A History of Giving

Bonnie's Farewell


Some of our furry four-legged friends are volunteers too! In 2016, therapy dog Bonnie made her final visit to the patients and staff on Tower 7 at Columbus Regional Hospital. Handler and volunteer Doug Bell announced her retirement to well-wishers and held back tears as the dog went room to room for a few last scratches behind the ears.

A History of Philanthropy, Inside and Out

Since the days of the Candy Striper, Columbus Regional Hospital’s volunteer program has evolved to become a service organization of nearly 250 strong.   

The hospital’s volunteer program was established by a group of 50 women who formed the Bartholomew County Hospital Guild in 1939. The group, which met monthly, offered a variety of services to the hospital and its patients, from sewing gowns for newborns and writing letters on behalf of the patients to loved ones and friends to delivering flowers to patients that the women had picked from their own gardens.

 “The volunteers were affectionately known as the Pink Ladies because of the pink smocks they wore to identify themselves to patients and employees,” says Jim Bickel, President and CEO of Columbus Regional Hospital. “At that time the group was comprised predominantly of retired women also known as the Auxiliary.”

By the end of WWII, the group reorganized and became known as the Bartholomew County Hospital Auxiliary in association with the American Hospital Association. During the 1950s, the Auxiliary was active in fundraising for the hospital and was mainly comprised of women. When the hospital underwent one of its first expansions, the Auxiliary participated as guides to assist with the process and used fundraising to help sponsor nursing training and equipment purchasing.

The candy striper program, officially introduced in 1962, initially had 50 participants and grew steadily to include more than 100 young ladies in 1968. The Auxiliary hired its first coordinator in 1966, which was replaced by the paid director of volunteer services position in the 1990s.

The service group continued to blossom into the 1970s and even offered the Pink Lady Press, a newsletter printed on, of course, pink paper. Also in the 70s, the Auxiliary began offering a scholarship program for former Candy Stripers.

 “That was a turning point that led to some transformational changes in the Auxiliary and volunteers,” Bickel says. “With that, over the years, the image has changed away from the Pink Ladies to a more comprehensive volunteer organization within the hospital.”

Bickel says volunteerism at CRH itself has not changed much since he joined the organization in 1991 and took on his current role in 2007; however, he says, the image of what volunteerism is has changed.

 “There’s a commitment involved, but you can set your hours,” Bickel says. “We design the volunteer program to fit the volunteers’ schedules and needs and match them up with the organization’s needs.”

A history of volunteerism inside and out

The transformation of volunteer services perhaps paved the way for a more deliberate sense of giving and community mindedness, which now reverberates throughout the health system. Not only is the hospital history rife with examples of individuals and programs giving back within the hospital walls, but just as important, within the community and geographic area Columbus Regional Health calls home. The Columbus Regional Hospital Foundation, an entity which now oversees charitable giving within the Columbus Regional Health workforce and within community health programs, began as vision of former administrator Miss Olive Murphy, Dr. David Adler, philanthropist Clementine Miller Tangeman and hospital board member J.P. Hilger in the early 1950s.

The Foundation’s first internal philanthropic gesture was to help fund an educational need for a medical student. Shortly after its official incorporation, the foundation expanded funding focuses to address hospital programing and services, such as the establishment of a medical isotope department in 1956 – one of only four in the state at the time, and air conditioning throughout the hospital in 1959. Beyond the walls of the hospital and health campus, in the mid-90s, Columbus Regional Health Foundation sponsored the grass-roots formation of a comprehensive public health organization, today known as Healthy Communities. The Foundation works closely with this initiative to measure community health needs and determine funding and support for community health programming and initiatives. Integral in the fundraising needed to hit the ground running post flood recover, the Foundation made the opening of the Innovation Center in a portion of the formerly devastated lower level of the hospital possible in 2011.

From assets of just around $6,000 when it incorporated in 1951 to more than $10 million in assets today, Columbus Regional Health Foundation continues its strong commitment to improving the quality of life for this community and for the programs and employees of Columbus Regional Health.