Some days are just more special than others.
A day last fall was exactly one of those for me, when I was asked to meet with the son-in-law of a former Henry Ford Hospital housekeeper who had recognized Henry Ford Hospital as the beneficiary of a gift from her estate.
As one of our former Board Chairs has said about philanthropy, “No gift is too large.” I am of the opinion that no gift is too small either.
The idea of receiving a gift to Henry Ford Hospital is naturally exciting, and the idea of receiving a gift from a former employee is always inspiring; it is one of the greatest tributes and act of gratefulness.
However after hearing the heart-warming story of Sophie Melnek and her devoted daughter Helen, it quickly becomes evident just how meaningful the donation is.
Sophie Melnek immigrated to the United States from the Ukraine as a young teenager and spent her early married years on a farm north of Detroit. At the outbreak of World War II, the family decided to give up farming and her husband was given the opportunity to support the war effort by working for Chrysler Corporation.
Sophie was delighted to move to the city and begin her career at Henry Ford Hospital in the housekeeping department.
As Sophie became acclimated to Henry Ford Hospital, it was clear this was more than “just a job” to Sophie.
Dedication, passion and hard work came naturally for Sophie as she would routinely ask the nurses if she could do anything to help them. Happy to receive the extra help, the nurses often asked her to deliver patients’ meals. She eventually helped to feed patients and, with her bright and smiling face, Sophie brought joy and warmth to so many patients.
“Sophie put her heart and soul into everything she did. Whether fulfilling her role as a housekeeper, doing extra things for patients or taking care of her family; Sophie did so with all her heart,” says Elmer Silaghi, son-in-law to Sophie.
Sophie loved the work performed by doctors and nurses on the unit.
At that time, F-4 was the home floor of Vascular Surgery. As it did then, the floor continues today to be one of Henry Ford’s premier services.
This strong admiration and respect for the hospital and its staff was the reason Sophie established a trust fund in which she put her assets. Half of which was to go to her grandchildren, the other half to Henry Ford Hospital. The trust was to remain intact until her daughter, Helen, had passed to insure she could access the funds should she ever need it.
Protecting the fund was imperative to Helen, with her ultimate goal to help the hospital her mother loved so dearly as much as possible.
With the same passion and dedication as her mother, Helen helped the fund grow to $400,000. Sadly, Helen recently passed, leaving just as big a footprint as her mother, and giving her husband the opportunity to deliver the bequest to Henry Ford Hospital in the name of Sophie.
Sophie’s story reminds me of a fascinating book by Cotter Smith called The Millionaire Next Door, which summarized key characteristics that explain how people become “wealthy.”
Cotter’s results reveal fundamental qualities of this group, including living below their means, allocating funds efficiently in ways that build wealth, ignoring conspicuous consumption, and choosing the “right” occupation.
Many of these “wealthy” individuals preserve their wealth for the next generation and for the greater good.
Sophie Melnek chose the “right” profession. She lived a full life and accumulated a fund, with the help of an equally inspiring daughter, for the next generation and the institution that she knew from her daily work, created the greater good.
She was truly a wealthy person. And Henry Ford blue ran in her veins.