BIG RAPIDS — Deep behind the scenes in Spectrum Big Rapids Hospital, but right out in the open, a dedicated group of people have quietly donated over three-quarters of a million dollars to improve and advance health care services in this area.

The Spectrum Health Big Rapids Auxiliary is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that regularly donates funds to the Spectrum Health Big Rapids and Reed City Hospitals Foundation. The foundation raises money to provide both facilities with needed items from IV rods to audiovisual equipment.

Auxiliary members Michele Christner, Dorothy Letavish, Lolly Nicol and Cathy Woolen are only a few individuals who feel dedicated to the cause.

"For me, the hospital is essential for the community," said Nicol, auxiliary treasurer. "Anything we can do to keep the hospital here is crucial. If something happens, I don't want to have to drive an hour to receive care."

Early records hint the group was established in 1927. However, the historic record is not complete and the group may have been formed prior to that date.

Comprised of about 150 people, auxiliary members volunteer their time and energy to host fundraisers throughout the year such as a book fair, pumpkin and mum sale and auxiliary block party. In addition, members take turns manning the Spectrum Health Big Rapids Hospital gift shop, where all proceeds benefit the auxiliary. The shop is the group's largest source of funding, bringing in more than $200,000 per year. They also provide the parents of the first baby born on Christmas and New Year's Day diapers for a year.

Since it began, the group has donated more than $789,000, more than half of which was given in the last 15 years.

From 1927 through 1999, the group donated about $343,400 to the Mecosta County Medical Center, though likely the total is higher because exact figures are unknown due to missing records. From 2000 to 2015, records show the group has donated about $344,300. Donation amounts range from double-digit numbers to amounts in the tens of thousands and helped pay for items such as a water sterilizer, diapers, TV sets, pacemaker equipment, beds, a fetal monitor and laparoscopic equipment.

"Our donations are thanks to all the hard-working volunteers," Nicol said. "Things we help the foundation purchase helps us, too, like the mammography equipment and the equipment for the birthing center. We are also patients and we try to match our donation to who we are."

Besides specific items, the auxiliary also has donated thousands to building projects, including hospital wings, waiting rooms, the birthing center, private patient rooms and renovations. It also provides scholarship opportunities each year to high school seniors within the Mecosta Osceola Intermediate School District who are pursuing health science majors. Since 1977, the group has given more than $112,000 in scholarships.

With two hospitals constantly in need of funding for amenities for staff and patients, deciding how much money is designated for specific line items can be a tough call.

Foundation officials provide the auxiliary with the hospitals' greatest needs, and the auxiliary determines which items to fund and how much to donate to each, said Big Rapids and Reed City Hospitals Foundation Director Sue Snavley. Non-designated donations are used toward the foundation's greatest need.

"It feels great that the auxiliary feels so strongly about their mission toward the hospital that they rise up and donate," she added. "There is a mutual respect between the auxiliary and the hospital foundation and we've cultivated that relationship so every time they donate it's a gift. We never expect them to pick up the tab for anything."

The Spectrum Health Big Rapids Auxiliary constantly looks for additional members and volunteers. Attending events is one of the best ways to learn more information and become involved.

"I moved here 32 years ago, and a friend encouraged me to go to an auxiliary meeting," said Michele Christner, auxiliary vice president. "I thoroughly enjoyed it and I was new in town, so joiningwas a great opportunity to meet new people."

Cathy Woolen, auxiliary president, also felt the desire to join at one of the group's community events.

"I joined when I attended the block party," she said. "Then I was asked to be on the board and I also worked in the gift shop."

Each of the ladies said being a part of the auxiliary can be a fun way to meet others, keep busy during retirement and a great way to give back to the community. Scheduling is flexible for those wishing to help out at the gift shop or volunteer at a fundraiser.

"You don't have to give your whole life," Christner said. "You can do a lot, or a little, or just participate monetarily."

For more details about Spectrum Health Big Rapids Auxiliary, contact volunteer services coordinator Suzie Hicks at (231) 592-4327.