At a gathering on March 31 at Morris County Hospital, Caroline VonFeldt was celebrated for her 30 years of service as the Executive Director of the Morris County Hospital Foundation. The gathering included remarks from Kevin Leeper, Morris County Hospital CEO; Jim Denning, VonFeldt’s nephew and a state senator; andTom Moxley, vice-chairman of the MCH Board and former state representative. VonFeldt was presented a certificate of achievement from the Kansas Hospital Association and a letter of congratulations from Gov. Laura Kelly. The hospital chapel was also re-dedicated in VonFeldt’s honor and will now be known as “Caroline’s Chapel.” Pictured (l-r) Sandra Hartman, Caroline VonFeldt and Kevin Leeper.
After 30 years at Morris County Hospital, Caroline VonFeldt will retire this week from her position as Executive Director of the Morris County Hospital Foundation, leaving behind a legacy of tireless work to raise funding for new construction, equipment and programs at the hospital.
At a ceremony at the hospital on Thursday, community members and several of VonFeldt’s family gathered to toast her retirement and her efforts on behalf of Morris County Hospital. VonFeldt was presented with a certificate of achievement from the Kansas Hospital Association and her nephew, Kansas Senator Jim Denning, presented her with a letter of congratulations from Gov. Laura Kelly.
The celebration included the re-dedication of the hospital’s chapel in her honor, now called “Caroline’s Chapel.”
“Sandy Hartman was gracious enough to allow the chapel to be re-named in Caroline’s honor,” said Kevin Leeper, Morris County Hospital CEO. “It’s right across from her office and during campaign time, she was in here a lot.”
VonFeldt says she always wanted to be a nurse.
“I have always liked people and doing things for people was something I’ve always wanted to be a part of my career,” she said. “We saved a lot of people’s lives over the years. I wouldn’t have done anything else.”
VonFeldt spent 33 years as a surgical nurse after receiving her nursing degree from the Dominican School of Nursing in Great Bend.
“I enjoyed it,” she said. “I always hoped for good outcomes and ninety-nine percent were good outcomes. It was always good making a connection with patients and their families.”
As a member of the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) and the Kansas State Nurses Association (KSNA), VonFeldt was also involved in education and advocacy, pushing for advancements and improvements in operating room technology and practices and teaching students, as well as in patient care.
Moving to Council Grove in the early-90s, VonFeldt says she wasn’t planning to work following her retirement from nursing.
“My husband had purchased a welding shop for more laid back work than oil field work,” she said. “But I answered an ad in the paper. We had very good board members that supported the foundation and I wanted the hospital to succeed and do well.”
As the Executive Director of the Morris County Hospital Foundation, VonFeldt was able to use her medical knowledge to help raise funds for the hospital and to educate the public about the hospital’s programs and services.
“The foundation needed someone with a lot of knowledge of medical equipment and practices,” VonFeldt said. “I was glad I had the knowledge I did when asking for donations and to prove to the public that the needed equipment or facilities would be meaningful.”
The Morris County Hospital Foundation was established in 1987 and helped to found a hospital clinic in White City in 1989, followed several years later by clinics in Alta Vista and Chase County.
VonFeldt said that her first capital campaign was in 1994, but that the scale of the campaign does not compare to those the foundation would later undertake. Since the year 2000, VonFeldt has overseen a variety of capital campaigns for Morris County Hospital, including the hospital’s radiology unit, the physical therapy and therapy pool facility and funding to bring the hospital into compliance with the 2007 Electronic Medical Records (EMR) Act. The most recent and largest campaign undertaken by the foundation was for Morris County Hospital’s emergency room facility, which included new OB rooms, two ADA rooms, a secure room and a helipad.
Current members of the Morris County Hospital Foundation board are Chad Tischhauser, President; Christy Davis, Vice President; Sandy Bachura, Secretary; Candace Boardman, Treasurer and Scott Bankes, Cindy Gant, Dustin Manson, Angela Schwerdtfeger and Elle White.
VonFeldt said that the hospital board has certain priorities for funding needs, which are then presented to the MCH Foundation board. Her job is then to learn about the issue or equipment needed and to promote the project.
Along with helping to raise money for the hospital, VonFeldt has also helped to educate the community on health-related matters, establishing continuing education programs on public health issues such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s Disease, Arthritis and Cancer, as well as blood pressure clinics and talks at area senior centers. Since 1994, VonFeldt has also helped with the Morris County Hospital Auxiliary Blood Drives through the Community Blood Center. She also assists the hospital in public relations and communications and works as a liaison between the MCH Auxiliary and the hospital.
VonFeldt assists the Foundation with projects such as its annual golf tournament and disc golf tournament, with all proceeds from the tournaments being used for a project or piece of equipment needed by the hospital.
Recently, the MCH Foundation took the lead in buying out the former manager/owner of Council Grove Assisted Living, now called Morris County Assisted Living (MCAL), seeing the need for the assisted living facility to be locally owned and managed. Caroline explained that the arrangement allowed for staff to work at both MCH and MCAL and notes that she is in contact with MCAL several times per week in both an advisory capacity and in helping bring the facility up to date both technologically and aesthetically.
When asked about her hobbies, Caroline commented, “My hobbies are my work. I garden some. I used to sew, but not so much anymore. I like to mess around in my garden, see my kids and read. I’m also always looking for potential sources of funding, so to speak.”
“Caroline is always a day-starting breath of fresh air,” said. “She always welcomes a new day with positive attributes no matter how cold, breezy or drizzly it might be. When she walks in the door, she gives staff a reason to be thankful they have a job…which for more than anything is why she will be missed! She has an attitude of gratitude that made you glad to be on her team! The fact that she successfully raised funds for several expansion efforts just seems like a natural outcome for her work ethic and personality. She is and always was a very determined piece of work. I am grateful for the four years that I got to work with her!”
Caroline said her best memories from her time at the foundation are the excitement of a capital campaign and seeing the response of the public to the foundation’s initiatives.
“I hope the public continues to support the hospital,” she said. “We have a good team of staff and doctors and a new doctor coming soon who will help with the OB program.”
Looking back, VonFeldt said that she can’t pick out a single accomplishment as number one, but mentions the emergency room, a comfort care room and the MRI unit as two of the biggest projects.
“I like when people understand what we need and that we can’t do it alone,” she said. A community is as strong as the foundation it stands on.”