Leaders Set Foundation for a Strong Free Clinic

Apr 19, 2020

St. Petersburg Free Clinic was founded in May 1970 by Warner “Butch” Anderson, a senior psychology major at the University of South Florida, and his friend, Dr. Linda Shaffer. Together with the help of volunteer professionals they recruited, Butch and Dr. Shaffer served individuals throughout the community with general healthcare as a licensed drug treatment center.

When Butch left St. Petersburg to study at the University of Florida, two volunteers stepped up to lead the organization: Sister Anne Brooks and Sister Cora Lee Middleton.

From 1974 to 1977, Sisters Anne and Cora Lee continued to expand the Free Clinic’s services, and shifted the focus of the Free Clinic from drug treatment to general medicine after Operation PAR was founded and took the lead in the community for drug treatment.

Like their predecessor, Sisters Anne and Cora Lee both moved on to pursue medical careers. Before they left, however, they enlisted the help of the Catholic Society of Medical Missionaries to find their replacement. Their search resulted in the addition of Sister Margaret Freeman who joined the Free Clinic in October, 1976 and was named Director in 1977.

Under Sister Margaret’s direction, the Free Clinic continued to grow, addressing domestic violence, pre-natal care and hunger. In the 15 years that she led the organization, Sister Margaret Freeman established herself as a champion in the community for our neighbors in need. She had a reputation for slashing through bureaucracy and red tape, and was an expert fundraiser.  Sister Margaret raised the profile of the Free Clinic significantly and was well-known throughout the community.

In 1992, Marcie Biddleman, formerly the Director of We Help Services, was named Executive Director. Under her leadership, the Health Center launched a wellness program, Beacon House (a transitional residential program for men; now the Men’s Residence) became a program of the Free Clinic, and other services offered to the community continued to expand.

In 1999, Jane Egbert was named Executive Director.  Jane helped build a strong foundation for the Free Clinic, adding new key administrative staff positions (Director of Development and Director of Communications) and program positions (full-time ARNP). She helped the organization navigate through some challenging financial times while growing services to include Diabetic and Dental Health programs.

Jane led the organization until 2011, when Beth Houghton became the Executive Director. Beth, a former Free Clinic Board Member, expanded the Free Clinic’s reach to eight programs across the areas of food, shelter and health care. Under her leadership, the Free Clinic reached many milestones, including: opening a dedicated Health Center; creating the Client Choice food pantry and opening the Jared S. Hechtkopf Community Food Bank; and expanding residential services with the expansion of the Virginia & David Baldwin Women’s Residence and a new upgraded location for the Men’s Residence.

When Beth was selected to lead the Juvenile Welfare Board in August of 2019, the Free Clinic Board launched a national search to find a new CEO. They appointed long-time supporter and former Board member Michael O. Bice as interim CEO. Though he was CEO for only 7 months, he made a lasting impact on the staff, volunteers and clients and provided key leadership during the transition.

And, finally, on February 28, our newest CEO, Ms. Jennifer Yeagley, took her place at the helm of St. Petersburg Free Clinic.

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