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March 3, 2010 > Hospital's Service League Celebrates 55 Years of Service

Hospital's Service League Celebrates 55 Years of Service

After More Than Half a Decade Two Volunteers Still "Enjoy Every Minute"

On Feb. 17, 2010, Washington Hospital's Service League held its 55th annual meeting and installation of officers.

As part of the backbone of the hospital, Service League volunteers perform many vital duties to assist hospital staff, physicians, patients and visitors, according to the hospital's Director of Volunteer Services Anna Elola.

The Service League has 260 members, as well as 102 college students and 273 high school volunteers who volunteer for Washington Hospital.

"Volunteers can be found greeting patients and visitors, discharging patients, making deliveries, keeping concerned friends and families of surgery emergency and critical care patients updated on the condition of their loved ones, interacting with patients by providing emotional support during physical therapy and assisting staff with feeding patients," just to name a few of their duties, Elola says.

During its more than 50-year history, the Service League has donated 1.5 million hours of volunteer service to the Washington Hospital Healthcare System.

In February 2007, the Washington Hospital Service League Board of Directors pledged $300,000 over the following five years to support the Critical Care and
Emergency Room building fund.

The fourth installment of $65,000 was presented at the luncheon on Feb. 17.
Overall, the Service League has donated $2,134,406 to Washington Hospital Healthcare System.

Asked for one word that describes the volunteers at Washington Hospital, Elola says they are simply "awesome!"

Back before Washington Hospital even existed, the Service League began as a fledging volunteer organization in 1955 with the goal of supporting Washington Township's new hospital, Elola says.

Two of the Service League's volunteers, Laura Pessagno and Peg Tait, both of whom just received recognition for 55 years of service, were there in the very beginning.

Laura Pessagno, 55 years of service

"I don't know where the years went, but they few by," Mrs. Pessagno says of her years of service. "I feel so blessed. We started in 1955 when our local pharmacist asked if I would assist in getting together a Service League organization. A group of us went to Josephine Walton's house and we organized. Then, for three years before the hospital opened, we organized a rummage store called the Cheery Budget Shop where we had anything from hand-me-downs to rusty sieves to used clothing. It was a lot of fun."

The shop relocated to the old Irvington Library, and later then-Mayor Jack Stevenson allowed the Service League to use a home where Peralta Boulevard now runs through before the shop finally moved to Fremont Boulevard.

In the new Service League's first three years, volunteers raised $15,000 for the community's brand new hospital.

"I worked at the Lobby desk in the beginning when the hospital was only two floors," Mrs. Pessagno says. "In those days, we were called Pink Ladies before there were any men volunteering, and we ran the gift shop and lobby at the same time. Now each little group has their duties to do, but back then we did it all. Later my daughter Janet became a Pink Lady and my daughter June became a Blue Miss, and then my son Timothy became a volunteer also.

"When the Foundation started, my husband was the first member to pass away. At the time, we had no hospice program, and we had to travel to Hayward for hospice services. The following year, we started the Gene Angelo Pessagno Memorial Golf Tournament. We made $10,000 the first year, $16,000 the next year, and last year we made $74,000."

After 55 years, Mrs. Pessagno remains a dedicated to her community hospital and still volunteers.

"I've enjoyed every minute of volunteering," she enthuses. "Now I do the calligraphy on the certificates for the junior volunteers. But I also have great-grandchildren, and they come first!"

Peg Tait, 55 years of service

"I can't believe I'm still volunteering after all these years," Peg Tait says. "I still love it. I've met so many nice people and made so many good friends. I've held every office except president, which I didn't want. I've worked in several departments. And I'm still at the hospital almost every week. It's been fun, and I've enjoyed every minute of it."

Mrs. Tait remembers more than 50 years ago attending a public meeting about building a new hospital in the community.

"There was nothing out here in 1955, just three doctors," she says. "I remember Mr. (Lester) Whitaker got up during the meeting and said, 'Last month we were planning a 50-bed hospital, but people are moving to Fremont, so I think we should start thinking of a 150-bed hospital.' A woman in the audience stood up and said there would never be 50 people sick in Fremont at one time."

Seeing how much the community has grown, it's a good thing they did start planning for a bigger hospital, Mrs. Tait says.

"I had just moved here, and I read about this hospital being built," she says. "Before that we traveled over the country living in different cities, and I would find military hospitals where I could volunteer for a few months. Then when we moved here I read in the paper about a meeting at Josie Walton's house about this organization for this hospital they were planning. As I remember, there were about 10 of us there. Everybody knew each other except me; I was the oddball.

"Right then I became active, and they've been hours well spent."

Become a volunteer today

The mission of the Washington Hospital Service League is to make a difference by helping others.

Volunteers work closely with Washington Hospital Healthcare System professionals to do just that providing care and support to Washington Hospital patients, families and visitors.

For more information about the Washington Hospital Service League, call the Volunteer Department at (510) 791-3465 or visit and click on "Giving & Volunteering."

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