Service League endowment is natural progression of volunteers’ dedication

The Service League of Greenville has spent 83 years quietly doing big things for the community.

A scholarship endowment, established in 2018 through the ECU Medical and Health Sciences Foundation, is a natural progression of the organization’s efforts to make a big impact on the health and welfare of eastern North Carolina.

In the first four years, the Service League of Greenville Scholarship Endowment — totaling more than $244,000 — has funded $83,000 in scholarships to students in the Brody School of Medicine, School of Dental Medicine, College of Allied Health Sciences and the College of Nursing. The number and value of scholarships from the organization have increased each year. Eight students have been awarded scholarships for the 2022-23 academic year, totaling $62,300.

Service League members Mary Lee Hobbie, from left, Donna Moore, Wendy Farrior, president, and Bonnie Porter, chair of the Hope Lodge committee, prepare for bingo night with residents of the American Cancer Society McConnell Raab Hope Lodge. (Contributed photo)


No matter where or when volunteers have been needed in the community, members of the Service League of Greenville have stepped up to serve. For more than 80 years, much of the organization’s charitable force has been focused on the health care needs of the region.

The Service League is likely best known for the gift shops, snack carts, coffee kiosks and vending machines it operates at ECU Health Medical Center.

“We’ve been providing for all those things, so the hospital doesn’t have to worry about them,” former league president Annelle West said.

Founded in 1938, the nonprofit is an all-volunteer service organization of approximately 150 women. The women average 16,000 volunteer hours each year. Early in its history, members even stood watch on the coast during WWII to look for warships on the ocean.

“The Service League really has been at the forefront of service in our community,” said league member Martha Bloss. “Wherever we see a need, we’ve tried to help.”

The organization has funded $18 million in capital projects connected to the health system, including support of the Connie Maynard Children’s Hospital, ECU Health Cancer Center, Service League Hospice and the American Cancer Society McConnell-Raab Hope Lodge. Members continue to serve those organizations with their volunteer time and gifts.

In 2018, the Service League extended its support of the health care community by creating the Service League of Greenville Scholarship Endowment through the ECU Medical and Health Sciences Foundation.

Service League volunteers first organized to make chicken salad sandwiches and coffee to serve the needs of staff and guests at Greenville’s first hospital. They established the Laughinghouse fund and used the money to pay for hospital beds for people who could not afford care. The Service League’s annual charity ball was created to support the Laughinghouse fund and other community needs.

Over the years, the league also provided money directly to those in need of medical supplies, funded the dental school to pay toward emergency dental care, filled and delivered food boxes at Christmas, held toy drives, decorated the hospital and provided meals at Hope Lodge and the Service League Hospice House.

When things have been needed, the Service League has been there. It continues to step up for needs of patients and families at ECU Health.

— Patricia Earnhardt Tyndall

“As a native of Greenville, it has always been my goal to study at the Brody School of Medicine, and I am forever thankful that the Service League of Greenville has made this possible for me by supporting my dream to become a physician,” Olivia Nieto Rickenbach said. The third-year Brody student is a two-time recipient of the Service League scholarship.

Annelle West, the league’s communication committee chairperson, was president in 2018 when members voted to establish the fund. Members believed in creating a scholarship, West said. When the scholarship began, it was specific to Brody and has been expanded to include the dental school, allied health and the nursing program.

“So many of the women wanted us to do something like this,” West said. “We realized we were not just a group of volunteer women; we were running a business. We also could help by providing scholarships as a way of changing lives.”

Ever present

Anyone who has visited ECU Health Medical Center has experienced the impact of the Service League. The nonprofit manages three gift shops at ECU Health, two snack carts, coffee kiosks and vending machines throughout the medical center.

Proceeds from the business have been used by the league to fund a wide variety of hospital equipment needs and capital projects. Since 1940, the league also supported its Laughinghouse fund, which was established to pay for hospital beds for people who could not afford care.

The organization’s members consider the endowment a natural extension of the Laughinghouse fund’s purpose and created a scholarship committee in 2018 to guide the new effort.

“If we’re helping students, we’re helping the community,” said longtime league member Martha Bloss. “It’s good that we are able to step up for medical education and help relieve the burden a little bit.

“We also hope that they want to stay in eastern North Carolina and practice here,” Bloss said.

The members recognize that cost is a major barrier for students. They hope that the scholarships help relieve some of the financial burden and possibly make it less likely students will need additional jobs to pay for tuition.

Receiving a Service League scholarship will make it easier for Philip Perdue to jumpstart his dental career after graduation. Perdue, a second-year student in the School of Dental Medicine, said the scholarship has reinforced the importance of keeping service as a central pillar of his dental career.

“Dental school is an extremely expensive endeavor, and I am thankful that ECU has these financial aid opportunities available,” Perdue said. “ECU is already known as being one of the most affordable dental schools in the country, but the Service League has taken it a step further by offering this scholarship to students.”

The Service League of Greenville manages three gift shops at ECU Health, two snack carts, coffee kiosks and vending machines throughout the medical center.

The Service League of Greenville manages three gift shops at ECU Health, two snack carts, coffee kiosks and vending machines throughout the medical center. (ECU photo by Cliff Hollis)

Dedication to service and the health care of underserved populations is evident among all of the 2022-23 scholarship recipients.

“In medical school we work hard to understand the human body and master the art of medicine so that we can make a meaningful impact on our patients’ lives and help them through their most difficult times,” Nieto Rickenbach said. “As a future physician I believe it is my duty to use these skills to serve the populations of our state who face lack of access to preventive care and disproportionate mortality rates.”

Nieto Rickenbach hopes to practice in North Carolina. She is passionate about women’s health, preventive medicine and being an advocate for underserved populations.

Giving back

For Emma Plyler, a scholarship from the Service League does more than help her pursue her doctorate in audiology, as it also affirms the importance of giving back to the community. After she earns her degree, Plyler hopes to offer audiological services to adults and children in rural areas of North Carolina.

“Throughout each clinical experience I have participated in, I have been able to serve a diverse set of patients from eastern North Carolina by meeting their audiological needs,” Plyler said. “I think that serving the community that I hope to practice in as an audiologist one day is important because it has allowed me to better understand the needs of eastern North Carolina.”

Karen Gagnon, chairperson of the Service League’s scholarship committee, is inspired by the league’s ability to help improve the health of people in the region and fulfill the organization’s mission.

“We are honored that we are able to do this. We realize there are so many health inequities in eastern North Carolina. This is one way we address that need,” Gagnon said. “Years down the line this will continue to benefit the community.”

Leaders aim to increase the endowment’s value, allowing the fund to provide scholarships long beyond the lives of the league’s members and expand their impact with the ECU Health Foundation. Gagnon said the league is committed to funding the endowment and hopes people might consider donating to the scholarship fund so the league can continue to help students through scholarship support.

To donate to the Service League of Greenville Scholarship Endowment, checks can be mailed to The Service League at P.O. Box 30452, Greenville, NC 27833.

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