Leading Ladies: Headed by Brenda McDonald, the leaders and members of the iconic Irene Dunne Guild really get the job done.

November 30, 2016
Caroline Maclay, Brenda McDonald and Sandra Line

Brenda McDonald has worn many hats as a hospital nurse, mother, wife, and now as a marriage and family therapist in private practice. She recently added another hat, leading the philanthropic Irene Dunne Guild, which supports Saint John’s Health Center. Don’t ask her if she’s good at multi-tasking. She prefers being mindful and present in each thing she does. “That’s my goal. Multi-tasking is a contradiction in terms. If you’re multi-tasking, you’re not focused on any one thing,” says Brenda.

In her role as president of the guild, her goal is to give the group her undivided attention in its efforts to benefit the Health Center. It helps that her office is very close to the hospital and, as an independent therapist, she sets her own schedule. She is also supported by the 2016 board: Evelyn Guerboian, vice president; Angela Tesari, treasurer; Sandra Line, recording secretary; and Caroline Maclay, corresponding secretary. And they are bolstered by a cast of more than 120 guild members.

“The thing I really like about this group of women is they are committed to making something better, reaching out in the community, following the guild’s mission,” Brenda says.

The guild carries on the work of namesake Irene Dunne, a screen actress in the 1930s and 1940s. Irene was known as the “First Lady of Saint John’s” for her more than four decades of contributions to the Health Center. In addition to the guild’s annual patron drive, the Think Pink women's health event and the annual Caritas Gala, members train “angels” to work with families in the emergency room, maintain a supply of clothes for patients and offer a patient media library with books, CDs and DVDs to loan. They have toys on hand for children who are waiting with families in the ER. And they provide snacks to staff at the Health Center.

“The guild is all about serving the hospital and its staff,” Brenda says. “Guild service comes in many ways big and small, and includes simple gestures such as providing treats. Having been a hospital nurse, you can’t underestimate how touching it is to have someone say thank you.”

Patient comfort and care greatly benefit from the proceeds generated by the guild’s annual patron drive. To date, the patron drive has raised over $1 million for the hospital. Last year’s gifts include:
  • State-of-the-art infant warmers for the neonatal unit
  • Rapid transfusers for use in the emergency department to warm and administer blood more quickly and efficiently
  • SonoSite S-Cath portable ultrasound used in the maternity ward to allow for accurate and immediate wireless transmission of patient information to the doctor, which lets mothers-to-be get up and walk around during labor
  • Site-Rite Vision II, an ultrasound system that enables easier and more accurate placement of catheters Specially designed OB-GYN bed for the emergency department
  • Specialized refrigeration for tissue samples at the John Wayne Cancer Institute 
  • The Arctic Sun Temperature Management System to assist patients experiencing cardiac arrest

Recognizing that little things can make a big difference, the guild also supported increasing the availability of phone charging stations, cosmetic improvements to the OB-GYN waiting area and disaster preparedness supplies.

“It’s amazing that we have a hospital of this caliber in our community,” says Brenda, whose husband, Daniel, has been an anesthesiologist at the Health Center since 1983. “Saint John’s still has the feeling of a small community hospital but with world-renowned physicians and an exceptional level of care and expertise. I am indebted to Kate Prudente [past president] for her example of outstanding leadership and dedication to the Irene Dunne Guild. She is a strong resource as well as a true friend.”

When she turns her attention to relaxing, Brenda loves to read and take biking vacations. She also practices yoga, and plays paddle tennis and mahjong. “I do a lot to take care of myself and stay social,” she says. “I am very blessed to have the life I have, my health and to be part of this wonderful organization.”

If you have questions about joining the Irene Dunne Guild or would like to learn more about guild programs and events, please contact Tess Csiszar at 310-829-8168 or tess.csiszar@stjohns.org. Or you can submit your request online at irenedunneguild.org/contact-us.html.