Sipping wine at her winery earlier this week, 89-year-old Carolyn Peck perks up when someone suggests approaching a couple at the wine bar to ask for a donation to Valley Children’s Hospital and its many clinics throughout the central San Joaquin Valley and Central Coast.
“It’s OK with me!” Peck responds enthusiastically with a sly smile.
The “boss” of Sumner Peck Ranch Winery in Friant and the only surviving member of Valley Children’s five founders, Peck has never stopped advocating for children. As Valley Children’s celebrates its 65th anniversary on Thursday, she remains incredibly proud of the way hospital staff continues to care for kids.
“They take the fear away,” Peck says. “I think they are wonderful talking to kids. … They giggle and laugh and dance and sing, all kinds of things.”
Peck’s respect comes from personal experience. She was head of volunteers for the hospital shortly after it opened. She quit after caring for her first patient, a 12-year-old girl burned from head to toe who later died. Seeing the girl suffer was heartbreaking.
“My hat’s off to those nurses,” Peck says solemnly.
They take the fear away.
Carolyn Peck about Valley Children’s Hospital staff
Peck was in her early 20s and a mother of four (she would later have four more) when she started campaigning for a children’s hospital in 1949. She wanted children in the Valley to have the best medical care possible.
Peck campaigned with her sister, Patty Randall, and Gail Goodwin, Agnes Crockett and Helen Maupin. At that time, their husbands had little money, Peck recalls with a laugh, but they knew people who did. The women knocked on neighbors’ doors asking for donations and held fundraisers that resulted in some big checks being written by prominent Valley farmers, doctors and lawyers.
She took a chance that not a lot of people would.
Grandson-in-law Jack Ajamian of Carolyn Peck campaigning to build Valley Children’s
Peck says the women got the idea for a hospital as members of the philanthropic Junior League, which she describes as a women’s group “to have fun and be friends and have parties.” The parties they held for Valley Children’s paid off.
“Some guy gave me $4,000 bucks,” Peck recalls, “and I thought this was the end of the world.”
“Anything for a party, really – they liked the cocktails,” says Peck’s son, Duffy Peck, with a smile about the donations.
Nearly three years later, on Oct. 26, 1952, Valley Children’s opened its first 42-bed facility at Shields and Millbrook avenues in central Fresno with around $352,000 raised. The hospital moved to its current location just north of Fresno in Madera County in 1998 and now also operates numerous clinics.
Peck and the other founders – often referred to affectionately by hospital staff as the “founding mothers” – continue to inspire the 1,250 members of Valley Children’s 15 guilds. The groups have raised more than $29 million for the hospital over 65 years. The guilds are the biggest donors to nonprofit Valley Children’s.
Guilds manager Sandy Cetti says of Peck: “This is where it all started.”
Getting to know the story of the guilds – how can you not fall in love with this story?
Sandy Cetti, manager of Valley Children’s guilds
“Getting to know the story of the guilds – how can you not fall in love with this story?” Cetti asks.
Grandson-in-law Jack Ajamian says nothing makes Peck happier than children.
“He’s right,” Peck says with a smile.
Ajamian estimates Peck has around 80 close family members between children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“She’s always got a positive outlook on everything,” Ajamian says. “She’s always looking forward and enjoying everything she does.”
Of her campaign to build Valley Children’s, he says admirably: “She took a chance that not a lot of people would. That was the difference.”