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An original Minnie Mouse gives major gift to St. Luke’s ‘with love for the children’

Connie Downs, a longtime friend of Jimmie Lou Aquino, holds a replica check outside the sedation room at St. Luke's Children's Cancer Institute that Aquino made possible with a $375,000 donation from her will.
By Dave Southorn, News and Community
December 19, 2023

Children were always central to Jimmie Lou Aquino’s life, from entertaining thousands of them in a unique job, to raising three of her own.

Even after her death in June at the age of 96, Aquino has ensured that children will be taken care of for years to come.

Upon her passing, Aquino left a $375,000 donation to the St. Luke’s Children’s Cancer Institute — a donation that has already been used to equip a special sedation room for chemotherapy.

“Gifts like this from Jimmie Lou are extraordinary and humbling,” said Travis Bradburn, St. Luke’s Health Foundation’s vice president and chief philanthropy officer. “To be thought of in this way in her will is the embodiment of the sentiment of planting a tree under which she will never sit.

“The children and families cared for at St. Luke’s Children’s Cancer Institute are the beneficiaries of this thoughtful and meaningful gift and we could not be more grateful for how this will impact their lives.”

Jimmie Lou Aquino, left, as Minnie Mouse in the late 1950s at Disneyland.

The sedation room bears the names of Jimmie Lou and her husband George, who died in 1985 from cancer, with the inscription “with love for the children.”

In creating the sedation room, the physical space was not an issue, but being able to fully equip it was key — from gurneys to the right kinds of needles to oxygen monitors and medical systems.

Sedation is most often used when administering chemotherapy via lumbar puncture in the spine, but also requires multiple staff members to be on hand. Also, not having the sedation room in the SLCCI meant transporting patients to the pediatric ICU at St. Luke’s for sedation, then back to SLCCI for the chemotherapy.

“This has been a number of years in the making, getting sedations done in the clinic,” said SLCCI nursing manager Renee Vomocil. “… it makes it so we can provide better, more consistent patient care. It’s making it easier on patients, parents and on the team.”

Even back in the 1950s, the Aquinos found a special way to make children’s lives happier by finding jobs at a new spot in California: Disneyland. Jimmie Lou worked as a costumed Minnie Mouse, greeting visitors in the park’s opening years.

Later, she and George owned an ambulance service in Orange County, Calif. During her life, she also owned three video stores and earned her contractor’s license to build homes. Later, the Aquinos moved to Emmett, where Jimmie Lou lived for the second half of her life.

“No one could tell that woman what she could or couldn’t do; she was a little spitfire,” said Connie Downs, a longtime friend and Emmett resident. “Jimmie Lou was very strong, very determined, not afraid to do what she needed to do and not afraid to put anyone in their place. … she just did a lot of stuff, this lady.

“She believed in being involved. After her husband died, she was by herself, but that didn’t stop her from doing what she wanted to do.”

Jimmie Lou Aquino was described by her friend Connie Downs as a 'spitfire' that had a life full of adventure.

Jimmie Lou’s children eventually gave her seven grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren and 17 great-great-grandchildren. She made clothes for her children as they grew up and even sewed rodeo gear for her grandchildren. Plus, she was an accomplished painter and had a reputation as an excellent angler out on the water.

The care her husband received at Mountain States Tumor Institute (now St. Luke’s Cancer Institute) stuck with Jimmie Lou, and while George was being treated, he noted how powerful it was seeing children facing cancer, as well.

“Before (George) died, they talked about what he wanted to do with the trust … he said it wasn’t about him anymore, that’s what he wanted and she loved him and was happy to do what he wanted,” Downs said.

When she wasn’t making clothing for her family, Aquino was dressing up her extensive doll collection, which was prominently displayed in the house Aquino had custom-built in Emmett.

And that joy of dressing up lives on — the Aquinos helped fund the costume room at Camp Rainbow Gold in Fairfield, which provides a getaway for kids with cancer and their families. (St. Luke’s is also a partner of Camp Rainbow Gold.)

“It meant a lot for her to leave some things for those who could use them most, even after she wasn’t around anymore,” Downs said.

The sedation room is expected to see its first patients in early 2024, and the SLCCI team has plans for it.

“We are going to wear Minnie Mouse ears and will keep a set of ears in the room in the future,” Vomocil said. “… it feels like it fits really well, honor not just what we’re doing, but who helped us get there.”

About The Author

Dave Southorn works in the Communications and Marketing department at St. Luke's.