Carolyn Collman first put her paring knife to a pan of apples in 1957, when she and five friends cooked a batch of apple butter to raise money for a proposed hospital that opened three years later.
We started with a couple dozen quarts, recalls Collman, 90, a dedicated member of the Utlaut Memorial Hospital Auxiliary in Greenville, Ill. Now we make 900.
The rich, brown apple butter, first donated by Collman and her friends, proved so popular that making it has evolved into a community-wide tradition. Townspeople donate spices, glass jars, and 380 pounds of sugar. Volunteers transport 50 bushels of apples from orchards 40 miles away, and high school students clean them.
It takes us regulars a couple days to wash and assemble jars, Collman says. After we put an ad in the paper, apple peelers show up at 6 a.m.
One of the first to arrive, Collman peels all morning, washes pans, and then heads home to make jelly from apple peelings. Its hard for me to keep up with her, says Collmans daughter, 73-year-old Mary Chappel, a retired registered nurse.
Ive peeled over 10 years because of her, Chappel adds. She said, Mary, you might as well come help.
She just doesnt stop, comments second-year volunteer Karen Bauer.
Neither do hundreds of other auxiliary volunteers who core, peel, and slice 2,500 pounds of apples before cooking them in large copper kettles and ladling steaming apple butter into jars.
Fifth-grader Jimmy Romack comes before school, and businessmen use their lunch break to man the wooden paddles. We have an assembly line to can the apple butter, says Collman. I used to tighten lids. Younger people do it now.
The auxiliarys efforts benefit Utlaut Memorial Hospital, an independent, nonprofit, 64-bed facility that opened in 1960, ending the 45-minute drive to the nearest hospital in Highland. But it was a decade too late for Carolyns first husband, Milton Brown.
Hed be alive today if wed had a hospital back then, Collman says. That made me want to do what I can for the hospital. I want to show my appreciation for having it here now.
Collmans appreciation is apparent all yearnot just in apple season. In the spring, she works at the hospitals health fair. She cooks jellies in the summer and apple butter in the fall for the auxiliarys holiday bazaar. And in December, she takes her turn at the bazaar, where the apple butter always is the fastest seller among the rag rugs, homemade noodles, jellies, and breads.
Everything you can think of is at the bazaar, Collman says. People come from Chicago, St. Louis, Decatureverywhere. Its a beautiful sight.
Each Tuesday, Collman sews quilts for the auxiliarys annual auction, on Wednesday she sorts clothing at its thrift store, and on Friday she is a cashier at the auxiliarys gift shop in the hospital.
That woman is a godsend, says Pat Kious, chairwoman of the auxiliarys apple butter committee. Theres nothing she cant or wont do for the auxiliary. She hasnt missed an apple peeling since it began.
In 42 years, the auxiliary has raised more than $1.2 million for the hospital, an effort lauded by Illinois Gov. George Ryan at a 1999 dinner honoring its 700 dues-paying members.
Because of the auxiliarys gifts, Utlaut Hospital was one of the first in southern Illinois offering cardiac monitoring, says Alan Gaffner, the hospitals public affairs director. Every month we host 75 outpatient specialty clinics like cardiology, oncology, and neurologyexceptional services for a rural hospital.
Some of the hospitals medical equipment is the result of the volunteer work of Collman and other dedicated auxiliary members.
Carolyns an inspiration for me, Gaffner adds. She embodies the sacrifice our community has expended over the years to make the local hospital possible and then to keep it alive.