Pink Steel: Building a Legacy of Strength
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Pink Steel: Building a Legacy of Strength

Suzanne Canner had never been to Springfield, Ill. in her life when she was searching for inspiration for an art contest she wanted to enter. The theme was “architecturally motivating,” and she came across photos from the “Pink Steel: Building Strength from Within” event through a Google search. With this inspiration, Suzanne painted a watercolor that won the overall prize at the contest. Of course, no one at Springfield Clinic knew this was happening until summer 2016, when, on a trip to see family in Iowa, Suzanne made a side trip to Springfield to gift the prize-winning watercolor to Springfield Clinic 1st - 900 Building on North First Street.

The painting, which depicts a construction worker welding pink steel beams, hangs behind the greeter’s desk on the first floor of the 900 Building. It represents something captivating about the legacy of the Pink Steel event that took place on October 25, 2012: People are still talking about it, even five years later. “We often have people who come to the greeters’ desk and want to know ‘Is this the building that had those beams, is this the building in the news,” says Jodi Stone, director for the 900 Building. Mark Selvaggio, CEO of Selvaggio Steel, the steel fabrication company that worked on the 900 Building project, agrees: “To this day, people are still identifying the project as ‘the pink building.’”

“Pink Steel: Building Strength from Within” was the product of a happy building schedule coincidence. When project planners from Springfield Clinic and O’Shea Builders realized that the point of construction during the month of October would be at the steel frame, an idea was born: What better analogy for what a cancer patient—past or present—is made of than steel? O’Shea Builders approached the Springfield Clinic Marketing team with the idea of pink beams, and Marketing took the idea and ran with it: Pink beams necessitated an event, and with the event came a branded sharpie for every attendee and a chance to sign one of the steel beams or a pink steel ribbon monument.

At the “Pink Steel” event, hundreds of attendees lined up down the street to get into the event. In an atmosphere of joyful celebration of life as well as solemn remembrance, there were free t-shirts for the first 600 attendees, guest speakers that included community members and Springfield Clinic providers, as well as refreshments. The highlight of the hour was the ability to sign a pink beam or the six-foot steel ribbon. With people signing in honor of loved ones who had passed or were currently fighting cancer, pink steel became more than the strength of those who got up and fought cancer every day; it also became the strength of the support system holding those survivors and patients up. “The beams support the building, and that’s what it takes to get through this fight,” Jodi says. This is evident again and again reading every name on the pink steel ribbon monuments, not to mention in pictures of the signed beams that were incorporated into the building.

More than 800 attendees at the “Pink Steel” event had the opportunity to become a part of the building that houses Springfield Clinic’s Cancer Center, General Surgery Department, Colon and Rectal Surgery Department and Center for Women’s Health, a then-new combination of departments specializing in women’s health. These attendees weren’t just from Springfield, or even central Illinois. Mark Selvaggio knows for a fact that at least two of them were from elsewhere. Representatives and cancer survivors from Nucor-Yamato Steel Company and Nucor Vulcraft, who supplied most of the steel for the project, attended the event when they heard about it. A national magazine by the American Institute of Steel Construction featured an article about the pink steel beams and the event commemorating them.

Selvaggio Steel themselves, a local, family-owned steel fabricating company, made the event a day. Mark and his brother Tony closed the company, bought matching pink shirts with a brand new, festively pink Selvaggio Steel logo, and bussed every single one of their employees to “Pink Steel.” “Up until me being there, at the event—it was a job,” Mark says. “None of us knew how big of a deal it was going to be until we got there and participated in the event. Selvaggio Steel is very proud of being able to participate in the entire thing.”

According to Jodi Stone, patients love to go to the three-year-old 900 Building for their health care services. The building is a collaboration of departments: an accredited breast center with a specialized breast surgeon, Tam Mai, MD, The Cancer Center, radiology services, and the Center for Women’s Health. Jodi Stone says that symptomatic patients may come through their gynecologist at the Center for Women’s Health, but then they get the services they need without having to get in their car and drive across town. These specialties have close proximity to Memorial Hospital as well, should patients need it, or if Springfield Clinic providers need to promptly care for patients in urgent conditions there. Because their signature is on it somewhere, patients feel like they have a stake in the building, and they love to go there for care because of it, Jodi says.

Physicians also love the “patient-friendly” building and the collaboration of departments it provides. Tammie Klein, MD, a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology who still has her “Pink Steel” t-shirt, says that when patients come to her for just a visit, it’s much easier to get them in to do their necessary tests, such as mammograms, as well. Sometimes, they can get a mammogram done the same day as an office visit. “It’s been very good for us as practitioners; it’s been very good for our patients,” she says. Dr. Klein believes having the event just added to the excitement of having the building built and all of these services and departments in one place. “It wasn’t just a Springfield Clinic event, it was a community event, and that really made it special.”

Five years later, what patients will find at Springfield Clinic 1st 900 Building will be state-of-the-art care in oncology, surgery and women’s health. New treatments and recommendations for health guidelines are developing all of the time, Dr. Klein says. “We’d like to think that Springfield Clinic practitioners are going to be at the forefront of bringing the new recommendations and the new advances to Springfield,” she says, and the 900 Building helps advance that goal.

The six-foot pink steel ribbon from the event is displayed in the first floor lobby at the 900 building every October. A second pink steel ribbon that went “on tour” in 2013 to get signed from people all over central Illinois is permanently displayed at Springfield Clinic’s Center for Plastic Surgery. Mark Selvaggio says that the pink steel ribbon might be one of a kind; bending the steel to make it look like the logo was a tricky process. However, still to this day, the pink steel ribbons are a reminder of the inspiring and empowering event that still resonates even after five years. “[Signing the beams] was a living, breathing monument,” Jodi says. “It was something tangible, it was this building—and it really represented support.”

 

The fact that providers in the 900 Building and employees at Selvaggio Steel are still feeling the ripples the “Pink Steel: Building Strength from Within” event created means that Springfield Clinic is fulfilling its mission to include the community in its operations so it can better serve the community. “The thing that separates Springfield Clinic and Memorial Hospital [from competitors],” Mark Selvaggio says, “is that they’re building communities. Everyone else is building buildings.” Through the 900 Building, the ribbons and the memories of those who were able to attend, “Pink Steel” has left a lasting legacy of solidarity that has carried on for five years and will continue to do so for more years to come.

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