Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
In 1955, a few folks sat down, took minutes, and formed the Eastern New Mexico Medical Center Auxiliary. One of their first acts was to “gather things together for a continued and glorified Rummage Sale.” according to founding member Celia Waldron.
The home of Mr. and Mrs. J.E. Johns at 608 N. Richardson Ave. was the location of that first thrift store. It quickly outgrew the place, however.
Sadly, Lynda Whalen, Director of Volunteer Services, had to preside over the closing of that store last week. It had been in the same location since 1961, at 221 E. Wildy St.
“It was a thrift shop for the generations,” Whalen said. “The volunteers, especially Gene Devitt, knew everyone who came in. They would ask about grandchildren by name. It was always like a family there.”
Many who volunteered there made it a home away from home.
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“Gene Devitt had a passion,” Whalen said. “She spoke Spanish fluently. Her husband had volunteered there. When Spence Devitt passed away she was even more intent on staying there. When you walked in it was like she was inviting you into her home. There was also Viva and Marvin Byrd, and Gertie Rogers. They were awesome. They left the feeling of an open invitation.”
Judy Borst, president of the auxiliary, said her husband would spend more time there than he realized sometimes.
“Gary used to pick up the donations from the bins all over town and take them to the thrift store,” Borst said. “One day, he didn’t get home until after 4 o’clock, he’d started at noon. I figured he must have had some problems. He said ‘No, Gertie and I were sitting there solving all the world’s problems.’ They just sat there and visited for a couple of hours.”
Since settling in on the corner of Wildy and South Grand Avenue, the thrift store has been an active part of the neighborhood. Dorothy Redd, an active member of the auxiliary for 51 years, remembered a kindness.
“Around 1965, we needed a new roof,” Redd recalled. “I called a gentleman who lived in the area who did roofs figuring if he could do the job reasonably I’d hire him. Well he gave a good bid and so I hired him. He did a good job and we waited for the bill. Finally, I called him and told him we hadn’t gotten his bill and we needed to pay him. He said, ‘I’m sorry, Ma’am, but I’m not going to bill you. You people in the thrift shop do so much for this neighborhood that we are not billing you for the roof.’”
Even now with the store closed down, neighbors are keeping a lookout.
“The neighbors have always kept an eye out for the thrift store,” Whalen said. “They’re doing it right now. Louie has lived in the area for years. Even last week when people were dumping things by the back door after we had closed, he would clean up after them.”
Louie, a local gentleman, has been a blessing to all of them.
“Two or three years ago, Louie, who lives across from the thrift shop, decided to volunteer,” Redd said. “He worked so hard.”
Borst said he made them feel protected.
“Louie was always careful,” Borst said, “to make sure that all the ladies got to their cars safely after closing the store at night.”
Initially, the thrift store would purchase needed materials for the hospital.
“When the hospital was not-for-profit,” Whalen said, “the auxiliary could buy anything for the hospital. They used to present a needs list. The auxiliary would vote on each item.”
That changed in the late ’90s.
“When the hospital was purchased for profit in 1998,” Whalen said, “that changed the complexion. We could buy educational materials and supplies, but no equipment. That’s when the auxiliary went into the scholarship business.”
The auxiliary’s scholarship efforts have benefited Roswell greatly. The thrift store helped out in other ways, too.
“Since 1996, we’ve given almost $600,000 in scholarships,” Whalen said. “I look at all the years that thrift store was open and wonder how many people got an education in the medical field because of the help they got from those sales. How many families who lost everything in a fire or other disaster were able to wear clean, decent clothes again and replace their necessities? How many people came to our back door to get shoes for their kids because they couldn’t buy them?”
Even without the store, the auxiliary continues its work.
“Auxiliary funds go to scholarships for the medical fields,” Whalen said. “That continues. We raise money through the gift shop in the hospital, the coffee shop, the wall of honor, we have donations. We have huge fundraisers here in the hospital. Our purpose is still here, and we will carry on. Had it not been for the hard work of all the volunteers at the thrift store we couldn’t have done any of this.”
The first scholarship ever awarded by the auxiliary went to a nursing student who now teaches nursing at ENMU-R.
“We award scholarships for all medical fields,” Whalen said. “Dental hygienists, occupational therapists, respiratory therapists and more have received scholarships.”
Many of those students have returned to benefit the community.
“It has brought back more than one doctor,” Redd said, “and more than one dentist. It’s brought us pharmacists and nurses, too.”
Dena Flores has been the secretary of volunteer Services for just over two years. As the newest member of the team she sympathizes with her co-workers.
“It is sad after 62 years that it got to this point,” Flores said. But it had to be.
“I remember as a kid we would bag up our old clothes and drop them off at the drop boxes. Until I started to work here I didn’t realize what an impact the volunteers have. They come from all different backgrounds, and it’s neat to see how they pull together. People ask me why people volunteer. It’s fulfillment. It gives them something to do and that keeps them going.”
The volunteer who runs the gift shop is probably the oldest volunteer they have, and she inspires them all.
“She’s not a little old lady who comes in with her cane and is fragile,” Whalen said. “She has her act together. She keeps accurate records, and Dena knows when there’s a discrepancy it’s going to be on the other side, not in her work.
“One year when our system crashed and we lost everything, she had every penny recorded, every volunteer’s contact information and hours, she had it all.”
The best kept secret in Roswell is no more, but the people who ran it are busier than ever. As Borst wistfully put it, “One door closes, another door opens.”
Features reporter Curtis M. Michaels can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.