Community Memorial Hospital on Memorial Drive
Community Memorial Hospital on Memorial Drive
Last week there was an announcement in the Bluff Country Reader that Spring Valley Senior Living is celebrating the 55th anniversary of the Community Memorial Hospital, an event planned for Saturday, May 4.

It was July of 2009 when I gave readers a Glimpse of Yesteryear that began: "A monumental achievement occurred in 1962 when Community Memorial Hospital opened in Spring Valley. In August, 3,500 people attended its grand opening."

Maybe six weeks ago I was contacted to see if the historical society had any pictures of the hospital, which they did, and I paid a visit to the Spring Valley Estates office. What a privilege to be able to study the original minute books from 1958, compiled by the "acting secretary" Mrs. Samuel M. (Betty) Lindsay.

Some history: The Fillmore County Board had proposed a tax-supported county hospital, but that proposal was voted down. The state agreed the area needed a hospital, so in 1958 a committee was formed to pursue establishing a hospital in Spring Valley. By 1959, federal Hill-Burton funds became available to assist in building costs, about $750,000, with $337,500 coming from the grant and the rest to be raised locally.

The minute books carefully noted actions of the original committee, first selecting a temporary chairman, George Gullickson, then 14 more persons who might be willing to serve. These included my husband, Gordon Dathe, Joseph I. Hamre, Fred Loucks, Garth Vrieze, Claude Back, Carl Kohlmeyer, Albert Keim, Mrs. S.M. Lindsay, Mrs. Thor Jorgenson, Les Gaugert, Elmer Anderson of Ostrander, Mrs. Dale Hingeveld of Cherry Grove, Roland Zimmerman of Racine, and Rodney Burrington of Grand Meadow.

"Incorporators" were chosen, the name Community Memorial Hospital decided on, and three persons went to the Cities to talk to the

State Board of Health. This same committee (including Gordon Dathe) made countless trips to St. Paul, to various towns with hospitals, and visited fundraising companies, architects, and more.

Eventually, Beaver Associates was chosen as the fundraiser, a fund drive was launched, and within two months, $200,000 had been pledged to build a 35-bed facility. As we noted, the hospital was erected, and opened in 1962.

A sixth grader, Ann McLaughlin, interviewed Dr. Roland Matson after the hospital opened. He reported the hospital was modern in every respect - it had a completely equipped operating room where all except brain or heart surgeries could be performed; a blood bank was maintained, all types of laboratory and blood tests could be done; there was a completely furnished delivery room for babies plus an incubator; and the emergency room could handle all types of injuries and had a machine capable of any x-rays. Doctors on staff included N.J. O'Keefe, E.C. Howard, R.W. Gustafson, R.B. Johnson, R.W. Matson, H.D. Mori, M.P. Morse, Roger Morse, E.J. Nehring, N.M. Skaug and J.E. Westrup and dental staff E.L. Morse and H.M. Esklund. Dr. Mansur Taufic from Austin was called to come for surgeries. By May the following spring, 100 babies had been born at the hospital.

I was particularly pleased when the "powers-that-be" unearthed, from parts unknown, the original brass plaque that was mounted on the wall inside the hospital entrance. It listed the original board of directors in August 1962, as follows: President Joseph Mlinar, Carlyle Challgren, Mrs. S.M. Lindsay, Lester Gaugert, Albert Keim, Garth Vrieze, Mrs. Dale Hingeveld, Fred Loucks, Mrs. Harlan Jacobson, Mrs. George Wagner, Dr. Milton Stensland, Keith Hagen, Arthur Alink, Joseph Hamre, George Gullickson, Gordon Dathe, Mentor Hellickson, Dr. E.L. Morse and Mrs. Thor Jorgenson. Architects were listed as Buetow & Associates; Larson Construction Company.

In 1973, the city applied for a certificate of need for a nursing home to meet the needs of elderly people needing skilled nursing care. A general obligation bond of $l million was approved by voters, to be paid off monthly, and a 50-bed nursing home opened in 1976 adjoining the hospital, sharing kitchen facilities. By the 1980s, the joint facility was considered the largest service industry in the area. It was announced in 1984 the complex was moving into a new age with computer technology, and Mayo Clinic offered helicopter emergency service with only 11 minutes response time.

Time and circumstances changed. By 1985, the doctors had stopped delivering babies, and there was no longer a surgeon on call. In 1993, financial issues loomed large, and the administration tried to keep the beds occupied in 1995 by offering a "swing bed" program and rehabilitation services. However, the hospital closed its doors in November of 1996, having served the community well for 34 years. The building was then rehabbed into Spring Valley Estates, with 14 units for senior independent living, opened in June 1999 and always fully occupied. In later years, we have seen the new Evergreen Apartment complex rise up to the east, and now there are plans for a new Olmsted Medical Clinic on the grounds. Times indeed change!

Stay tuned for the next episode of the "Neighbors" article regarding Spring Valley and folks we knew so well.