Since the beginning, the women leaders of the Village Improvement Association of Doylestown (VIA) have personified caring leadership by designing innovative ways to meet the changing healthcare needs of the Doylestown community. To appreciate the Doylestown Health of today, one only needs to know of its origins to fully grasp just how remarkable it truly is.
In 1895, an era of modernization ushered in new ways for the residents of Doylestown to connect and communicate with the outside world. Access to expanded rail travel, electricity and the eagerly anticipated telephone meant that Doylestonians were keeping pace with their contemporaries in many ways.
At the same time, challenges with sanitation and water quality provided a stark contrast to the progress being made. Dust from unpaved streets became unbearable as summer approached—traffic kicked up dust clouds which choked and burned the eyes of passersby. Local resident, Mrs. Isabella Watson, dismayed by this situation, decided to take action.
Throughout history, great innovators have begun with just that, a difficult challenge or problem requiring bold thinking to address it. Mrs. Watson and a group of 13 like-minded women she assembled were equally ambitious. Keen to make improvements that would benefit their entire community, they established the Village Improvement Association of Doylestown “to promote the health and beauty of the town.”
Along with addressing the health concerns brought on by dusty roads, the 14 founders began a tradition of innovation, philanthropy and service to community that stands today as a testament to their extraordinary vision for improving the health of the residents of Doylestown.
In its 120 years, the VIA has built a reputation for “making things happen,” notes Joan Parlee, VIA member and Chairman of the Doylestown Hospital and Doylestown Health Foundation Boards of Directors. “The original women who established the VIA saw a need and addressed it and we’ve kept that up,” she continued. “They were really ahead of their time and I think they’d be glad the current VIA continues to change with the times.”
In 1923, the visionary women of the VIA established Doylestown Hospital to proactively meet the need for emergency and acute care right in the community. In the early days, the fearless women of the VIA assumed every responsibility for running the hospital. Their involvement “created a sense of community, gratitude and partnership that characterizes the culture of Doylestown Health today,” according to Cory H. Schroeder, current VIA President. “They were trailblazers,” she continued.
Just as they are today, the women of the VIA were passionate about their quest to bring the very best healthcare services to Doylestown and provide the leadership and financial resources to sustain it. “The women of the VIA thought, if we can provide healthcare services safely and with high-quality here in Doylestown, then people won’t have to leave our community,” says Joyce Hanson, VIA President-elect and breast cancer survivor. “I’m grateful for that because when I was diagnosed with cancer, it was such a relief to go to Doylestown Hospital for treatments. I had access to the same protocols and therapies offered in larger centers but without the stress of having to travel into the city. The Doylestown nurses and doctors were incredible, they cared about me and supported me in navigating the process.”
Early on, members of the VIA established a tradition of fundraising to support the ongoing operations of Doylestown Hospital. The members of the VIA apply the same passion and purpose to their largest annual fundraiser, the Bucks County Designer House & Gardens. Since 1971, this event is a highlight of the spring season in Bucks County, showcasing some of the finest examples of historic and residential architecture, including emblematic stone farmhouses. “Our goal is to select homes that are unique to Bucks County and have a long history—like the VIA!” notes Georgia Ford, VIA member and former Designer House Chair.
“We start planning a year in advance for the next house,” says Ford. “It takes our entire membership of 300-plus and additional community volunteers to staff all of the planning subcommittees and run the house for the month. It’s a huge, yet rewarding, undertaking to chair the Designer House,” she continued. “We have incredible support from everyone involved from our designers to our volunteers. It allows us to grow our support for the hospital in a really meaningful way.”
Net proceeds from the month-long fundraiser are primarily designated to support the mission of Doylestown Health and fund other causes such as scholarships, direct family assistance, post-secondary education for women, and community-interest groups in need of financial and other types of assistance.
The impact of the VIA’s philanthropy can be felt in all corners of Doylestown Hospital. Over the past 40 years, the Designer House proceeds have allowed the VIA to invest in Doylestown Health’s highest priority capital projects and programs. To date, the VIA has contributed more than $3.5 million, a notable achievement for an exclusively all volunteer-led organization.
VIA funds were instrumental in opening Doylestown Health’s new Emergency Department in 2010. The VIA made an unprecedented $1 million pledge in 2011 of Designer House proceeds that launched the renovation and expansion of labor, delivery and postpartum facilities at Doylestown Hospital to meet growing demand from the community. Renamed the VIA Maternity Center in 2013, patients seek to celebrate one of life’s most important milestones in this facility that seamlessly blends clinical excellence with a nurturing and healing environment and also honors the VIA’s longstanding commitment to women and families.
Proceeds from the 2017 Designer House will fund equipment needs for the new Endovascular Surgery Suite, an essential component of Doylestown Health’s innovative plans for the future.
According to Jim Brexler, President and CEO of Doylestown Health, “the VIA’s founding vision carries on in everything we do. They work selflessly to continually improve and support what we’re doing at Doylestown Health. The impact of the VIA is just too great to measure. We owe them a deep debt of gratitude for all they have done and continue to do for us.”
When asked to reflect on all that the VIA has accomplished, current President Cory Schroeder’s response is infused with the same boundless optimism and future thinking of the founders. “It takes my breath away to think of all that we’ve done. It makes me so very proud of the VIA and Doylestown Hospital. I can’t wait to do more and like always, there’s so much more to be done.”
As the philanthropic arm of Doylestown Health, the Doylestown Health Foundation raises funds to safeguard the future of excellence in patient care and improves the quality of life for all members of our Central Bucks County community and beyond.
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