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The Beginning of the Medical Center

Part I

Now that the Medical Center is about to take a huge step forward, it might be appropriate to look back at the way in which it came into existence almost fifty years ago.

The history of medical service on Beaver Island is erratic. From the Mormon era on, doctors came and went. At times service was adequate, but at other times there simply was none available. Sometimes people who were sick or injured had to be taken to the mainland in a fishboat, or a doctor had to be flown in, such as the time one landed on the ice at Lake Geneserath. In the first quarter of the twentieth century Feodor Protar, who had no medical training, was frequently pressed into service to solve his friends' and neighbors' medical needs.

In 1923 we were lucky enough to be discovered by the Canadian Dr. Palmer. But when he left, the Island once again faced having no doctor. The state was willing to help, if we could meet their requirements, but they were completely beyond us. The situation was dire, and all the residents wracked their brains for a solution. In late 1952 a doctor was found in Bay City who was willing to come --if he could find a home, if there would be some kind of state subsidy, and if the Island would provide some kind of modest hospital.

It was obvious that a concerted effort was needed, and that an organization would be required as a vehicle. An earlier Chamber of Commerce had faded away, but some of the business people thought something similar might be created to spearhead the drive to build a Medical Center. Consequently on January 16, 1953, a general meeting was called for all Island residents. Almost 100 people showed up at the Parish Hall. They agreed to form an organization to address this and other problems. Archie LaFreniere nominated Art Johnston, who agreed to serve as the temporary chairman. Father Joe Herp served as temporary secretary. Over the next two weeks a temporary board met five times to draft a constitution and a plan of action.

On February 4th the second Island-wide meeting was held. 107 residents attended. The temporary board presented its recommendations. The proposed constitution and by-laws were approved, and Father Joe, Art Johnston, Jewell Gillespie, Mrs. George Ricksgers, Rogers Carlisle, Lloyd McDonough, Frank Nackerman, Mrs. John Gallagher, and Mrs. Frank O'Donnell were elected to the board of the Beaver Island Civic Club, which quickly became the Civic Association. Once again, Art was elected president. In addition to the doctor problem, the group hoped to work with the Game Club and clean up the Harbor area. There was also talk about establishing a library. Sound familiar?

Now that a concerted effort was mounted, two other doctors indicated a willingness to get involved. After some research, it was decided Dr. Harry Vail was the most qualified, and he became the group's choice. Now most of the effort went into raising money for land and a building. A membership fee was announced, and a party was held at the Shamrock that raised $225 . An Activities Committee was chosen to keep the momentum going.

Donations soon began to role in; by the March 5th meeting, $4,000 had been pledged (of which 1/4 had arrived.) Three sites were investigated: next to the Shamrock, in front of the livery, and on top of "Hall Hill." A few voices wondered if it might be better to equip a room in the doctor's home next to McDonough's Market and save the cost of a building, but that would not bring Dr. Vail.

On March 16th the decision was made to buy the current site. James Gallagher wanted $500; Rogers Carlisle offered $300, and then kicked in $100 himself to close the deal. A Charlevoix undertaker wanted a room in the basement, and offered to furnish it himself. A Publicity Committee got out the word through newspapers and various Beaver Island clubs; the Chicago club offered to send up a team of carpenters. Chuck Kleinheinz and Walter Wojan were named construction supervisors, but as yet there were no final plans. About $2,000 had been raised by early April of 1953, including $100 from the undertaker, Charles Pontius, and another $4,000 had been pledged.

The Islanders began to beat the drums. Everyone who'd sold goods to the Island was now asked to contribute. Building materials, cement, a furnace, and a well were offered at cost. Meanwhile, the Civic took care of other matters, like hiring Charlie Martin to dredge the harbor, reducing the number of coyotes, and advertising for business. A. J. Roy appeared at a meeting to ask that Island landmarks be preserved to increase the tourist draw (and was later given $500 for a down payment on the Print Shop.) A $100 reward was offered to curtail vandalism. A newsletter was planned with the provisional name of the Northern Islander. Art Johnston wanted Dr. Vail to come ahead, and offered free rooms at the Lodge. When asked what the building would look like, he grabbed a sheet of paper and drew a sketch, and except for minor modifications, that would turn out to be the case. With volunteer labor, it was thought the building would cost $12,000.

May 9th was agreed on for the groundbreaking ceremony. Spirits were high; to many, it seemed that a long-hoped-for miracle was about to occur.

Continued - See Part II

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