When Forrest Nutter first walked into the Little Company of Mary Hospital Auxiliary office eight years ago, heads turned.
Not because the energetic retiree was such an unusual sight to the "pink ladies" who do volunteer work at the Torrance hospital, but because he was looking for a job.
Nutter was the first man to join the auxiliary--traditionally a women's organization established in 1960 to help with fund raising and patient care at the nonprofit hospital.
Now he's the group's president, ending 28 years of women-only leadership with his election last June.
'Treated So Well'
Sitting in his small, sparse office just off the main reception area, Nutter, a retired factory supervisor, said he joined the organization as a way of repaying the auxiliary for the attention the women gave him when he was a heart patient at the hospital eight years ago.
"I was treated so well by the people here, I thought I would like to volunteer, too," he said. "I thought I could do it just as well as they could."
Although generally well-accepted from the start, Nutter said he did run into some trouble with "old-guard" members who didn't particularly want a man around.
"When I joined, I kind of heard a little bit of murmuring," he said. "There were a few women who . . . couldn't understand a man coming in as a volunteer. They said this is a woman's organization. I thought, 'Well, nuts to you. I'm not a male chauvinist. You can't put me down.' "
After Nutter joined the auxiliary, more men began to volunteer, many of them retirees and former patients like himself. That prompted him to run for office, and he served as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, in charge of outside fund raising. Then, ignoring the traditional chain of succession, he ran for second vice president against the woman who was next in line for the job, and won.
"That was ornery, I suppose, but by that time we'd gotten so many men in that I felt the men should have more representation. This was no longer strictly a ladies' organization," Nutter said.
'A Little Apprehension'
Twenty-eight of the group's 304 members are men. Members are required to give four hours of their time each week or 100 hours every year and pay $10 a year in dues.
JoAnn Marshall, the auxiliary's first vice president, acknowledged that Nutter caused some worries among the women at first. "When new changes come, there's always a little apprehension," she said.
Since then, she said, Nutter's leadership has helped the other male members--some of whom "haven't been always as ready and active to work"--to feel "a little bit more free in working with women. We're like a family now."
In the South Bay, both Bay Harbor and South Bay hospitals also have men working as volunteers. LaVon Sutton, director of volunteer services at South Bay, said that at last year's state convention for the California Hospital and Health Care Systems, "you saw that they were really coming on."
Terry Barefield said that when he joined the Little Company of Mary Auxiliary more than two years ago "it never even occurred to me that (men) shouldn't be volunteers." Barefield, 70, was being treated for bronchitis and emphysema at the hospital when he decided to join. "It's therapeutic for me to work there," he said.
Good for Male Patients
Laura Ramirez, who is a "very energetic 68" and a past president of the auxiliary, said that she has "watched the program come together in a fruitful way" since men began to join eight years ago. She said many of the men have given the organization their practical skills along with their time, such as retired electricians who do repairs and former accountants who work on the business aspects of the group.
"When the men are retired, their situation is ideal for working in a hospital," Ramirez said. "And if there are men involved who are visible, then others will come in."
Nutter said the presence of men in the auxiliary has also helped create a better rapport with male patients because the volunteers can "chew the fat in a man's language."
"Some of the men . . . while they respect their nurse, they won't tell her everything that's in 'em. With a man, you could sit and yak with them and the first thing you know they've got their problems out and they've gotten to talk to somebody man to man, so to speak," he said.
Female patients seem to enjoy having male visitors, too, Nutter said. "When I go out of my way to notice when . . . a patient has her hair done or a smile on her face, the extra attention makes them feel you really care," he said.
Marshall, who has been a member of the auxiliary since 1983, said Nutter is "a gentleman from the old school who knows how to treat a lady like a lady."
Nutter, who has been married for 51 years, joked that his wife, Kitty, doesn't like him working around so many women. But although she teasingly calls him a "womanizer," Kitty Nutter said she is glad he works at the hospital. "He enjoys it," she said. "I don't know what I'd do with him otherwise."