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Couple Leave 2 Hospitals Gifts Totaling $5.6 Million

Charity: Donations by Ord and Laura Toomey are the largest ever received by Ventura's Community Memorial and Santa Paula Memorial.

August 27, 1998|DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In unprecedented acts of generosity, a pioneer Saticoy ranch family has left nearly $6 million to Ventura County's two remaining independent hospitals.

The estates of lemon and avocado ranchers Ord and Laura Toomey, who both died at age 95, will give about $5 million to Ventura's Community Memorial Hospital and about $650,000 to Santa Paula Memorial Hospital, authorities confirmed Wednesday.

The couple were onetime professional singers, who met in a play in Los Angeles in the 1920s, before marrying and returning to Saticoy to help Laura's father, former state senator, banker and farmer Walter Duval, run the family businesses, friends said.

Ord Toomey died in February and his wife died in 1995. Lawyers said probate to distribute more than $10 million in the couple's estates should be completed next year.

Hospital officials said the contributions are probably the largest single gifts ever received by the two institutions and demonstrate the degree of loyalty each community hospital still receives from residents.

"It's very substantial and very much appreciated," said Michael Bakst, executive director at Community Memorial. "In my 20-year tenure, we've had donations in the $2-million to $3-million range, but nothing this large."

Once probate closes, Community Memorial expects to spend the $5 million to build a new 18-bed intensive care unit for newborn babies, Bakst said.

In Santa Paula, administrators of the Santa Clara Valley's tiny hospital said the Toomey donation--and a recent $250,000 gift by Fillmore seamstress Dorothy M. Duncan--give the cash-strapped hospital a big financial boost.

The money can be used for a variety of building improvements, including a new radiology lab, a new roof or partial payment on seismic retrofitting, they said.

"Obviously, this is a very significant amount for a small hospital like Santa Paula," chief administrator William Greene said. "These contributions were not solicited. They came from people who made up their minds on their own to support the good work of this hospital. It's commentary on the community support we've depended on from the start."

The 60-bed Santa Paula hospital--the county's smallest--was opened in 1961 after the Santa Clara Valley communities of Piru, Fillmore, Santa Paula and Saticoy raised $1 million to build it.

But in recent years, with patients increasingly funneled into larger hospitals by managed-care contracts, Santa Paula has struggled to stay in business. The hospital suffered $75,000 in operating losses on a budget of $13 million for the 12 months ending March 31, but balanced its budget with a $1.2-million return on investments.

Indeed, by staying independent of the hospital chains that own the rest of the county's non-government hospitals, Community Memorial has also struggled with its bottom line in recent years. Bakst said the Ventura hospital is barely making money on an operating budget of $110 million.

"It's becoming harder for the independents," Bakst said.

But the emphasis Wednesday was on community members who have shown their gratitude to local hospitals with extraordinary largess.

Bakst remembered Laura Toomey, who gave $5 million of her $9-million estate to Community Memorial, as a modest, sweet-tempered volunteer who helped start the hospital's auxiliary 35 years ago.

"When I first started here, she would greet the patients and their families," Bakst said. "She would be such a source of comfort. She had a real knack for showing a gentle side that we don't see much any more."

Ventura attorney Tom Olson, whose firm is handling the probate, said that the rest of Laura Toomey's estate is being distributed to a dozen local organizations and charitable groups, including the Ventura County Symphony Assn. Several million dollars have gone to the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, he said.

Ord Toomey's $1.3-million estate will be split equally between the Santa Paula hospital and Caltech, he said.

"They didn't have any children, and their siblings were dead," Olson said.

Friends said the Toomeys had deep roots in Saticoy and Santa Paula.

Laura Duval was born in Saticoy in 1899, when it was still a thriving town, said Dorcas Thille, a member of a prominent Santa Paula ranch family.

Laura's father ran a bank on Main Street in Ventura and farmed in Williams Canyon in Saticoy, Thille said. "The Duvals had a partnership in a hotel in Saticoy with my great grandparents. Saticoy was the hub of the community."

After spending time in Paris and Hollywood, where she met Ord Toomey, the couple returned to Saticoy to build their home and farm.

Their connection to Santa Paula's hospital was probably through Laura's ties to pioneering families who were among its early backers, Thille said.

Perhaps as impressive as the Toomeys' gift to Santa Paula hospital is one from an 85-year-old seamstress who died in June after spending her life in Fillmore.

Dorothy M. Duncan, known for her fine wedding dresses, left her home and six rental houses to the hospital and Faith Community Church, a 160-member Fillmore congregation. The houses are valued at about $500,000 in all, Greene said.

Lois Main, who sat in the same first-row church pew with Duncan each Sunday, said her friend was quiet and never mentioned what she planned to do with her estate.

"She was just a loner growing up, and never married or had any children. She lived with her parents until they died. So she wanted to do something to help other people with her money," said Main, 85 and the mother-in-law of former vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp.

"Her renters loved her because she was just so kind," Main said. "She grew violets in her house and gave them to people. She was just a good person."

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