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Birthday gala was a night to remember

Birthday girl Mary Conroy Johnson (far right) is all smiles on her big night with the very big turnout on behalf of the Free Clinic last month. From left: Mary's sons, Neil and Erik, Erik's fiancé Andrea Kindred, and Mary's husband, Dr. Bob Johnson.

A personal birthday celebration was transformed into a civic fundraiser. The result was a "party" that has contributed to the health and well-being of residents throughout Pierce and St. Croix counties.

On Friday night, Nov. 11 -- Veterans Day -- more than 200 friends and family gathered at the River Falls Golf Course to celebrate a milestone birthday for Mary Conroy Johnson, local nurse, and a cofounder and chair of the Free Clinic of Pierce and St. Croix Counties' board of directors.

The celebration began with a moving tribute to veterans. Local American Legion members performed a flag-folding presentation.

What followed was a whirlwind evening of entertainment, camaraderie, games and a cake auction.

All proceeds went to help finance the operations of the Free Clinic, which is based in River Falls.

Conroy Johnson's wish -- it was her 60th birthday -- was to inspire everyone to use her birthday as a way to show support for the Free Clinic.

Instead of personal gifts, she asked in advance that any gifts be designated to the Free Clinic.

On Nov. 11 her birthday wish came true. In the end, more than $26,000 was raised in Conroy Johnson's honor.

"This is a great launch to the clinic's fundraising goals for the upcoming year," said free clinic manager Mary Steele. "Efforts are underway to generate funds that are greatly needed to continue providing health care to those in need throughout the two-county area.

"The clinic's overall operating budget is $200,000 and is able to operate cost-effectively because of the contributions of volunteers including physicians, discounted medications, and in-kind support.

"Every donated dollar goes a long way to help our friends, family and neighbors in need of health care."

Free clinic supporters say the need for the clinic remains high since so many Pierce and St. Croix county residents are going without health insurance. Some of that is due to job layoffs and company downsizings.

Statistically this year, over half of the free-clinic patients seen by a doctor were new to the clinic. This is part of the evidence showing how the need for the free clinic keeps growing.

Since the Free Clinic opened in 2007, it has provided care one day a week (Tuesday evenings).

During the last four years, the free clinic has had over 10,000 patient visits; diagnosed over 2,500 diseases and health conditions; and dispensed over 20,000 prescription medications.

Todd Schultz, free Clinic treasurer and board member, wanted to remind area residents that they can make gifts to the free clinic in honor of someone special in their lives.

The free clinic will then send out an acknowledgement card to those in whose name the donation gift was made.

"Please consider giving the gift of health this holiday season," Schultz said.

To learn more about the free clinic, visit this website at

The free clinic's mailing address is: Free Clinic of Pierce & St. Croix Counties/P.O. Box 745/River Falls, WI 54022.

As for what became a hugely successful fundraiser, free clinic volunteer Julie Gore said, "A big thank you to everyone who made Mary Conroy-Johnson's 60th birthday celebration a memorable event."