Remember When--50th Anniversary Celebration


March 16, 1969 was a sunny day with mild temperatures – a perfect day for Ste. Genevieve County Memorial Hospital to hold its open house. Nearly 50 years to the day, SGCMH had an equally perfect day to look back on a half century of service to the Ste. Genevieve community. The hospital chose April 9, 2019 for its celebration as this was the day in 1969 that the hospital admitted its first patient.

Tom Keim, SGCMH CEO welcomed the crowd of over 150 by recapping the story of how the hospital began.

“Jim and Rosella Grobe were expecting a baby that would be delivered at Perry County Hospital,” Keim explained. “Jim remarked that it would sure be nice to have a hospital in Ste. Genevieve.  All the Ste. Gen docs at the time were in favor of this idea and suddenly they were off and running.

“Community leaders and volunteers joined forces and set in motion a fundraising campaign and the work to put a bond issue before the voters-twice! The “Fifth of May is Hospital Day” became the rallying cry. How exciting this time must have been!”

Who better to talk about those early days than the people who were there?

He began by introducing Rita Brumfield, SGCMH Chief Nursing Officer, who as a 17-year-old Valle student in 1964 won an essay contest on why Ste. Genevieve County needs a hospital. She read her winning essay to the audience, which rang as true today as it did over 50 years ago.

Betty Joggerst, a 50-year SGCMH employee in the lab talked about the changes she’s seen in her department over the years.  “It’s amazing how much information can be obtained from a tiny sample of blood today compared to the large amount they used to have to take from patients years ago,” she said. “Technology has made the difference.”

In introducing, Melinda Fisher, 50-year SGCMH employee and director of Housekeeping, now called Environmental Services, Mr. Keim beamed when he said if there’s a cleaner hospital in the United States, you’ll have to show it to him. 

“When I started, I never thought I’d be here 50 years later,” said Fisher. “What’s interesting, even though we have many more off campus sites to clean, is that I have about the same number of ladies working in my department now as I did then.”

Cindy Kreitler, a 37-year SGCMH employer whose father, Lou Schilly, was the first hospital administrator, was egged on by Fisher to say share a few stories from her days of nursing.

“Things have really changed,” said Kreitler. “We used to gather up the charts and make rounds with the doctors. It was a big deal going from paper charts to computers.”

Kreitler had the audience in stitches when she talked about the employee Christmas parties, doughnut days and the time when a fellow nurse dressed as a witch for Halloween and stayed in costume as she ran to answer a code blue. She was the first person the patient saw when he awoke. She also relayed that it was nothing to see patients, doctors and visitors smoking at the nurses station, even in the patient rooms when oxygen was being used.

Jeanette Wood, a 40-year SGCMH employee, began her stint at the hospital as a nurse and later took on leadership roles.

“We worked hard, but we had a fun,” said Wood. “There were so many cases I remember. Like the patient from Bloomsdale who came in and said he was bitten by a copperhead and actually brought the snake in a five-gallon bucket to show us. Needless to say he was rushed to the ER. But how fortunate we are. I think all of us know what a great place this is.”

Mary Ann McCullough, SGCMH nurse practitioner, spoke of her fondness for this hospital and the town. She’s the daughter of Dr. Joseph Lutkewitte, who was one of a trio of doctors along with Dr. Gerald DeGenova and Dr. Reed Marts, who were instrumental in getting the hospital built. 

“It’s been such an honor to take care of people in this community,” she said. “We owe a debt of gratitude to all the people who had the vision back then and worked so hard to make the hospital a reality. Thanks to the doctors, who really gave their soul to the hospital and the community. I remember going on house calls with dad, but we owe so much to all the people who put the work in to make what we have now a reality.”

Ann Bonnell, former Friends Board Member and daughter of Jim and Rosella Grobe, also addressed the audience. 

“What strikes me most about the that time before the dream of a hospital was a reality was the determination, sacrifice and hard work that the people of our community were willing to give in order to build this hospital and continue to grow it for 50 years and into the future,” she said.  

Even Larry and Jean Basler, who have the distinction of having given birth to twins at the hospital—the first delivery at SGCMH—were in attendance and talked briefly about their experience.

Rod Scherer entered his 35th year on the SGCMH Board of Trustees. His grandfather, William Scherer, was mayor when the official groundbreaking took place.

“I look at today as a celebration of the past 50 years, but also as a kick start to the next 50 years,” said Scherer.  You all are the reason we can do it.”

Keim concluded his formal remarks before the unveiling of the cornerstone time capsule.

“The hospital is not so much about bricks and mortar, but about an amazing group of people who over the years have made healthcare a priority,” he said. “It is the individuals doing their part and making a difference in the lives of patients that make this hospital and physicians clinics a very special place.”

The cornerstone of the hospital was put in place on May 30, 1968. It was believed that a time capsule was placed inside the cornerstone. There was no one that could be found to really verify it, much less say what the contents were. Now we know. Inside the container were a number of Ste. Genevieve Herald newspapers that marked milestones on the way to the hospital’s completion. The first paper pulled out by Scherer was dated May 9, 1964 with the headline referring to the first bond issue that read “Hospital Wins.”

Most residents might say they were the real winners.

As a side note, the Med Evac helicopter landed in the middle of the ceremony, a subtle reminder that health emergencies can arise at any moment, and SGCMH is there every minute of every day to take care of the residents of Ste. Genevieve and the surrounding area.

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