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Giving Stories

The Axelrod Legacy of Giving

Before she left her indelible mark on NSMC Salem Hospital and the Mass General Center for Outpatient Care in Danvers, Henrietta (Penny) Axelrod danced with Martha Graham, tested airplanes, directed plays and entertained Army troops in Europe. A truly extraordinary woman, who lived an interesting and fulfilling life, Penny Axelrod died peacefully on February 4, 2015, in California at the age of 93.

"The hospital was part of the fabric of our family's everyday life," recalls Penny's daughter, Dee Axelrod. "She volunteered me to volunteer as a candy striper in the 1960s, back when one literally wore a pink apron with stripes."

Penny's dedication to NSMC began during a brief stay at Salem Hospital in the early 1950s. Penny was so impressed with one of the hospital volunteers that she decided to become one herself — for four decades. She went on to serve as president of the Salem Hospital Aid Association and as a trustee of Salem Hospital from 1980 until 1989. Penny's success as a volunteer prompted a job offer: She was hired to set up the volunteer program for Shaughnessy-Kaplan Rehabilitation Hospital and served as its first director of volunteers.

Penny's husband, Leonard, was also deeply involved in the hospital's affairs. His uncle, Sam, had served on the board of directors, and Leonard was elected to the board in 1967. Repeatedly invited to stay on the board, he served for 30 years, including seven as chairman. He was named trustee emeritus in 1994.

"At the time, it was unusual for spouses to serve on the board at same time," recalls Dee. "But my mother so impressed the hospital administration and board members that they invited her to serve along with my father."

"Penny was totally devoted to the hospital," says Leonard.

Beyond their volunteer service, the Axelrods are longtime financial supporters of the hospital. In 1986, they established the Leonard and Henrietta Axelrod Fund, which has supported a range of initiatives, including the Leonard and Penny Axelrod Cardiac Center at Mass General/North Shore Center for Outpatient Care. In 1994, the Salem campus' main building was renamed the Axelrod Building in their honor. "Where we have seen need, we have sought to meet it to the best of our ability," says Leonard. 

Service to the hospital has been an enduring core value for other members of the Axelrod family as well. Leonard and Penny's son, Joseph, also served as a hospital trustee, from 1994 until 2004.

"My parents had a quiet way of giving," says Dee. "There was a long list of groups they supported, but the hospital was closest to their hearts. It gave meaning to their lives, and was a source of tremendous pleasure and stimulation."