Anderson Hospital Administrative Director of Human Resources Robin Steinmann (center) shares a moment with the four remaining charter members of the Anderson Hospital Auxiliary, fondly called the “Golden Girls” — Mary Lou Schultz, Barb Burstadt, Alice Kerkemeyer and Millie Belobraydic. The auxiliary started in 1966.
MARYVILLE — When Anderson Hospital’s Auxiliary was chartered in 1966, Millie Belobraydic was one of 43 original members.
Today, the group has more than 200 volunteers. That includes Belobraydic, one of the few who has seen the auxiliary from its infancy to this year’s 50th anniversary.
The group had a unique beginning. For 10 years, it was known as “the auxiliary without a hospital” because it was chartered while the hospital was still a vision.
“It was really kind of funny because we held bazaars, bake sales and sold anything we could make to raise money for a hospital that didn’t exist,” says Belobraydic, 86, of Maryville.
The need for a hospital to serve the Collinsville and Caseyville area was first voiced in 1920, when Anna Forberg Cook offered to give Collinsville a site on St. Clair Avenue on which to build, according to Anderson Hospital’s website. But the city was unable to finance the project, and the idea was withdrawn.
From 1947 until ground was broken in 1974, community groups and leaders worked to bring a hospital to the area. Three proposals were voted down because it required taxes to build and support it. The closest hospital for Collinsville area residents was in Belleville, some 20 minutes away.
When Belobraydic moved from East St. Louis in 1954, she met Vi and Robert Kraft. Robert Kraft was a prominent Collinsville physician who delivered Belobraydic’s three sons.
“He was a wonderful man. Vi was our angel of mercy,” Belobraydic says. “They always wanted a hospital in our area.”
In 1965, St. Mary’s Hospital in East St. Louis contemplated building a satellite hospital at the current site of Collinsville High School. Expecting a hospital that never materialized, Vi Kraft organized the auxiliary in 1966 and was elected its first president.
A similar struggle was emerging in Edwardsville, so community leaders there and in Collinsville formed the Central Madison Co. Hospital Association. East St. Louis Christian Welfare Hospital offered to consider building a hospital and joined with the association to create the Southwest Illinois Health Facilities Inc., according to Belobraydic.
Finally, after decades of work, Anderson Hospital opened its doors to patients in January 1977. It serves Maryville, Troy, Glen Carbon, Edwardsville and Collinsville.
Belobraydic has been on the board of directors since 1968. She, along with Mary Lou Schultz, Barb Burstadt and Alice Kerkemeyer, are the auxiliary’s “Golden Girls,” four remaining members from the early days of the group’s existence.
Belobraydic said volunteering at the hospital is “a labor of love. Our area needed a hospital so bad, it was one of those things that if I could help, I would. I wanted to make the area better and have it easier to get health care.”
The auxiliary has always had a strong fundraising committee. Around 1974, it pledged $100,000 to Southwest Illinois Health Facilities to be paid over 10 years.
“The auxiliary worked so hard, we paid it off in eight years,” Belobraydic says.
That hard work continues today.
“I’m very proud of the fact that in the past 50 years, the auxiliary has donated $3.5 million to the hospital,” says Addie Hall, the auxiliary’s current president.
But the organization has seen changes over the years. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act laws prevent volunteers from having as much patient interaction as they once did.
“When we first started, we could take patients to the lab or X-ray, or take them their lunch tray. Now we can’t do that,” Hall says. Instead, volunteers are the “legs” of the nursing staff, getting supplies, directing patients and visitors, and pushing patients in wheelchairs when they’re discharged.
As the hospital has grown and added departments — such as a Women’s Pavilion in 1992 and, recently, a Wellness Center — the auxiliary has continued to grow, too, Belobraydic says.
“We would love to have new volunteers,” she says. “We need some new blood.”
Belobraydic says she’ll volunteer as long as she can keep going.
“It makes a difference in your life if you can say you’ve made a difference.”