For Rosemary Fox, it started with her son's head wound. He got injured after the family moved from White Plains, New York to Sandy Springs in 1965.
"When we got here I was like, "No hospital?" And then my son got a bad head wound and I had to transport him in the car 15 miles to Piedmont. It was so crowded. There were no nurses available. So I had to go in and help him stay calm and hold him while they stitched him up. After that, I thought, 'If we could only get a hospital in our area I would do anything to help them.'"
She got her chance. In 1970, Northside Hospital opened its doors. But a year earlier, Fox was one of the founding members of its auxiliary. And as the auxiliary celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2019, she now has 50 years of active membership under her belt. And counting.
So much is different now. The gift shop started with a loan of $1,200. Fifty years' worth of proceeds donated have topped $20 million. Services now number 30. The group that was once all white, female and middle- to upper-class now includes all ethnicities, many volunteers with outside employment, and is 20% men.
But Fox says a core value has not altered one whit. "The compassion and commitment of the group has not changed at all," she says. "I have the privilege of working with the most dedicated group ever."
Over the years, Fox has held leadership positions ranging from chair of the America Hospital Association's Committee on Volunteers to representing Northside Hospital Auxiliary on the State Council of Auxiliaries. But she says her very, very favorite task was participating in one of the group's outreach activities, an award-winning puppet program still performed for free at schools in the four core counties of Atlanta. She worked that gig for 35 years. "It was work intensive; we had to pack up the puppets in a van and set them up, do the show and take it down," Fox says.
One of her very, very favorite anecdotes about the Auxiliary also comes from those days. "At one school a 7-year-old boy watched us intently through the whole procedure," she recalls. "He followed us to the door and while we were holding it open to take our props out, he said, 'Good job girls!'" The memory still makes Fox laugh, especially the first grader's follow-up question: "'Are you the Golden Girls?' We assured him we were not and laughed all the way back to the hospital."
The puppet show is still thriving and recruiting puppeteers. And today's auxiliary has 29 other services, too, including photography and special needs care in the newborn unit and Camp Hope, a three-day retreat for adults diagnosed with cancer. There's even a group, Friends of the Auxiliary, for older folks who can't come in for a shift. They knit preemie caps and crochet blankets, and have donated 300,000 pieces to date.
As the oldest founding member still active, Fox is quick to point out that she's nowhere near the oldest volunteer, that people from teens to their 90s participate. The group has swelled to 300 active members. Fox scoffs at anyone who thinks they don't have time or talent to offer. "Oh yes you do!" she says. "I think we're all imbued with the spirit of giving. There's something for everybody, different time slots. And the wonderful people you will meet, you should make time for that! I have gotten so much more back than I've ever given. It will enrich your life tremendously. You go home from your shift feeling a lot better than when you came in.
Fox says she has every confidence in the new generation of auxiliary members. "I have to express my appreciation of the present membership, who are just as excited and committed as we were 50 years ago. They presented me with a $25,000 scholarship from the Auxiliary to establish a Founder's Scholarship. It will soon be available and the scholarship can be awarded to a teen volunteer or the child of an employee--someone connected with Northside hospital."
Fox has never had a gift that she appreciated so much, though she's quick to note, "it wasn't just for me but for all the founders."
She, however, is the last of the charter members from 1969 who's still active. And she's not planning on stopping any time soon, she says, and then laughs. "They call me The Last Man Standing."