History - Our Beginning
Community commitment and dedication are part of the legacy of Ste. Genevieve County Memorial Hospital. The hospital was constructed in 1969 after a successful community-wide effort to pass a property tax bond to raise $500,000 needed to leverage a Hill-Burton federal grant. On the day of election, those in the City of Ste. Genevieve enjoyed free parking as a result of the Mayor's official proclamation of the 5th of May as Hospital Day. American flags lined the streets, school bands played, merchants offered hospital day specials, babysitters were provided in and about Ste. Genevieve, car pools were available for those who did not have transportation, and voters were invited to coffee and rolls by the Ste. Genevieve Home Economics Council. The bond issue was endorsed by 85 percent of the voters.
Rosemary Lutkewitte, an original member of the Hospital Auxiliary, relayed a story of how the idea for the hospital originated.
“Jim Grobe and his wife Rosella were expecting a baby at the time, and my husband, Dr. Lutkewitte was her physician. We were at Perry County Memorial Hospital waiting for the delivery and Jim happened to mention that it would sure be nice if we had a hospital in Ste. Genevieve. My husband and the other doctors, Dr. DeGenova and Dr. Marts were in favor of it, and one thing led to another. Before we knew it, we were off and running. Everybody was so enthusiastic.”
But it’s one thing to get excited about an idea. It’s quite another to figure out how to go about paying for it. Grobe assembled a group of 20 people or so to see if the whole thing would be possible.
One of the first indicators that told them it was a feasible idea was the fact that at the time Congress was in the process of passing a Medicare Law, that when passed, would mean more patients, because a lot more people would be able to afford to go to the hospital. So, if you build it, they will come.
Money would have to be raised by way of a bond issue. In 1963, it was believed that $500,000 would be enough. With a rallying cry of “the Fifth of May is Hospital Day,” it passed by an overwhelming majority on May 5, 1964.
Lou Schilly, a founding hospital board member and the hospital’s first administrator said, thanks to Congress, another $10,000 was added to the coffers.
“If the hospital was dedicated to the war dead of World War I and II, and the word “memorial” was used in the name of the hospital then you automatically were awarded a federal grant of $10,000,” said Schilly. Another source of funding that the founding group tapped into was a Hill Burton Grant.
“Our committee looked into the possibility of acquiring Hill Burton funds, which the state legislature set up to help in building rural hospitals,” said Schilly.
But this wasn’t without its complications.
“The grant called for a 32-bed hospital,” said Schilly. “Our architect said we needed to be a 35-bed facility, minimum. This really messed up the paperwork, but in the end it worked out all right.”
This Hill Burton Grant was awarded on March 31, 1966.
Early in 1967, it was becoming apparent that the $500,000 approved by voters in 1964, was not going to be enough.
“By the time we had gotten approval for the hospital, building costs had gone up quite a bit, so we had to go back to the voters a second time,” said Schilly.
The second bond election passed on Feb. 28, 1967. Five months later on July 27, 1967, the official groundbreaking took place.
In-between elections and grant finding, a number of fund raisers were initiated by groups community-wide.
“One group of people who really took the ball and ran with it were the Jaycees,” said Schilly. “They were a brand new organization at that time and looking for something to make their mark.”
School children got involved by writing essays. Whenever a group gathered, there was always a spokesperson to “talk up” the hospital. The auxiliary, played an important role in the launch of the hospital, too.
(Corner Stone Laying on May 30, 1968)
“When we started out, there weren’t very many of us, but friends called friends, who called friends, and before you knew we had a large organization,” said Daisy Mueller, also a charter member of the auxiliary. “So many people gave so much of their time and effort. Some of the people we didn’t even know. They just came to help.”
The auxiliary, under the direction of its first president Mary Basler, volunteered to clean the hospital for the opening.
“We approached the hospital superintendent, to offer our services in cleaning the hospital,” said Mueller. “He told us there might be a problem with the labor union, but if we wanted to, we could. I can’t tell you how many ladies turned out with mops, buckets, and vacuums. Our local merchants really supported us, too. We got busy cleaning and man, did we clean. One day I cringed when I saw a union rep. But later I found out that he told the superintendent he wasn’t about to approach those gals. He was getting the heck out of there.”
Mueller added that the walls and floors had to be scrubbed, not once, but two and three times to get rid of all the plaster dust.
“We had the place shining like a mirror,” said Mueller.
The auxiliary raised money for drapes and hospital equipment, just as it continues to do today, and also held the first community blood drive, netting an astounding 600 units of blood.
The hospital opened on April 9, 1969. Dr. Marts admitted the first patient, Albert Sewald at 1:00 p.m. on that day.