Alumni Spotlight: Etelka Froymovich

Written by Regina Block as a reflection upon meeting Froymovich in spring 2011.

What is the commonality between Mother Alfred Moes, who arrived in the United States from Luxemborg in 1867, and Etelka Froymovich, who immigrated to the United States from the former Soviet Union in 1977? I believe it is their ability to be servant leaders. The two women’s lives intersected when Froymovich, ’90, enrolled in the Masters of Science in Health Service Administration program at the University of St. Francis, the school that Mother Alfred founded. Both visionaries and servant leaders in their communities, they changed health care in their worlds.

Mother Alfred Moes, founder of the University of St. Francis and St. Mary’s Hospital/Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., identified the basic needs of education and health care at a time when our country was rapidly growing. She planned the building of schools and hospitals by finding the funds needed, acquiring the land and managing the institutions. She was a servant leader.

Etelka Froymovich, founder of Home Services Unlimited, envisioned the elderly and disabled living comfortably in their homes with assistance and care that would provide them patient-oriented health care and comfort. She opened her business only 12 years after immigrating to the United States.

Two women, born a century apart, are known for their innovation, service and leadership in the health care field. A born visionary, Mother Alfred not only taught children herself but also saw the need for Catholic schools that educated them in the values of St. Francis of Assisi. She was the Founder of the two Franciscan Congregations, one of which established our university more than 90 years ago. Later in life, Mother Alfred Moes was living in Rochester when a tornado ravaged the town. This event caused her to convince Dr. Mayo to open St. Mary’s Hospital, which was the beginning of Mayo Clinic.

Sharing a common spirit with Mother Alfred, Froymovich immigrated in 1977 with her family to America. Froymovich’s parents and her siblings were able to immigrate to Indianapolis and reunite with her uncle in 1974; he and her mother were separated during World War II. In 1972, Henry Kissinger and Leonid Breshnew signed a treaty to reunite families that were separated during the war. In August 1976, Froymovich, her husband, Phillip, and their first born son began the journey to the United States.

The process took months. They journeyed first to Italy, where her family was supported by a Jewish CHIAS federation, for debriefings and health verifications. The CHIAS offered support to those leaving Russia. By paying back the support offered to them, they helped other families coming out of the former Soviet Union. After six months, they finally arrived in America and settled with family in Indianapolis.

With a three-year-old son, Etelka spent her days learning English by watching the TV show, Mr. Rogers. Her evenings were spent working at a convalescent center named Colonial Crest. Her first job was as a nurse’s aide, because she was not able to communicate enough to verify her nursing degree from Russia. Eventually, a nursing administrator who understood the Russian system verified Etelka’s education, then she was able to sit for boards, and in 1979, she received her Registered Nurse license.

In 1988, after years of working at the convalescent center, Etelka recognized that there is a better way to treat the elderly and disabled. She believed that most people wanted to live in communities, not institutions. Her vision, leadership and willingness to serve were the qualities needed for her to start group homes and a supported living program for individuals with developmental disabilities, serving 180 individuals in the Indianapolis metropolitan area.

Froymovich saw individuals with developmental disabilities enjoying their life to their full potential and continued to think about the patients she served in the convalescent center who could have been better served at home. So in 1996, she started Home Services Unlimited, a licensed home care agency.

In 1999, Froymovich started another agency to provide supported living services to individuals challenged by developmental disabilities, Residential Services Incorporated.

Today these agencies provide services to over 300 people.

Working full-time, mothering two children, beginning a business and enrolling at USF, Froymovich still had many more challenges to face. Personnel, government regulations, training, family, friends, health issues and those she served all needed to be juggled as she continued to dream and envision the needs of health care in our society.

What do Froymovich and Mother Alfred have in common? It is the vision and the spirit they both share. It is their ability not only to view but to find solutions for the needs of the society around them.
Are these women unique to this institution? I don’t think so. We have many servant leaders. We have many stories to share. We have women all over the United States making a difference in the health care industry. We need these stories to inspire each other to continue the seeds sown by Mother Alfred Moes, and to encourage others towards the innovativeness we see in Froymovich.

The University of St. Francis needs to hear your stories as servant leaders and discuss your vision of this world. Please call or email Regina Block at (815)740-5065 or rblock@stfrancis.edu to tell your story.