The UF Medical Guild’s first charitable donation was a modest gift of $25, and it helped provide emergency meals and lodging for indigent patients. Fifty years and more than $1 million later, that seed of inspiration has grown into a garden of generosity, creating a $50,000 gift to the Shands Cancer Hospital’s Garden of Hope.
In 1959, as the fledgling UF College of Medicine was planting its roots, new faculty were coming from across the country to Gainesville. University Avenue was just a single-lane road, and the massive, arching oaks met in the middle.
“People came in to talk and tell their story, and you listened, and maybe that’s the only time they could speak to somebody.”
Alix Gravenstein, charter member of the UF Medical Guild and wife of the late Joachim Gravenstein, MD, founder of the UF department of anesthesiology
“We had to have some core to work around so people would get to know each other,” said charter member Margaret Enneking, wife of UF’s first orthopedic surgery Chair William F. Enneking, MD, and mother of current anesthesiology Chair Kayser Enneking, MD ’86.
As the story goes, a group of women gathered and created the UF Medical Guild to “promote fellowship among the members and to render service to the UF Health Science Center.” The first meeting was held at the University Women’s Club on May 8, 1959. Dorothy Woodward, wife of UF’s first surgery chairman Edward R. Woodward, MD, served as the group’s first president.
Providing a Strong Stem
Spouses of incoming faculty are immediately welcomed into the Guild, which maintains an open-door policy and allows members to volunteer as much time as their schedules permit. Michelle Donnelly, who joined in 1971, said the Guild provides a source of friendship, and not many other medical schools have such a group.
“It is unique, but I think living in a smaller area has a lot to do with it,” said Donnelly, who is married to retired UF pathologist William Donnelly, MD.
Current Guild president Janice Nelson, who moved to Gainesville in 2004 when her husband Peter joined the division of vascular surgery, reflected on her first Guild meeting, saying that while walking in and trying to figure out how it would fit for her, a member came up and gave her a big hug.
“I remember thinking, someone who hugs like that has to be a good person,” she said, adding that everyone was so nice, welcoming and willing to help her adjust to living in Gainesville.
The Guild currently has more than 140 members and is open to every spouse of the UF Health Science Center’s faculty.
Spreading its branches of giving
The initial $25 gift was generated by a rummage sale. Since that first initiative, the group has raised money through efforts such as antique fairs, letter-writing campaigns and its current primary fundraiser, the Gift Stop, a shop for patients and staff located in Shands at UF and the Shands Medical Plaza. With the opening of the Shands Cancer Hospital, the Guild, which co-owns the nonprofit shops with the Shands Auxiliary, will open its third location.
The Guild’s immediate past president, Kathryn Seagle, said a number of volunteers see the Gift Stop not only as a fundraiser but also as a service.
“They want to put on a pleasant face to anyone coming in no matter what level of trauma they or their family have experienced,” said Seagle, who is the wife of M. Brent Seagle, MD, chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery.
Alix Gravenstein, a charter member and wife of the late Joachim Gravenstein, MD, founder of the UF department of anesthesiology, reflected about her days volunteering in the Gift Stop. “People came in to talk and tell their story, and you listened, and maybe that’s the only time they could speak to somebody,” she said.
Charter member Mary Lou Eitzman, who is married to retired UF neonatologist Donald Eitzman, MD, said in the early days the group helped out however it could, from working with patients to delivering mail and flowers. Through its members’ devotion, the group has been able to fund larger-scale projects such as Mini Medical School, which provides the opportunity for science teachers from around the state to come to UF to advance their knowledge. The Guild also supports basic science and medical students by offering monetary awards and scholarships each fall semester.
The Guild’s efforts branch out into the community as its members have provided grants to numerous organizations throughout the years, including the ACORN Clinic, the Equal Access Clinic and Haven Hospice, along with a grant to provide clothing for trauma victims when they leave the hospital.
“To be able to fund those things that reach out into the community gives meaning to why we do what we do,” said Nelson.
Fruits of their Labor
For 50 years, the UF Medical Guild has supported many people and programs. The following comments represent the impact of their contributions:
“The UF Medical Guild’s work is immeasurable. They started our Patient and Family Emergency Fund over 20 years ago. This fund helps us fill basic needs that are part of providing care for our patients and their families.”
— Cathy Cook, LCSW, director of Shands HealthCare’s department of patient and family resources
“The Guild is fabulous in its support of its members. When my husband passed away in January, my family and I were overwhelmed by all the Guild members who took the time to write notes and come by to deliver food and flowers. Acts like this reflect the heart and soul of what the Guild is all about.”
— Alix Gravenstein, charter member of the UF Medical Guild
“I won a Medical Guild Research award for my doctoral research investigating the origins of life using functionalized DNA molecules. I am very grateful for that award and the positive impact it had on me to continue a career in research. I’m sure, through its generosity and foresight, the Medical Guild has also influenced many students into a career in research and academics.”
— Darwin Ang, PhD ’99, MD ’01
“Through the collaboration between the Medical Guild and the UF Center for Precollegiate Education and Training, hundreds of teachers from across Florida engage thousands of Florida students in lessons and activities that demonstrate UF’s cutting-edge medical research and practice.”
— Mary Jo Koroly, PhD, an associate research professor and director of UF’s Center for Precollegiate Education and Training