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by Terri Hogan
Senior Staff Writer
As long as there has been a hospital in Olney, there has been a Women’s Board to support it.
For 100 years, the Women’s Board has provided services big and small, from collecting home-canned goods and rolling bandages to purchasing state-of-the art equipment and funding multi-million-dollar facility improvements.
Montgomery General Hospital — now MedStar Montgomery Medical Center — was founded in 1920 by Dr. Jacob Wheeler Bird in the midst of an influenza pandemic. It was the first hospital in the county.
The year before, the Ladies Auxiliary had formed with eight members to organize volunteers, supervise the hospital housekeeping and grounds, fold surgical dressings, provide and repair linens and raise funds.
In 1926, The Ladies Auxiliary becomes the Women’s Board with 53 members.
Today, the volunteer service organization has more than 100 members, including some who have been involved for decades, and others from families that span multiple generations of membership.
The Women’s Board operates the hospital gift shop and the thrift shop. It hosts the Gifts of Light program each December and offers a scholarship program for students and employees pursuing or continuing their education in the health care field.
The Women’s Board is probably best known for its annual Picnic and Bazaar, held on the fourth Tuesday of July at the old hospital grounds.
July 28 would have marked the 100th anniversary of the beloved summertime tradition. Women’s Board members made the difficult decision to cancel the event due to the Covid-19 pandemic. They are hoping to hold it on Oct. 3.
‘The hospital is the heart of a lot of us’
Five generations of Roseanne Fones’ family have worked at the Picnic and Bazaar — her grandmother, her parents, she and her husband, her sons and her grandsons.
While she is disappointed this year’s event has been postponed, she understands.
“You have to think of safety first,” she said. “A lot of the workers are older people.
It is a shame they canceled it, but it was the safe thing to do.”
Fones, of Sandy Spring, joined the Montgomery General Hospital Guild in the 1960s.
“It was a fun group of young mothers and our job was to donate items for the nursery,” she said.
The Guild was eventually absorbed into the Women’s Board, although she recalls that the members still had to be voted in.
She has lots of memories of attending events with her mother and grandmother, including Donation Day events.
The first Donation Day took place ago 100 years ago last November, hosted by a small group of women. People came from across Montgomery County to help get the new hospital started. They brought many items that were going to be needed at the new hospital, including home canned goods, linens, curtains, towels, money, bandages and more.
“I would be with there with my grandmother, who was in charge of the canned goods,” she said. “I was just a little thing and was learning way back then.”
Fones has worked in thrift shop and gift shop and served as vice president of the Women’ Board. And she ran Kiddieland at the supper when it was held at Sherwood High School.
Her mother chaired the supper for many years.
Fones grew up along with the hospital.
“The hospital is the heart of a lot of us and an important part of this community,” she said. “You just always knew it was there. I started supporting it as a child and have kept it up for 80 plus years.”
‘A very meaningful way to help’
Sue Conner of Ashton joined the Junior Auxiliary in 1958. She had been married for a few years and was working at the time, but enjoyed the monthly evening meetings.
“Everybody helped everybody back then,” she said. “That is just the way it was.”
As members got older and got busy with their families, they became the Senior Auxiliary.
“Most of the members then moved over to the Women’s Board, and I have been working to help the Women’s Board ever since,” Conner said.
She has remained involved, because she enjoys the people.
“It is my hospital, so I have always been willing to help” she said.
Dr. Bird operated on Conner, she said.
“He took my tonsils out,” she said. “Back then, you had to have your tonsils out before you went to school.”
She recalls folding bandages from big sheets of gauze provided by the hospital, and she remembers raising funds by selling ads for a Women’s Board Handbook and participating in a charity fashion show.
Conner has been in charge of the Women’s Board Sunshine Committee for the past 20 years. She is now the sole member of the committee, and her job is to send get well or sympathy cards to Women’s Board members dealing with loss or illness.
She also volunteers at the hospital’s gift shop and thrift shop.
“Being a part of the Women’s Board has provided me a very meaningful way to help,” she said.
She is disappointed that the pandemic has impacted the Women’s Board events.
“I am sorry that this was going to be a special year for the Women’s Board, and this virus has made a mess out of it,” Conner said. “We gave out $100,000 in scholarships, but we couldn’t even enjoy meeting the young people.”
She is confident the 100th Picnic and Bazaar will happen, whether it is in October or next July.
‘We don’t even realize the impact we have had on so many people’
Patty Cutlip of Olney is the Women’s Board historian and fondly recalls her own history with the organization.
“When we moved here in 1978, I didn’t know many people,” she said.
She had attended the picnics, but had no idea who was running them.
“Artie Carr, a member of the Olney Lions Club, was a great influencer,” she said.
Lions Club members set up and tore down the event, and during the day some helped with cooking the corn.
In 1980, the corn chairman had left, and organizers were having a hard time finding a replacement. Carr asked Cutlip, who told him she wasn’t even a member of the Women’s Board.
After some convincing, she agreed to take on the role, which she held from 1980 to 1996.
“I inherited ‘Artie’s Brigade,’” she said. “They were a wonderful group of men, and we all became friends.”
She said she was invited to and attended a few Women’s Board meetings. After the third one, she was officially voted in as a member of the Women’s Board, in about 1982.
Later, she was asked to be on the nominating committee. Through that process, she agreed to be the second vice president.
Cutlip said the focus of the Women’s Board has remained unchanged — to help the hospital in any way that is needed. She said in her years of being the corn chairwoman, president, historian, and working on the gift shop and Gifts of Light program, she has learned that the little things mean as much to her as the big things.
“How many girls may not have gone to their prom if they had not come into the thrift shop and bought a dress?” she said. “We don’t even realize the impact we have had on so many people.”
‘These ladies are just amazing people’
Amy Cohen is one of the younger members of today’s Women’s Board.
She is the daughter of Patty Cutlip and began working at the Picnic and Bazaar in high school. Despite her early involvement, she had told her mother, “Don’t ever ask me to join the Women’s Board.”
Years later, the organization was looking for someone to chair the scholarship committee. Cutlip suggested her daughter, who had experience working on scholarships through local schools and Girl Scouts.
Cohen took on the role and became a member in 2012.
“I have the best job,” she said. “Everyone works hard to raise the funds, but I get to award it to some really deserving people.”
Cohen has risen up the ranks, and currently serves as vice president and 100th Anniversary co-chairwoman along with Christine Hill-Wilson, in addition to continuing her role as scholarship chairwoman. She will become the president-elect in September.
She enjoys the camaraderie the group offers.
“These ladies are just amazing people,” she said. “As I get to know them and hear their personal stories, I am even more impressed.”
Cohen said what she will miss most about not having the Picnic and Bazaar this month is seeing the corn shuckers gather early on the morning of the event.
“Watching people get together to shuck and clean the corn silk makes Olney feel like a small town,” she said. “There’s a real sense of community, watching people work together. Some are hospital employees, but many are just members of the community who come every year.”
If the event is held in October, there will not be fresh corn.
Cohen praises the Women’s Board for its ability to evolve over the years and stay relative.
“Early on, they were maintaining the hospital manually by maintaining the building and grounds,” she said. “Now, the support is done through fundraising.”
Cohen calls the Women’s Board “a treasure.”
“Numerous women have worked over the years to support the hospital, and continue to work,” she said. “Many of these women have dedicated such a large part of their lives to the hospital and the community. We are so fortunate in this area to have this level of dedication.”
Since 1920, the Women’s Board has raised over $20 million for the hospital. It is currently working to fulfill a $2 million pledge for the renovation of the patient surgical waiting area, a renovation of existing space on the third floor offering inpatient/outpatient treatment for pulmonary patients, and a full renovation of the thrift shop.
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