SALT LAKE CITY— The end of an era has come. After 59 years, the St. Joseph Villa Volunteers are disbanding. An Oct. 27 luncheon at Saint Ambrose Parish’s social center marked the event.
In recent years about 25 people volunteered regularly at the Villa, but those volunteers are now in their 90s. Last year, after a six-month recruitment drive brought no new volunteers, the organization decided to close down.
“It’s been a lot of fun; a lot of people don’t like to work with older people, but they are so grateful and so thankful and so friendly and complimentary that it just makes your day,” said Mardell Fayer, St. Joseph’s Villa Volunteers president, who started volunteering 10 years ago when her mother was a resident at the Villa.
“It was a joy ride,” she said. “My mom was there. She liked to play Bingo, so when she died I became an official volunteer.”
The luncheon has been an annual event to benefit the St. Joseph residents; funds were used to purchase hearing aids and other items not covered by insurance.
Because there are so few volunteers left “to do all of the jobs that we have been doing for so many years, we just have no choice than to disband,” said Maxine Giovacchini, who has been a Villa volunteer for the past 35 years. In 1984, when she was 56 years old, she helped open the villa’s gift shop.
“I used to think I was giving a lot of myself to go working at the gift shop and working with the residents, but you know, you receive as much as you give,” said Giovacchini, who has many ties to the Villa. Her husband was the pharmacist and was in charge of administering medication to the residents, and both her mother and his were residents there, she said.
“The Villa has just been a very close place to our family,” she said, adding that her husband passed away some years ago.
The volunteers “are a very dedicated loyal group and we are very good friends,” she said.
For her, the disintegration of the volunteer organization has a bittersweet flavor. “The world changes and we are just adapting to it,” she said.
Recalling some of her memories at the Villa, Giovacchini mentioned the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, who ministered there for many years. “They were so sweet to the volunteers and to the residents. You just felt that you got so many blessings from them,” she said.
The Villa was founded as a home for the aged and infirm by Bishop Duane G. Hunt, who in 1947 invited the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word from their motherhouse in Houston, Texas to come to Salt Lake City to set up a home. The word “villa” was used in the name because it was thought more dignified than the word “home.”
In 1994 the facility was transferred to the non-profit group CHRISTUS. Over the years, the number of Incarnate Word sisters ministering at the facility decreased until by 2007, just two sisters remained. In 2011, the facility was sold to the for-profit group Ensign and the remaining sisters moved to their motherhouse in Texas.
At the luncheon, Brent Wilson, CEO of Saint Joseph Villa, thanked the volunteers for their years of service.
The St. Joseph Villa Volunteers “played a very big part of making the life of our residents better. … We are super sad about what’s taking place, but at the same time super grateful to them,” he said.
The Villa volunteers are leaving a legacy of “their commitment and their service. They are very compassionate people; their consistency and their commitment was impressive,” Wilson said. “It’s hard to see. It’s a changing time. We appreciate what they have given.”
As part of their show of appreciation to the Villa volunteers, the facility will be dedicating a conference room to them on Dec. 14, Wilson said.