Ball and auction at the Old Colony Club.  One of the items I recall was a salt and pepper cap from the popular journalist and humourist, Ray Guy.”

Current and past presidents: Seated, first president, Joan Parker Crosbie (nee Parsons). Standing (l-r): current president, Lesley Derraugh and past presidents, Barbara Fitzgerald, Joanne Hogan, Jean Kelly, Betty Simms, Bernadette Weinheber and Mary Keiley

While events are popular, proceeds from the gift shop are the primary source of revenue that fund many auxiliary projects. Staffed entirely by volunteers, the shop has grown significantly from its early days of candy bars and chips to include beautiful giftware, handcrafted items, locally-sourced books and hard to find religious materials.

Courtney Abbot, gift shop volunteer

Throughout the year, the auxiliary also sells used books and tickets on various prizes, holds an annual bake sale and receives donations from both private and public sources. Volunteers are also involved in several programs that include a library cart, friendly visiting, and assisting patients with meals.

Presidents Past and Present

But what is hard to quantify, is the sense of community and caring that volunteers bring.

Current president Lesley Derraugh says: “Many of our volunteers remain members of our auxiliary for years or even decades, a true sign of their dedication and enjoyment of the work.”

As well, student volunteers can benefit professionally by volunteering with the auxiliary.  “Some find themselves seeking careers in health-related fields, inspired by their time spent at St. Clare’s,” adds Lesley. And she should know. She began volunteering at the gift shop when she was just 14 years old. Her experience helped determine her career path and changed her life.

The opening of the gift shop as reported in the November, 1967 edition of The Telegram.

Betty Simms, is one of several past presidents who is still involved with the auxiliary. “I’ve been president four times – I keep getting recycled,” she laughs. Betty was a teacher for 30 years, but both of her sisters were St. Clare’s nurses. “After I retired from teaching, one of my sisters said, ‘you should volunteer at the gift shop.’ I was there for about a month when the volunteer coordinator at the time invited me to attend the auxiliary’s AGM. That was 21 years ago!”

Joanne Hogan and Mary Keiley are also past presidents. “I’m sure that Mary’s got a PhD as a people person,” quips Joanne. “It was 2002. I was newly retired and was attending the annual nursing dinner for graduates of St. Clare’s. Along came Mary with a ‘little form’ for potential volunteers to fill out. One of the areas available was washing hair for patients on the surgery floor. I thought, ‘I could do that with Mary – she’s so easy to work with!’ Since then, Mary and I are here most weekends.”

Creature Comforts

In fact, Mary’s been washing patients’ hair since she retired from nursing in 1999. Her own personal experience inspired her drive to provide this simple comfort.  “I find patients are sicker now than they used to be years ago. We see the sickest of the sick. Hair washing is such a personal thing and is such a simple thing that we take for granted.”

“That’s what’s so beautiful about it, that the patients are so trusting of us,” adds Joanne.  “And we give the care giver a break. The families worry less when they see their loved one looking better. I’ll say, ‘wait till your daughter sees you!’ We wash hair for as many men as we do women. We’re known as the spa women.”

Current auxiliary members, front row (l-r): Brenda Doyle, Joanne Hogan, Barbara Fitzgerald and Mary Keiley. Back row (-r): Michele Hunt, Betty Simms and Lesley Derraugh. Missing from photo: Mary Lou Sampson and Pat Heffernan

In fact, staff and patients thank the volunteers whenever they get a chance – which in some cases is often! Betty shares one story about one doctor and piece of equipment he truly appreciated. “Every Thursday for almost a year, one of the ENT (ear, nose and throat) doctors would come into the gift shop and say: ‘I don’t know how we can thank you enough! We never would have got that machine without your help.’ It’s great to know that what we do makes a difference.”

The Future

Volunteering is a gift of the heart. Volunteers at St. Clare’s are often people whose lives or the lives of a family member or loved one have been touched in some way by the care they’ve received.

Others come to the auxiliary as students exploring career options or as retirees who now have time to give back to others.

Michele Hunt, coordinator with Volunteer Resources, acts as a liaison between auxiliary and Eastern Health and works closely with the volunteers. “I’ve been here for four years, and there’s just something special about St. Clare’s – the feel of the building, the feel of the auxiliary, our staff. When volunteers come to us, they tend to stay.”

It’s clear the auxiliary has evolved to fit the modern needs of the hospital, and yet, while programs and projects have changed over the years, the dedication of volunteers and the impact they have on the St. Clare’s community has not wavered.

As one volunteer says, “we’re supporting family in doing what we’re doing. It kind of comes around.”  And after 50 years, it’s clear that what goes around, does come around.

If you’d like to volunteer at St. Clare’s or any other Eastern Health site, please visit the Eastern Health website, call the Volunteer Resources office at (709) 777-4451 or email us at volunteer.resources@easternhealth.ca. ■

This story was written by Robyn Lush, a communications specialist with Eastern Health’s Corporate Communications Department.

One response to “What Goes Around, Comes Around: St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital Auxiliary Celebrates 50 Years

  1. Congratulations to the Auxiliary on its fifty years of commitment to St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital. You have supported the hospital, the patients, the staff and all who come to St. Clare’s during all these years in so many ways. You have done this every day in small and in large ways- moment by moment, penny by dollar, book cart to hair care, bake sale to shop to afternoon tea and much, much more! Thank you.

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