White Christmas Ball will give back to others

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published November 22, 2019

DETROIT/DEARBORN — From donating funds for birthing center renovations to raising money for the Patient Family Housing Program, the Fontbonne Auxiliary is dedicated to helping the patients and staff at Ascension St. John Hospital on Moross Road.

The Fontbonne Auxiliary is a fundraising arm for Ascension St. John Hospital. For more than 70 years, the nonprofit organization has raised money to help fund programs, purchase new medical equipment and more.

The group is getting ready to hold its 66th annual White Christmas Ball fundraiser Dec. 7 at the Dearborn Inn, 20301 Oakwood Blvd. in Dearborn. This year’s theme is “Rejoice and Be Glad.” The black-tie event will begin at 6 p.m. Tickets cost $300 per person, and the festive evening will include dining and dancing with the music of the Persuasion Band.

“It’s like an old-fashioned ball,” Fontbonne Auxiliary President Lorna Zalenski said. “Men wear tuxedos. Women wear ball gowns. There are beautiful centerpieces and decorations.”

This year’s White Christmas Ball proceeds will support a new Pediatric Emergency Department reception desk at the hospital.

“It’s still being built and will open sometime in 2020,” White Christmas Ball Chairman Madeleine Phillips said. Once it’s completed, “Little children will be welcomed by warm, loving, comforting people at the reception desk.”

According to the website www.stjohnfontbonne.org, the Fontbonne Auxiliary was established in 1947. The group was named for Mother St. John Fontbonne, foundress of the Sisters of St. Joseph, the sponsoring congregation of St. John Hospital & Medical Center, which is now Ascension St. John Hospital.

“The Fontbonne helped to build the hospital back in the ’40s, early ’50s,” Phillips said. “They decided they needed a hospital on the east side. It’s a preeminent hospital for all of Detroit. That’s where you go when you have true trauma.”

According to the website, the Fontbonne Auxiliary helped to expand a program for the deaf and hearing impaired; contributed to the growth of St. John’s cardiac care programs; contributed to the development of the Van Elslander Cancer Center and the establishment of the Sr. Verenice McQuade Endowment for Cancer Research; and more.

“There’s always a need at the hospital,” Phillips said.

Zalenski has been involved with the Fontbonne Auxiliary for more than 30 years. She joined when her husband was in his residency at the hospital.

“It was a way for me to get to know people and raise money,” Zalenski said. “Our hearts are into making as much money as possible to make the hospital a better place. We hear stories from staff that we have made things easier for them, which trickles down to the patient.”

Along with raising money at the White Christmas Ball next month, three Ascension physicians will be honored during the evening: Dr. Muthayipalayam Thirumoorthi, chief of pediatric infectious diseases; Dr. Melinda Karam, a retired pediatrician; and Dr. Robert Sills, a pediatric emergency medicine physician.

Thirumoorthi came to St. John Hospital in 1988. He is board certified in pediatrics and pediatric infectious diseases. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Infectious Disease Society of America, as well as a faculty member in the departments of pediatrics at the schools of medicine at Wayne State University and other universities.

Karam completed her pediatric residency at St John Hospital in 1979. She remained at St John Hospital for one year as the director for the Pediatric Residency Program before entering private practice. She remained active in patient care and participated in the education of students and residents who were involved in the care of her hospitalized patients. She is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.   

Sills has been the director of pediatric emergency medicine since 1998, and has also been an assistant program director in emergency medicine at Ascension St John Hospital. He has co-written several book chapters and review articles. His research interests include toxicology, trauma and pediatric resuscitation. Sills is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and holds certifications in pediatrics and pediatric emergency medicine.

For tickets or to make a donation to the Fontbonne Auxiliary, contact Kathleen McDonald at the Fontbonne office at (313) 343-3675.