Rocking Sage Living

Rocking chairs featuring work by Danny Shervin and Haley Badenhop sit outside Snake River Brewing as part of Rockin’ Sage Living, a fundraiser that was part of a $19 million fundraising drive to cover construction costs for the new senior care center at St. John’s Medical Center.

Nineteen million dollars is an incredible sum of money to raise, but it wasn’t too much for the St. John’s Hospital Foundation.

The foundation announced Tuesday that it had reached its fundraising goal for its Sage Living capital campaign, securing pledges for $19 million for the construction of St. John’s Medical Center’s new senior care facility.

“We have a few outstanding asks and some commitments from Old Bill’s,” Bill Best told the hospital’s board of trustees. “We are going to exceed $19 million.”

Best is the chairman of the foundation’s board of trustees, as well as an advisor to the hospital board. He said fundraising will continue, though the nonprofit auxiliary arm of the medical center had “exhausted” most of its donors.

The eye-popping figure was not the original amount the foundation expected to raise for Sage Living’s construction. When the idea of building a new senior care facility came before the community in a specific purpose excise tax vote, the foundation’s part was $9 million. The overall price tag was initially about $35 million, with $17 million coming from the SPET and $9 million from the hospital’s capital funds.

But the cost to build the facility as proposed, with private rooms, a memory care unit and 72 beds — 12 more than originally pitched — outgrew the initial ask.

To keep the hospital from dipping further into its capital budget, the foundation increased its commitment, first bumping the figure to $15 million, then to $19 million.

A pair of large donations in July 2018 kick-started the foundation’s efforts. John and Adrienne Mars gave $5 million, and an anonymous family gave $3 million. But the bulk of the fundraising campaign was still to come, and in the end roughly 200 donors opened their wallets.

“We’re overwhelmed by the incredible generosity of the donors in this community,” said John Goettler, president of the foundation.

Much of the money came from large-dollar donors, but a summerlong collaborative fundraiser that was hard to miss helped raise awareness. Rockin’ Sage Living commissioned artists to use rocking chairs as canvases for unique works of art. The chairs were displayed around town at places such as Persephone and Snake River Brewing and auctioned off.

Chairs that didn’t sell before September were sold at the capstone event for Rockin’ Sage Living, a 1920s-themed party at Teton Pines.

“I couldn’t believe how many people came in costume,” Goettler said. “It was a fantastic success, and the artists crushed it.”

With the main fundraising push over, the foundation can turn to a pair of goals: adding a few things that were taken out of the Sage Living designs and creating a fund for patients.

To lower costs, some pieces were “value engineered” out of the plans, but Best told the hospital board the foundation would do its best to raise additional funds to put them back in.

The patient fund is an additional philanthropic objective separate from the construction.

“We are anticipating an effort through estate planning,” Goettler said. “It’s a benevolence fund that would enable us to help folks that move into Sage Living, if they run out of money.”

Goettler started with his own board members in looking for bequests, but he said the search for such donors could last into perpetuity, so subsequent Sage Living residents won’t have to worry if their funds are depleted.

Before he and the foundation staff continue looking for those kinds of legacy donors, however, they’re going to celebrate the work they did to cover the construction costs.

“This long-term care facility is so vitally needed,” Goettler said. “This is evidence this is going to be a facility that is treasured.”

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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