Mabel Johnson Gift/The Unexpected

Mabel Johnson commits her $8 million gift to St. Helena Hospital Foundation. Included in the picture with Mabel is Elaine John, Foundation President, Chuck McMinn, Chairman, and Terry Newmyer, Hospital CEO.

Key Takeaways
  • A pattern of small gifts from a single donor could be an indicator of a much larger gift on the horizon.
  • Wealth is accumulated by many types of families. It is prudent to not stereotype donors as having specific traits or lifestyles.
  • When asking for gifts of great significance, be bold. The greatest barrier to achieving large gifts is not asking for them.
The Compelling Story

The Johnson's grew up in St. Helena, California. They attended high school together and were childhood sweethearts. They married at a young age and both worked their entire careers for the local power company in traditional jobs. The couple never had children and thus, channeled their generous spirit to community affairs such as the local hospital.

While their work was in traditional middle class assignments, they were frugal and systematically used their discretionary income to buy houses. Every few years the couple would buy a house in the local community, paying it off in five or six years, and then buying another home. Their systematic diligence resulted in several homes being owned outright in the Napa Valley where appreciation of home value was soon booming. Through the years they always were supporters of their local hospital.

Along with her older years, Mabel Johnson was widowed and to fill her time with meaningful hours, she made it her priority to volunteer every week at St Helena Hospital. Her friendship with the hospital staff and management brightened the day for all who encountered her in the hospital hallways.

In the course of her volunteer service she always made generous annual contributions to the hospital. As the hospital was completing a capital campaign and seeking to open a new Pavilion, there was one feature missing. The various rooms and floors of the Pavilion had all been named for generous donors, but not the entire building. Knowing of Mabel's love for the hospital and her unique portfolio of real estate and her frequent expression of the hospital as her favored charity, the hospital team presented Mabel with an estate gift opportunity that would bring wonderful value to the hospital, while leaving the estate under her ownership and management during her lifetime.


The $8 million gift from Mabel became the largest gift in the history of the local hospital and the largest family gift ever made to any member of the nineteen hospital Adventist Health Corporation. This mega-gift from Mabel Johnson truly produced the unexpected as a result of friendship and cultivation of her friends at St. Helena Hospital.