Editor’s note: The latest in a series on MidState Medical Center’s 20th anniversary.
MERIDEN — Hospital board member Cynthia Gutierrez thought it was a joke when local stockbroker James Rybeck told her over cocktails in 1998 that he wanted to make a $1 million donation to MidState Medical Center, then under construction.
“’Oh that’s very funny,’” Gutierrez recalled telling Rybeck in 1998.
“He asked me to come to his office after the meeting,” Gutierrez said. “I went in, and he said he was not joking. He said that he and his family members before him had benefited a great deal from the city of Meriden and he wanted to give back.”
Little more than a month later, Rybeck signed a contract with the new hospital placing $500,000 into a charitable trust, and donating $100,000 annually over the next five years.
The donation would help purchase expensive medical equipment for the new $77 million hospital, which opened on Lewis Avenue 20 years ago this month.
“That was the lead gift in our campaign to open the medical center,” said Amanda Nardiello, director of philanthropy and volunteer services for Hartford Healthcare Central Region. “That was the key gift to kick off our campaign. A gift of that size draws attention and press to the activities at the medical center and sets the standard and pace for the campaign.”
Rybeck, also known as “Pete” and his wife Barbara, also known as “Bunny,” were well-known philanthropists and community activists. James Rybeck died in 2000. Later that year, he was inducted into the Meriden Hall of Fame.
“Jim was born in Meriden and it was important to him,” Barbara Rybeck said about the gift in a recent interview. “He felt he could do something financially and that’s where he decided to put it, and he was very excited to do it.”
Rybeck was a successful stock broker who served as Meriden Board of Education president and a city alderman. He had a well-known talent for investment advice, local attorney and state Rep. Thomas Luby said at the time. “Now the whole community can benefit from it,” Luby said.
He was also a director and vice president of the Bradley Home, a member of the Rotary Club, secretary-treasurer of the Meriden Cemetery Association, organizer and initial director of Castle Bank and trustee of First Congregational Church. Barbara Rybeck, who worked in city schools as a dental hygienist, continues to make charitable donations to community causes to this day.
The medical offices and the Galleria in the new hospital were named for the Rybecks in gratitude for the donation, and a plaque honors them.
“Yes, it is a very fitting tribute,” Barbara Rybeck said.
The $1 million gift was added to a $500,000 pledge from Corometrics Medical Systems Inc., which pushed the first campaign closer to its $4.5 million goal.
“They have a strong history of charitable giving,” said Michael Quinn, the city’s corporation counsel and Rybeck family friend. “Clearly the donation to the hospital was the largest single donation they received. They have always been Meriden people. This donation was the culmination of the feelings they had for Meriden.”
The record for the largest single donation to MidState was broken several years ago with a $1.3 million gift from a local estate. Nardiello said the family wishes to remain anonymous.
The MidState Medical Center Auxiliary’s 33rd Annual Golf Tournament at the Farms Country Club in Wallingford raised $50,000 to benefit the Hartford HealthCare Ayer Neuroscience Institute at MidState last year.
In 2017, MidState reported $15 million in income from investments, gifts, and bequests, according to its annual report.
Hospitals rely heavily on philanthropic giving from the community to care for those unable to pay, along with maintaining state-of-the-art technologies and modern facilities, said Michele Sharp, a spokeswoman for the Connecticut Hospital Association.
“Charitable giving supports the care we depend on today and ensures hospitals are there when we need them in the future,” Sharp said in an e-mail.
According to Nardiello, the main issue hospitals like MidState face is that people are unaware they are non-profits that depend on outside funding sources to enhance service and programs. They are also impacted by the whims of state and federal budgets, as well as the overall economy.
“We have had to get creative with corporate sponsors,” Nardiello said. “We focus on individuals, corporate funding and individuals in the community, employee campaigns and grant funding. So, depending on the climate, we have to change up the donor mix and approach.”
Current capital projects include expanding MidState’s operating room. Naming opportunities in MidState’s Infinity Circle are available to people who put MidState in their estate plans.
“They can leave that legacy,” Nardiello said. “We work with donors on their focus and interest.”
Nardiello also wants potential donors to know that each hospital is its own non-profit, and any gift or bequest stays at MidState.
The hospital will be hosting a gala on Nov. 3 to commemorate its 20th anniversary and raise funds for new programs and the operating room expansion. All money raised will stay at MidState.
Twenty years after helping secure the hospital’s first $1 million gift, Gutierrez has been named honorary chairperson of the gala.
“I said ‘OK’ – that’s fine,” Gutierrez said.
For more coverage of MidState Medical Center’s two decades in Meriden check out the special section online bit.ly/2Q27fqx.