02/21/2014 - When Joseph Lipic Sr. was named to the board of St. Anthony's Medical Center, it didn't seem like it would be a long engagement.
Joseph Lipic Sr., a St. Anthony's board member for 45 years, will be honored for his service to the community on Feb. 20.
photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
"The nuns turned the hospital over to a lay board and the lay board was supposed to close the hospital," recalled Lipic. "It had already been announced that it was supposed to close the hospital."
That was more than 45 years ago. The hospital was originally located at Grand and Chippewa in the city of St. Louis. In 1975, St. Anthony's Medical Center opened at its present location.
Today, St. Anthony's employs more than 3,700 people acting as a 767-bed anchor in South County. Lipic was among those who helped bring it here from its initial location in the city and his work with the hospital over the decades is one of the reasons he has now been named Citizen of the Year by the South County Chamber of Commerce.
Donna Abernathy Schumann, executive director of the chamber, said Lipic will be honored during a Feb. 20 event at Royale Orleans on Telegraph. Other honorees for the evening include Brian Lenhardt, Midwest sales manager of Coast to Coast Equipment and Supplies who will be named Businessperson of the Year and Neil Walkoff, executive vice president of operations for Pinnacle Entertainment who will receive the President's Award.
"He's been on our list for a couple of years," Schumann said of Lipic. "It is because of everything he has done and continues to do for St. Anthony's Hospital and for the whole community, charitable and civic organizations."
Lipic's awards, community involvement and philanthropic work are extensive. The 78-year-old father of five has held a position on the finance council long range planning committee for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, an advisory council membership with the Boy Scouts of America, a spot on the board of trustees for the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the chairmanship of Operation Food Search, the chairmanship of the south area council for the St. Louis Regional Commerce and Growth Association and a place on the board of managers for the south county region of the YMCA.
Lipic's awards include honors from the St. Louis College of Pharmacy, the RCGA, Alpha Sigma Nu - International, the State of Missouri, and St. Louis University, his alma mater among others.
"Supporting St. Anthony's was our main focus but also, it is knowing all of the other organizations to which he has given his time and monetary donations to," said Schumann.
Lipic said that at first, it didn't look like St. Anthony's would be around for long. Named to the board at 32 years of age, he was among those charged with determining its future.
"In the discussions about closing it we realized that the hospital was very well-known nationally because it was one of the key polio hospitals in the Midwest when the epidemic was prevalent," he said. "We thought it was good enough to keep going so we decided to try to build a hospital."
That facility would rise in South County and it was Lipic who initially contacted legendary local broadcast executive Robert Hyland to chair the board. Lipic said Hyland, who died in 1992, would become a mentor to him.
Meanwhile, under stable leadership, the hospital became a landmark in the community and even made a name for itself nationally.
"Over the years, some really great things happened," said Lipic. "Today, it is a massive medical complex that started out from a little city hospital. We do more orthopedic work than anybody in the region."
He said St. Anthony's cardiac and cancer centers have garnered attention as well. He's especially proud of the hospice program -- De Greeff Hospice House -- for which he headed the fundraising drives. He said it has become a model which has attracted visitors from as far away as Russia.
"You've got the responsibility to help people at the end of their life to deal with the tremendous issues that face them," he said. "Most of us think that these things are just pain but death is a process and a lot of people suffer not only physical pain but they suffer mental anguish, depression, questions about eternity."
Lipic is passionate about the role St. Anthony's plays in the region.
"The hospital is an essential key player in the health of the community," he said. "It was an opportunity for me, as a young person getting involved in making a commitment to build something the community could be proud of. Something that could serve their needs from a health care standpoint and be on the leading edge of services so that people had a place they could go to and be confident that their doctors were strong and the medical care they get is going to be what they expect."
Dr. Christopher Bowe, one of the members of the office of the president, described Lipic as a great advocate for the institution with a hearty handshake and an infectious laugh.
"He's an untiring champion," said Bowe. "He never seems to slow down. Every chance he gets, he beats the drum to tell people about the gem that St. Anthony's is."
Lipic finally left the hospital's board in 2011, concluding 44 years helping to guide the institution. However, he remains chair of its charitable foundation which the native St. Louisan helped found four years ago.
"It works both for the hospital and the community to build a relationship, to serve the community's needs from a health standpoint," he said of the organization which raises money for various projects.
Patricia Ranzini, executive director of the charitable foundation, said that Lipic plays a major role in directing the grantmaking process.
"We couldn't do it without Joe," she said. "He's been a supportive leader for many years and it wouldn't be the same without him."
She noted that he also assists with general management of the enterprise.
"Joe is just an amazing person," Ranzini said. "He is so committed to South County and committed to making life better. I'm lucky I get to see that on a regular basis."
Meanwhile, Lipic hasn't retired from business either. He still chairs Alexander Manufacturing which has an office in South County, the region where Lipic has lived since age 7.
Outside of his work with St. Anthony's, he's also played a role in education in the area. Lipic helped find space for satellite locations for Lindenwood, St. Louis University and Fontbonne University where he was a longtime member of the board of trustees. Lipic has played a role with the Sunset Hills Historical Society as well.
It's all part of helping boost the area he's come to love.
"It's our home," he said. "I feel that through the efforts of all the citizens of South County, it is a very stable community, a solid, good place to raise a family. The culture is strong."
The South County Chamber of Commerce will honor Lipic on Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $30 per person for the event. Call 894-6800 for more information.