Ambassadors for Saint John’s: For 40 years, the Foundation has provided leadership and philanthropic support

July 22, 2015
building 1980s

Memorable things have been said about doing good in the world. Consider the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “We must become the change we want to see in the world,” or Mother Teresa, “We can do no great things; only small things with great love.”

Trustees of Saint John’s Health Center Foundation have heeded the call to serve others. The Foundation was formed 40 years ago by merging two early Saint John's support groups, the ladies’ guild and the men’s board of regents, and was influenced by a culture of compassion established by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth—a principle the Foundation continues to embrace. As a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, the Foundation is governed by an all-volunteer board of trustees.

The past four decades are defined by the fearless leadership of the trustees—some of them longtime members of the Health Center board—who rolled up their sleeves to lead fundraising campaigns and support the Health Center through difficult times. They include Jerry B. Epstein (a member since 1975), Allan B. Goldman (1978) and “newcomer” Waldo H. Burnside (1981).

“Once someone became involved and experienced the culture of camaraderie and enthusiasm for the Health Center, their interest in giving grew.” — Waldo H. Burnside

Those trustees, in turn, sing the praises of key Foundation players such as John Anderson; Irene Dunne; James L. Hesburgh; Marion Jorgensen; Glen McDaniel; Ruben F. Mettler, PhD; John H. Michel; Caroline Singleton; Donna F. Tuttle and Betty Williams. As they rattle off names and accomplishments, each man acknowledges that he probably is overlooking the contributions of many other trustees. “The responsibility of the Foundation was primarily to raise money, and fundraisers became ‘friend-raisers,’” says Waldo. “Once someone became involved and experienced the culture of camaraderie and enthusiasm for the Health Center, their interest in giving grew.”

Such “friends” have seen the Health Center through good and bad times. Trustees take pride in the formal fundraising projects, which began in 1976 with a $12 million campaign for the Ambulatory Care Center followed by $19 million raised in “The Forward Fund” campaign (1981), then the $25 million “Commitment to Tomorrow” campaign (1986). When the 1994 Northridge earthquake devastated the Health Center, needs multiplied and efforts to rebuild the hospital included the “Campaign for Saint John’s” (1994), with a $125 million target, and the $100 million “Challenge to Lead” campaign (2006).

“Those fundraising campaigns galvanized the efforts of the many members of the Foundation, both as fund-givers and fund-getters,” Allan says.

Other fundraisers, such as The Jimmy Stewart Relay, which began in 1981, also aided the Health Center. Jimmy’s wife, Gloria, a Saint John’s supporter for years, was instrumental in arranging for the late actor to lend his name to the race. That’s just one example of the show business contingent that has supported Saint John’s.

Another is the late actress Irene Dunne, who negotiated for Saint John’s to receive 10% of the proceeds from the blockbuster movie How the West Was Won. She is the namesake of the Irene Dunne Guild, which continues to support Saint John’s. The hospital's celebrity supporters today include P!nk, David Foster, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, Angela Lansbury, Vincent E. (Vin) Scully and Robert J. Wagner.

“This is a pretty amazing list of people who are leaders in the community, they have the resources and expertise to help raise money for the hospital.” – Lisa D. Nesbitt

Distinguished business and industry leaders have also befriended the Health Center. In mid-1994, the William M. Keck Foundation, led at the time by Howard B. Keck, chairman, president and chief executive officer, gave $10 million to underwrite post-earthquake strategic planning. In 1999 the foundation, led by chairman, president and chief executive officer Robert Day (who was also a Saint John’s Health Center Foundation trustee), followed with a $20 million donation. Besides the Keck Foundation, scientist, physician and inventor Patrick Soon-Shiong, MD, was a major contributor to the rebuilding campaign.

Even social gatherings have been geared toward supporting the Health Center. The Epicurean Society brought together trustees and doctors a few times a year for friendship, conversation, good food and excellent wines. “These meetings inspired a lot of doctors to become personally involved in fundraising for the Foundation,” Jerry says.

In the late 1970s, he helped create the Foundation’s Chautauqua Weekend, a yearly trustee weekend retreat that grew to include physicians. The bond between medical professionals and trustees is what allows the Foundation to raise money to attract the best doctors and acquire the latest technologies through their grateful patients.

“For the most part, these sessions let us know the hospital’s needs so we can be the best possible ambassadors,” Waldo says.

North Pavilion
The North Pavilion, built after the Northridge earthquake destroyed the hospital, opened in 2004.

Allan thinks an early turning point for the Foundation came when Saint John’s visionary, president and chief executive Sister Marie Madeleine Shonka, SCL, broadened membership of the Health Center’s board of directors beyond the sisters to include lay leadership. In 1981, Robert T. Campion, J. Howard Edgerton, William A. Wilson and D. Gareth Wooton, MD, were elected to the board.

“A number of Health Center board of director members were recruited over the years from Foundation trustees,” Allan says. “Other directors recruited from the community later became Foundation trustees. The cross-pollination was important for the Health Center, broadening its community support and bringing different thinking to the challenges that arose.”

Business leader trustees were instrumental in aiding Sister Marie Madeleine in the early years, he adds. “Sister set the values that were to be followed. Then she used each of them as a sounding board, because they were businessmen with significant expertise in a range of areas, and she was dedicated to operating a top-flight hospital,” Allan recalls.

The trustees are leaders in the community, Jerry adds. “The list of trustees is comprised of giants in their fields, and they transfer that credibility to the Foundation. When people of their stature call for contributions, it is difficult to say ‘No.’”

The Foundation’s goals, priorities, committees, values and commitment to the community reflect a continuity that unites the early boards with today’s members. Jerry sums up the Foundation’s 40-year anniversary this way: “I’ve served on a lot of boards over the years. There is no group that comes close to the quality of people who have served as Saint John’s Foundation trustees.”

The diligence of the trustees over the past four decades has led to a board that today encompasses some of the wisest and most successful members of the community, says Lisa D. Nesbitt, a trustee since 2013 who serves on the board affairs committee. The committee helps identify potential new trustees.

“This is a pretty amazing list of people who are leaders in the community,” Lisa says. “They have the resources and expertise to help raise money for the hospital.”

Campus Plans
Plans are being developed for expansion of the Health Center’s north and south campuses.

While most hospitals have foundations, few are as involved in the decision-making as the Saint John’s Health Center Foundation, says Marcel Loh, chief executive of the Health Center and the John Wayne Cancer Institute. “Having that feeling of ownership is particularly important in improving how the hospital meets the needs of the community.”

The Foundation has helped drive support for cherished community resources such as the Child and Family Development Center and public educational programs sponsored by Saint John’s.

Thoughts of how to best serve the community and promote health and wellness will guide the Foundation as it embarks on an ambitious project of expansion over the next two decades. While the main hospital buildings reside on the north side of Santa Monica Boulevard, the properties across the street, dubbed the south campus, will be rebuilt to house state-of-the-art facilities for the hospital’s centers of excellence in neuroscience, cardiac care, women’s health, orthopedics, prostate health and gastroenterology.

With an emphasis on translational research delivered to the bedside, the south campus will include a new building for the John Wayne Cancer Institute and space for ambulatory care and research, says A. Redmond “Rusty” Doms, a trustee since 1996 who served as Foundation chair from 2001 to 2003. A second component of the development plans includes parking, an education and conference center, and visitor housing for families with a loved one hospitalized at Saint John’s.

“One of the goals of Saint John’s, in addition to creating a world-class medical complex, is to make the Health Center community-oriented,” Rusty explains. “There will be a health and wellness area and an education and conference center. All that will be available for community use.”

The Health Center is working with the city on development review permit applications, and several Foundation members are involved in various aspects of planning, says Rusty, who served on a three-person committee to oversee the development of the new Los Angeles County Hospital.

One objective of the Health Center’s future development is to promote the internationally respected John Wayne Cancer Institute and elevate its stature in Southern California, says Carole Schwartz, a trustee since 2010 and a member of the Foundation board of trustees’ cancer committee.

“One of the things we’re working on is branding the John Wayne Cancer Institute with Saint John’s Health Center so that people view them together, to see them as one. You’ve got a huge, global brand associated with the John Wayne Cancer Institute. The name is known internationally. But when you hear that name, you don’t necessarily think of Saint John’s in the same breath. Locally, when you say Saint John’s, people think of it as an amazing community hospital, but they don’t pair that with the Institute automatically.”

Expansion will also help the Health Center meet its goal of continuing to attract top health care professionals. “A priority is the continuing recruitment and retention of great doctors,” Lisa adds. “It’s because of the doctors’ skills that we end up at Saint John’s. We want the best.”

The next two decades will require hard work and unwavering dedication to the mission. But the people who comprise the Foundation in its 40th year are up to the task.

“If you look ahead at the next 10 or 20 years, I think you’ll see a transformation taking place,” Carole says, “much like what happened after the earthquake and rebuilding the hospital. We have new leadership taking us into the next decade with significant growth while still maintaining the excellence of the past.”

To learn more about Saint John’s Health Center north and south campus development, please contact Robert O. Klein at 310-829-8424.