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$2.3 million bequest to Kenmore Mercy is hospital’s largest ever

A former patient thanked Kenmore Mercy Hospital in a big way. He left a $2.3 million bequest.

The gift from the late John M. Repetski, announced Tuesday, is the largest donation from an individual in the hospital’s 65-year history.

While the significant size of the bequest astonished hospital officials, receiving a gift from this donor, who had contributed to Kenmore Mercy in the past, did not.

He had become a regular donor over the years, and it wasn’t altogether about the treatment he received in a handful of minor outpatient visits. He just grew to like the people and the place.

“John had become a friend to Kenmore Mercy Hospital and our foundation staff,” said Susan Jandzinski, executive director of the Kenmore Mercy Foundation. “I think he recognized something special in the hospital and wanted to leave a gift that would have a major impact on the care we provide and inspire others to support the wonderful work we do to bring hope and healing to those we serve.”

Repetski, who died Jan. 12, 2015, at age 86, was born in Buffalo and lived in the Riverside area of the city for much of his life. In 2000, he moved into Asbury Pointe, where he was a charter member of the retirement community in Getzville.

Repetski served in the Marine Corps in both World War II and the Korean War. After the latter war, he began a 34-year career at the General Motors’ plant on East Delavan Avenue, first as a lab technician and then working his way up to chief metallurgist.

He became a regular donor to Kenmore Mercy, starting in 2006, when he responded to a direct-mail solicitation for financial contributions. The relationship gradually became more personal.

In 2009, Jandzinski was working as the hospital’s annual fund director. The foundation’s executive director was Shari McDonough, who left last year to become chief professional officer of The Boys & Girls Clubs of Buffalo.

Back then, they began a practice of calling donors and personally thanking them, and one of Jandzinski’s calls was to Repetski.

She sought a meeting with him on the first call, but Repetski declined. After another donation, she called him and suggested once more that they get together. He continued to decline. It wasn’t necessary. He just wanted to help.

After some months went by and another donation arrived, Jandzinski called again. This time he was ready to meet.

“Mr. Repetski said he wanted to make final decisions about his will. We met and talked, but it also turned into a friendship,” Jandzinski said.

She and McDonough called and regularly checked on him. They went to lunch, attended an occasional concert together, and celebrated his birthdays.

“We kept him apprised of projects at the hospital, and in 2012 brought him to the ground-breaking for the new emergency room,” Jandzinski said. “He liked to talk about his days at General Motors, his friends, the Marines and his travels.”

Repetski was a member of the GM Salaried Retirees Club and kept in contact with other workers. He belonged to the “B” Line Travel Club, and had traveled to South America, Alaska, Hawaii, Europe and most of the continental United States.

She described Repetski, who was never married and had no children, as an “old-school gentleman.”

“He was very kind and sweet. He always tried to open doors and wouldn’t sit until you sat down,” Jandzinski said.

“We cultivated Mr. Repetski, and he gave us indications that he was going to give the hospital a gift. But we had no idea it would be as big as it turned out to be, and it didn’t matter,” she said.

Indeed, they had little reason to think he had several million dollars to give away.

Repetski lived a comfortable but modest lifestyle. He wasn’t a flashy person. He had been a regular donor but had never given a single gift larger than $2,000.

Hospital staff learned from an attorney last August that he had included the institution, which is part of the Catholic Health system, in his will. They found out the amount in December.

“The reaction was shock,” Jandzinski said.

Barbara Sawdye, a sister living in Savannah, Ga., said Repetski was an astute investor. In his latter years, she and her brother talked frequently about his desire to make a charitable contribution after his death. He expressed interest in doing something in the Buffalo area and in line with his principles.

“John was a very devout Catholic,” Sawdye said.

But Repetski never told his sister about his growing relationship with Kenmore Mercy. Sawdye said she didn’t know about it until his death, when she met hospital officials at the funeral.

“It was as though my brother had this secret life,” she said. “I was thoroughly surprised but also pleased. I have good feelings about Kenmore Mercy. All four of my children were born there, one of them prematurely.”

The Foundation Board and hospital officials will meet over the next few weeks to determine the best use for the unrestricted donation, hospital officials said. Potential ideas include current projects to improve the surgical services department, sterile processing department, and post-anesthesia care unit.

“We cannot express how grateful we are for Mr. Repetski’s kind decision to support Kenmore Mercy Hospital in such a significant way,” James M. Millard, president and chief executive officer of the hospital, said in a statement. “This gift will support the continued growth and development of the hospital’s key priorities.”