On the first day of the year, as Americans are waking up after an evening of revelry and sitting in front of their TV sets to watch the Rose Parade or any of several football bowl games, Mervin and Barbara get out their checkbook, sit at their table and write a $5,000 payment to Sutter Medical Center Foundation. They’ve done that each of the past two years, with a pledge to do likewise for three more years – a total of $25,000.
Their generous gift is in gratitude for the life-saving treatment that Barbara received in 2009 at Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital. The gift is substantial for the retired couple, who earned their nest egg through many years of hard work. Merv had owned and operated a Shell gasoline station on Lincoln Way in the “Old Town” section of Auburn, across from the monumental statue of miner Claude Chana and the Volunteer Fire Department. Barbara had worked in a hardware store nearby. It was in that store that they met years ago.
While Barbara grew up in the Los Angeles area, Merv was born and raised in Folsom. Upon graduation from Folsom High, Merv enlisted in Navy during the Korean War in the early ’50s. He became a second class fire control technician, maintaining artillery radar and weapons hydraulic systems. He served aboard the light cruiser USS Manchester, which supported United Nations air strikes and troop movement by bombarding North Korean military installations and supply routes.
After Merv was discharged from the Navy, he decided to open a gas station in Folsom. When he saw a better opportunity in Auburn, he built his Shell station, which opened for business in 1959. He married, and he and his first wife raised three children. To complement the service station, where Merv pumped gas and performed automotive maintenance and repair services, he opened Hall’s Towing Service in 1964, with AAA affiliation.
Barbara, meanwhile, who had grown up in Inglewood, near L.A. International Airport, became a dental assistant after her graduation from George Washington High School. She worked for a pediatric dentist in L.A. for a few years, before she moved to the Sacramento area, married, and went to work for two other dentists. She ended her career in dentistry to raise her two daughters.
But Barbara’s marriage ultimately dissolved, as Merv’s had. When her children were grown, she took a job at the hardware store where Merv went for supplies. She helped him with a purchase, they became friends, dated, and eventually they married. Merv introduced Barbara to healthcare at Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital, with which he was acquainted since the construction of the hospital in the late 1960s.
“Several doctors involved in building the hospital were customers of mine,” Merv explained. When Barbara was stricken in 2009 with severe acute pancreatitis, the couple turned to Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital. Her life-threatening condition required a month of hospitalization.
“For two weeks I didn’t think she would ever get out of the hospital. It was that serious,” Merv said. “I honestly didn’t think she would make it, and if you had seen her, you would have agreed with me 100 percent.” Fortunately, she received expert, effective treatment.
“I received marvelous care,” Barbara said. Merv subsequently underwent knee replacement surgery at Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital, to repair damage to a prior prosthetic knee joint.
“I fell off a retaining wall in my backyard, and knocked the old glue loose. I guess that was my way of getting some attention. The new surgery at Sutter was a piece of cake. The doctor was great, and the nurses were fantastic,” Merv said.
“I thought that because Sutter Auburn Faith gave Barbara back to me, and because my own surgery went so well, we should give financial support to the Sutter Medical Center Foundation as our expression of gratitude,” Merv explained. Their gift is being used to help fund physical upgrades at Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital.
After Merv decided to retire in the 1990s and sold his service station (which is now a Valero outlet) he turned his attention to a hobby project – building and restoring the green-and-black 1930 Model A Ford that he now drives around Auburn.
“It was in such bad shape when I got it that I took every nut and bolt out of it and put it back together. I did all the mechanical work myself,” Merv said. Barbara enjoys working in the yard and participating in church activities. And they both are pleased about their ability to support the Sutter Medical Center Foundation.
“We do it not because other people do, but because it feels right to us,” Merv said. “It has to be something that you want to do from the heart.”