About three decades ago, Sandie Phipps’ mother was diagnosed with cancer. Besides undergoing surgery in Boston, she required ongoing radiation therapy. Friends and family took turns making the three-hour roundtrip drive from Dover weekly for the 5-minute radiation treatments.
Today, people in the Monadnock Region don’t have to do that, says Phipps, who is passionate about quality, local health care. The Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Kingsbury Pavilion at Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene serves patients from 65 communities in New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts.
“The full-service cancer center we have here is a great resource for our community,” she said. “Last year, we replaced our linear accelerator (a machine for radiation therapy). Administration decided to spend $750,000 to bring in a temporary one while ours was being replaced. That way our patients didn’t have to travel for treatments. I’m proud that we did that for our patients. I’m proud to work for such an organization.”
A longtime Keene resident, Phipps, who now lives in Surry, is senior director of development and communications at Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene. Hired two years ago, she brings more than 15 years of experience as a nonprofit director, consultant and fundraiser to the role.
Her job, with her staff, is to inform and educate the community about Cheshire Medical Center’s health care services and wellness programs, to keep employees well-informed about internal matters, and to encourage people to get involved and financially support the work of the local nonprofit hospital and clinic.
“I love having the opportunity to tell the incredible story of how this organization — providers, physicians, nurses and staff — cares for our community,” she said. “I work with grateful patients and donors who share stories of the incredible care their family member received here. It’s an honor to work here. It’s very rewarding. To witness on a daily basis the difference our team members are making on the community — the compassion and dedication throughout the entire organization — it’s amazing.”
Now 53, Phipps grew up in Dover with community-minded parents. Her mother was the first female chairman of the local school board, served on the city council, and founded a still-thriving nonprofit, the Dover Adult Learning Center of Strafford County. Her father sat on the board of directors of several nonprofit groups, did fundraising and volunteered his time.
Phipps got her start in the corporate, for-profit world. After high school, she studied at the College of New Rochelle in New York, intending a career in psychology — until she took her first business course, and was hooked.
After graduation, she landed a job in New York City as an account executive with AT&T, and later joined the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. However, she soon questioned her career goals.
“I can remember the exact moment,” she said. “I was project manager on a successfully completed major project. I was celebrating and feeling a sense of accomplishment, but at the same time, something was missing. I started to think, perhaps nonprofit administration was something that I should consider.”
Despite that, she remained with the firm for nearly a dozen years, as director of telecommunications. Along the way, she married, had a son, and eventually divorced. In the mid-’90s, after leaving her job, she enrolled in Antioch University New England for a graduate degree in environmental studies. For the first six months, she commuted to campus from Scarsdale, N.Y., until relocating to Keene.
Since then, making a difference has been a major theme in her life. As part of her master’s program, she completed a practicum at the Harris Center for Conservation Education in Hancock, and subsequently was hired as director of membership and development. She stayed for six years.
During that time, she met Tom Casey. They married in 2002. A year later, she was named executive director of Giving Monadnock, which she’d earlier helped to found. The organization’s goal was to train nonprofit groups to be more effective in board governance and fundraising.
“I’m proud of the work I did at Giving Monadnock in conjunction with the board of directors,” she said. “Today I see nonprofit leaders who really benefited by our training programs. It’s very satisfying. At one point, the Corporate Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation asked us to provide our Fundraising Institute, which was a training program, to a statewide audience. I still run into nonprofit leaders who participated in that.”
Gina Goff, senior director of community involvement at C&S Wholesale Grocers, has known Phipps for many years, and served on Giving Monadnock’s leadership board.
“Sandie is humanitarian,” she said. “She’s passionate about the work that nonprofits can do to make a difference, and she’s extraordinarily organized.”
Phipps is dedicated to her work, but also loves adventure.
While at Antioch, she did a field study in the Galapagos Islands, sharing the waters with sea lions. She’s tagged along with researchers studying dolphins in the Bahamas, and whales in Quebec’s Gulf of St. Lawrence. She’s snorkeled and swam with manatees, sharks and humpback whales, from Canada to the Caribbean, and from California to Maine and Cape Cod.
Following her son’s 2008 college graduation, she and her husband moved to the greater Los Angeles area, where she briefly worked with an organization that protected whales, dolphins and porpoises. They both had left aging mothers behind and missed New Hampshire, so they returned east within a year or so.
Once back, she worked as executive director for fund development at Frisbie Memorial Hospital in Rochester, where, coincidentally, she had done volunteer work the summer after her freshman year of college. Soon after, she was recruited by Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene for her present job, which she started in June 2011.
“I liked Rochester,” she said. “But I missed the Monadnock Region. I missed the community. It’s a very special region of the state.”
Art Nichols, president and chief executive officer of Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene, is happy she’s here.
“I was very pleased and surprised to hear that Sandie had returned to New Hampshire,” he said. “As it turned out, not long after she was back, we had a vacancy for her current position. It was a real boon for us to get her.
“CMC is trying to return to the ranks of the philanthropic; being out there to compete for donations from the community,” he said. “I couldn’t think of a better person for the job. She brings tremendous passion, drive and attention to detail. I really appreciate that.”
One of the first things Phipps did upon starting the job was to fill a staff position or two. She and her team recently won a 2013 Lamplighter Gold Award for exemplary work for their recent annual report and appeal from the New England Society for Healthcare Communications.
Phipps is inspired by Healthy Monadnock 2020 (formerly Vision 2020), the initiative of Cheshire Medical Center and community partners to make Keene the healthiest community in the nation by the year 2020. Besides working out regularly, she also walks and eats a healthy diet, and encourages others to work toward their personal goals.
“As a nonprofit, we touch more community members than any other organization,” she said. “Last year, there were more than 25,000 visits to the emergency room. It all comes down to how we care for our community. We want community members to be well. Everyone’s working together on community wellness.
“If people get sick, we’re here for them 24/7, but we’re also focusing on helping people to be well and not get sick in the first place,” she said. “It’s part of who we are and what we do every day.”
In her free time, she watches and photographs wildlife, including whales, dolphins and bobcats she’s encountered. This time of year she particularly enjoys the hummingbirds that frequent her garden. Next year, she hopes to visit Africa, where her son has just begun a two-year Peace Corps assignment, teaching high school math in Liberia.
“My parents were very much involved in the community,” she said. “I made a career switch from the for-profit world to nonprofits. Now here’s Alex, carrying on the tradition, training to teach with the Peace Corps in Africa. This week, he’s been there nine weeks.”
Until then, she’ll concentrate on Cheshire Medical Center’s continued growth.
“Through all my years in Keene, my family has depended on Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene,” she said. “They provided me with care for a growing boy, care for an aging mother. I got to witness the organization in action. We have over a 120-year history of caring for the community. We’re so grateful for all our generous donors.”