A friendship that developed in a college classroom in 1988 turned Ginny Conlee into a long-time supporter of Memorial Health System.
Twenty-seven years ago, Ginny enrolled in the executive master’s of business administration program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and was assigned to a study group with other people from Springfield. One of the members of her five-person group was Ed Curtis, who at the time was a young administrator responsible for the nephrology and urology programs at Memorial Medical Center. He became the president and chief executive officer of Memorial Health System in January 2008.
“Over the two years of the program, Ed and I became friends, as well as good collaborators on projects,” Ginny said.
After graduating from the program in 1990, Ginny interacted with Memorial employees by conducting classes to explain the organization’s pension plan and the basics of investing. She continued to stay in touch with Ed Curtis and others at Memorial.
Ginny’s first donation to the Memorial Medical Center Foundation was for Friends of Memorial in 2010. Since then she has been a continuous donor and recently made a $25,000 commitment for the naming opportunity of a collaboration classroom on the fourth floor of the Memorial Center for Learning and Innovation.
“After my retirement from state employment in December 2001, I volunteered at Memorial for several months but then went back to work,” Ginny said. “Although I no longer had time for my volunteer work at Memorial, I became a supporter of Friends of Memorial because I was aware of the kind of work going on at the hospital and wanted to help.”
Then in 2011, Ginny experienced firsthand the care and compassion of Memorial’s employees. She had uterine cancer surgery and then underwent several weeks of radiation at the medical center.
“I was so very grateful for the care and treatment I received at Memorial that one day I walked into the Foundation office and asked to see the person in charge,” she remembered.
Ginny met with Elena Kezelis, the Foundation’s executive director, to discuss making a donation. After learning about the Cancer Patient Assistance Fund, Ginny knew that was the right place for her money.
“I simply could not comprehend how awful it must be for families facing the terror and discomforts associated with cancer to also have to worry about things like having enough money for gas to get to Memorial for treatment,” she said.
Ginny’s commitment to Memorial expanded in 2012 when she joined the Foundation’s board of directors. She is a sponsor of Memorial’s Festival of Trees and Memorial’s Hospice Gala because “Both events have a direct impact on quality of care and the lives of patients and their families and MMC staff. It doesn't get any better than that,” she said.
The decision to pursue a naming opportunity in the Memorial Center for Learning and Innovation was because of Ginny’s mother’s influence on her life.
“She was an elementary school teacher and principal in the town where I grew up. I became a teacher because of her. Although I did not continue as a public school teacher, I always found ways to be involved in teaching and education throughout my state government career,” Ginny said. “And given my interest in the innovative work going on at MMC and SIU School of Medicine, I wanted to do something to honor my mother's memory by helping to create a place that I know will be a shining light going forward.”
The passion Ginny developed for philanthropy originated at a young age and progressed through her life.
“My family was not well off, but we were always involved in giving back to the community. That exposure led to my decision to answer the call from our new president, John F. Kennedy, when he said "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask, instead, what you can do for your country." I joined the Peace Corps as soon as I graduated from college and spent two years in the Philippines working in a rural barrio with people who were really poor and in need. During that experience, I realized how very blessed I was, and how important it was to share those blessings with others," she said. “I don't think government can or should be solely responsible for helping those who need help. I think those who have more than they need have a moral responsibility to help others. And, it's fun! It makes one feel good.”