Support group: Novant Health Rowan Auxiliary keeps building on proud heritage

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 14, 2019

SALISBURY — This story begins with a wine-and-cheese social held last Thursday on Lake Drive.

But if you think the Novant Health Rowan Medical Center Auxiliary is mostly about women getting together to sip wine and socialize, you’re badly mistaken.

For 83 years, the auxiliary has been an important partner of the Salisbury hospital and one of the hardest-working service organizations you’ll find.

It has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in money, equipment and supplies for the hospital — funds that have gone toward everything from a hospital chapel, hospice house sunroom and Wallace Cancer Center to a birthing simulator, playground equipment and mobile mammography unit.

People often identify the auxiliary today with members who provide daily staffing at the hospital gift shop.

But it’s also the auxiliary that gives socks to breast cancer patients; a Care Bear, coloring books and crayons for pediatric patients; rocking chairs for the family care center; and scholarships for junior volunteers and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College nursing students.

“It never ends, what this group does,” said Jane Creech, president of the auxiliary. “We have a heritage to be mighty proud of.”

So allow the auxiliary a moment to celebrate some of its accomplishments, as it did last Thursday with a gathering at the home of Diana Keith.

These annual meetings in May used to be called a “Membership Tea,” which encouraged members to bring guests as potential new volunteers. That happened in several cases Thursday.

Jane Rowland and Libby Fowler headed this year’s social, which spread from room to room in the Keiths’ expansive home. Guests included Novant Health Rowan President Dari Caldwell and Rick Parker and Kristen Trexler, both with the hospital foundation.

In 1936, the 84 women who chartered the auxiliary for the new Rowan Memorial Hospital belonged to some of the more recognized families in Salisbury.

The names included Bernhardt, Blackmer, Busby, Clement, Woodson, Hardin, Harrison, Marsh, Nicholas, Peeler, Robertson and Stanback.

Alice Guille was the first president. Dr. J. Ernest Stokes signed the auxiliary’s original charter, approved by the hospital’s board of trustees.

The auxiliary held fancy dress “Fall Frolics” at Salisbury Country Club to raise money. By 1950, the group donated its first $10,000 to Rowan Memorial, then opened a hospitality shop in 1956.

The shop was on the ground floor at the rear of the hospital.

A 1969 renovation led to the shop’s being relocated to the hospital lobby, and auxiliary volunteers continued to provide all the staffing. They added and staffed a gift shop beginning in 1984.

For years, the auxiliary officers ran both the hospitality and gift shops, without any paid help.

“My husband said, ‘Why don’t you take a tent and camp there?'” Barbara Waggoner said.

When Waggoner returned to Salisbury from Charlotte in 1971, she joined the hospital auxiliary and has been active ever since. Along with Carolyn Hood and Blanche Glover, she is one of three active life members of the organization.

Her mother, Addie Robison, also had been a member.

Many auxiliary members, such as Waggoner and Zandra Spencer, can trace their auxiliary connections back to mothers and/or grandmothers.

The hospitality shop came to be known for its chicken salad and pimento cheese sandwiches. The hospital eventually provided a paid manager and staff until the hospitality shop’s closing in 2009.

Sandy Morrison then became the paid manager for the gift shop, and a mutual admiration society formed between her and her employers — the auxiliary.

“It’s the best group of ladies in the world to work for,” Morrison said.

But auxiliary member Carole Simmons protests.

“She is our boss,” Simmons said.

The auxiliary provides four gift shop volunteers to help Morrison each day. Two take the shift from 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m., and two take the 1:30-5 p.m. slot.

The volunteers help out Monday through Friday.

“It’s a lot of volunteers to keep up with,” Morrison said, “but we couldn’t do it without them.”

Morrison and the volunteers aren’t just merchandisers. Sometimes they feel like counselors for the family members of patients who stop in to pass some of the fretful hours of waiting.

“One of the most important things I do is listen to people coming in,” Morrison said.

Waggoner still works twice a month at the gift shop.

“We really have done very well in that little shop,” Waggoner said, adding that the auxiliary and Morrison have learned how to buy smart, work the sales and determine tastes.

“We know our customers; we know what they like,” Waggoner said.

Waggoner recalled that she and Trudy Thompson lobbied successfully for allowing hospital employees to have payroll deduction for gift shop purchases.

Waggoner said the auxiliary often hears from out-of-town visitors that Novant Health Rowan has one of the better hospital gift shops they’ve seen.

Funds for the auxiliary come from the gift shop, uniform and jewelry sales, hospital vending machine proceeds, the Tree of Hope Christmas project and donations.

“It’s truly, truly phenomenal what we have given over the years,” Waggoner said. “It’s a great organization.”

Today, the auxiliary has a roster of roughly 135 women, and the hospital depends on some 120 men and women volunteers and many junior volunteers.

The Red Cross “Grey Ladies” performed volunteer patient service until 1969.

A volunteer program was organized in May 1976 with 109 active members serving various departments, and the director of volunteer services from 1976-79 was a dedicated member of the auxiliary.

The hospital eventually hired a director of volunteer services. Today, volunteer opportunities are in the emergency department, blood pressure clinic, family waiting rooms, flower delivery, guide services, nursing units, patient relations, physical therapy, reception desks and transportation.

The whole volunteer spirit at the hospital started with those 84 ladies back in 1936.

“And the service goes on,” Creech said. “We have a heritage to be proud of, and we have taken the reins to carry it forth.”

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or