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In 1915, the year after Nanine Lawrence Pond founded the auxiliary that continues today to support Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, the small but dedicated group of women purchased an ambulance for the then-named Joseph Lawrence Free Public Hospital, which opened in 1912.
Today, the 400-member L+M Auxiliary is not buying ambulances but continues to support the community hospital by funding myriad programs and, in recent years, contributing $50,000 annually over 10 years toward a $500,000 pledge to the L+M Centennial Campaign.
"We do whatever we can to help," said Kathy Nahas, current president of the auxiliary, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
The auxiliary was honored May 3 at the hospital's annual gala and is planning its own celebration Oct. 18.
The primary mission of the group is to raise funds for programming that otherwise might not exist at the hospital, such as the magazine and beverage carts, parenting and massage programs, chaplaincy, career day, sewing group, blood pressure monitoring, and heart awareness and women's heart health initiatives.
On average, including the Centennial Campaign pledge, the auxiliary has annually contributed $65,000 to $75,000 recently to supplement offerings at L+M.
In addition to dues, it raises the funds through proceeds from the hospital's popular Lobby Shop, which the auxiliary runs, and with numerous fundraisers, including a Valentine's Day dance, high tea at the Ocean House in Watch Hill, a lobster luncheon, fashion show, garden party and other events and programs organized by auxiliary volunteers.
"It's an amazing, hard-working group," said Nahas, who got involved eight years ago when she retired after a 30-year teaching career with New London Public Schools. "And every cent we raise goes right back to the hospital."
Nahas has lived down the street from L+M all of her life. And like nearly all the other auxiliary members, she's involved because the success of the hospital is important to her.
"It is one of the few organizations that helps everyone in a community, regardless of heritage, race, socioeconomic status," said Jane Lassen Bobruff of Stonington. "I believe that health care is also a basic human right in this country."
Lassen Bobruff's family has a long history of involvement at L+M and with the auxiliary.
She and her mother, the late Jenny Lassen, are the only mother/daughter team to serve as auxiliary presidents in the organization's 100-year history. Lassen Bobruff served from 2002 to 2004, and her mother from 1974 to 1976.
Her maternal grandfather was a doctor at L+M and her father served on the board, stepping aside so that her mother could be the first woman to sit on the panel.
"I am proud to carry on a tradition of giving back to the hospital," said Lassen Bobruff.
For longtime auxiliary member Carol DiMaggio of Waterford, there is joy in both supporting the hospital and working with other auxiliary members.
"There are just wonderful people who comprise the auxiliary," she said. "And they come from all different walks of life. There is great camaraderie, and we know it is for a good cause, for the hospital."
DiMaggio, who is retired from the banking industry, volunteers in the Lobby Shop and enjoys the patients, visitors and other volunteers she interacts with there. She said she was born at L+M and had all three of her children there.
"It's giving back to our local hospital," she said.
Many of the dues-paying auxiliary members ($25 annually or $250 for a lifetime membership) said planning fundraisers like the Valentine's Day dance, fashion show and high tea is enjoyable volunteer work. Predominantly comprising women, the auxiliary has many members who are retired and devote considerable time to the organization.
"We are working on a worthwhile cause and at the same time, having a great time and meeting people we otherwise would not meet," said Pat Giordano of Waterford, who has been a member for about nine years.
"I guess I just wanted to help," she said, when asked how she got involved.
Giordano said she was a recipient of a program funded by the auxiliary when she was a patient at L+M.
"I personally experienced the Gentle Touch when I got a foot massage," she said. "And it was so good."
The program helps relax and comfort patients through guided imagery and light touch to the hands and feet.
Nahas said the auxiliary is always looking for new members. And while raising money is harder today than it was in the past, she said members continually amaze her by coming up with novel ideas and volunteering to execute them.
"We used to hold raffles, but that got to be difficult," she said. This year's Valentine's Day dance not only competed with other important community events but was rescheduled because of a snowstorm, she said.
The auxiliary is planning a progressive porch dinner for June and looking ahead to a repeat of the high tea that was so popular last spring, as well as other events.
A century ago, when Nanine Lawrence Pond had the idea of organizing a group of women to support the hospital founded by her family, the Joseph Lawrence Free Public Hospital had been founded just two years earlier by her uncle, Sebastian Lawrence, and named for his father, Joseph Sr. She, the daughter of Joseph Lawrence Jr., would later marry a Pond, and to this day, The Pond House at L+M is named for her.
Today the L+M Auxiliary carries on the work started by Nanine Lawrence Pond in 1914 - supporting the region's community hospital.
"There's a lot of history to live up to," Nahas said.