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Hospital Auxiliary disbanding

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An integral part of Sarnia’s hospital family is folding after nearly 70 years of hard work and camaraderie.

“It’s a difficult decision but it’s time for us to go,” says Donna Small, president of the Bluewater Health Auxiliary.

She has kept the group’s books since 1988 and been president for a decade.

“I loved it here and I loved meeting the people and making friends. It was such good fun.”

There was a time when the Auxiliary was a critical source for fundraising. Auxiliary events like the annual ball were hugely supported, and 30 to 40 women regularly volunteered, some every day.

“We had one of the largest, most successful gift shops in Ontario,” said Ellen Murphy, a member since the mid-1960s who ran the teen volunteer program among other things.

She and Helen Ballard logged well over 50,000 volunteer hours with the Auxiliary and were recognized in the 1990s by the Ontario Hospital Association with more auxiliary hours than anyone else in the province.

“For years, we had a three-day gift show near Christmas that raised $150,000 every time,” said Ballard.

The ladies’ yearly patron drive was the precursor of the Bluewater Foundation’s fundraising campaigns.  And it was very successful.

In the organization’s 69 years the women raised an estimated $2 million for St. Joseph’s Hospital and later Bluewater Health, after St. Joe’s amalgamated with Sarnia General Hospital.

The Sisters of St. Joseph’s started the St. Joseph’s Auxiliary in 1945 at a time when hospitals received no government support.

“We bought what we thought was necessary for the hospital,” said Ballard. “Many years later, we were told what we could and couldn’t do with our money.”

“It was a whole different world in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” agreed Murphy. “We did whatever needed doing.  If a light bulb needed to be changed we did it and people were grateful.

“That’s not the way it works anymore.”

The women’s contributions include construction of the hospital’s first palliative care suite, a patient van, pain pumps, money for the dialysis unit and $250,000 for construction of the Norman Street building.

But their numbers are down to eight and the foundation has paid staff to do most of the hospital’s fundraising. The Auxiliary’s highly successful Forget-Me-Not gift store was shut down in favour of a commercial operation in the hospital’s new atrium.

“There’s so few ways for us to make money anymore,” Small said.

In recent years, the group has continued to sell Nevada tickets, to operate the hospital hair salon, and have jewelry sales. All that raises about $10,000 annually. It’s a respectable amount but the ladies are older now and new members have not surfaced.

A reception and tea on Thursday, Sept. 25 will honour all those who volunteered for the St. Joseph’s, Sarnia General and amalgamated Bluewater Health auxiliaries.

All past members are invited to attend in the hospital’s atrium from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

For more, contact the Bluewater Health Foundation at 519-464-4408.



  • Bluewater Health Auxiliary folds after 69 years (1945- 2014)
  • Raised an estimated $2 million
  • 30 – 40 active members for first 50 years
  • 8 active members now
  • Forget-Me-Not Gift Shop generated $35,000 to $50,000 annually until it closed in 2009

 – Cathy Dobson

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