Dynamic Duo

For nearly four decades, two close friends have been the driving force behind Mary Greeley Medical Center's highly successful gift shop and café.

"I always told Mary Ann we would go out together," says Linda Dasher, longtime volunteer with the Mary Greeley Medical Center gift shop.

Dasher stayed true to her pledge. When Mary Ann Carr retires in January as gift shop manager, Linda, her most loyal and hardworking volunteer, will retire, too.

Carr has been manager of the shop and café since 1978, but she began as a medical center volunteer admitting patients in 1974. She served as president of the Auxiliary, which operates the gift shop, in 1977.

"I was just going to help out until they found someone else. I don't know how long it took for me to figure out that they weren't looking," she says with a chuckle.

Dasher has volunteered at the hospital for 38 years. She's also been a familiar presence on the board of directors, serving twice as president, along with many other community involvements.

The gift shop started in 1961 as a little countertop, selling health and beauty aids for patients, as well as newspapers and magazines. Later, candy bars were added.

Now, after three major remodelings and expansions, the shop offers an impressive array of gifts and other merchandise. It has netted almost a half million dollars for Mary Greeley Medical Center over the past 10 years. The funds are used to directly support hospital programs and services.

The first major purchase with gift shop proceeds was the hospital's first ambulance in the late 1970s. The shop also helped fund some of the first bedside heart monitor units in the hospital.

It has helped fund the William R. Bliss Cancer Resource Center, the Israel Family Hospice House, the Diabetes and Nutrition Education Center and scholarships to local high school seniors going into health care fields. The next project the shop will support is the remodeling of the hospital's guest house.

"Any time you've seen a program or initiative funded with major private support, the Auxiliary has been a part of that, and the gift shop is the major contributor to the Auxiliary," says Melissa Johansen, director of external relations.

But raising money isn't the only function of the gift shop. It's also a service to patients, guests and employees who see the shop as a haven for a quiet cup of coffee, a relaxing place to browse for a gift and the perfect resource for a tasty gourmet chocolate or two.

Mutual Admiration

Carr and Dasher are complementary personalities. Dasher, a former buyer for Dayton's department store, knows trends, style and merchandising. Carr is the warm, gentle presence, who also keeps track of all the numbers.

"I tell people that Linda has the expertise and I tell her not to spend so much money," says Carr. In fact, one of Carr's plans for retirement includes getting to spend more time with Linda at Dasher's home in Phoenix.

"Now she can come down and visit for more than just one week each winter," says Dasher.

From the beginning, "We just gelled," Carr says. "Even now, Linda says, ‘Let's order six of something' and I tell her, ‘Well, I was thinking of a half dozen.'"

Carr also loves Dasher's creative ideas for the shop and her reliability as a sounding board. "And I can count on her," says Carr. "If there's a big shipment in the morning, I can call Linda, and there she is."

"Mary Ann is just one of the nicest people I've ever worked with in my life," Dasher says. "She loves angels, and I think she herself is an angel."

"I marvel at Mary Ann," Dasher adds. "She never fails to thank every volunteer who works at the shop. There might be up to 15 a day and she never fails. She says thank you to every one."

Focus on Gifts

Just recently, the shop underwent a major change when the food service portion of the shop was split from the gift portion. Burgie's Coffee and Tea Company has taken over the food service-which was having problems finding enough volunteers-allowing the Auxiliary to focus on the gift shop. 

Carr applauds the decision. Selling gifts has long been her passion. She was amused, though, to find that patients and staff were eager to keep her egg salad and tuna salad sandwiches on the menu. Burgie's was happy to accommodate. 

Even without the food service function, the gift shop is still busy enough to employ a full-time assistant manager, a part-time assistant manager, and to use the services of about 35 volunteers (down from 150 when food service was involved).

It illustrates the complexity of the job, which includes national merchandising trips, bookkeeping and endless unloading and displaying of merchandise.

"We do a huge Christmas business," Dasher says. "I think what we are most known for is our incredible display of ornaments."

Carr plans on taking time to visit her five children, who are located in Germany and all over the country. She also has 16 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren she's eager to spend time with. She'll continue to work at St. Cecelia Catholic Church as a wedding director, helping couples coordinate and rehearse their ceremonies.

Johansen says that when it's time to hire someone new to run the shop, "It's not even a matter of filling their shoes. There's just no way we'll be able to duplicate what the two of them have done for the medical center. We're going to have to reinvent the shoes."