In the 1940s, it was widely acknowledged that Lebanon needed a new hospital. The hospital at the time, on Second Street, was not keeping up with the town’s needs.
“Lebanon was booming with mills – it was going 24 hours a day,” recalled Nadine Girod, 95, whose husband, the late Dr. Frank Girod, saw patients and delivered babies at the old hospital. “At the hospital, they were delivering babies in the hallway because it was so crowded.”
Bill Thomas, 92, a retired attorney and hospital board secretary, remembers an interesting birth at the old hospital.
“My daughter Martha was born there in 1952 – Dr. Girod did the delivery,” he said. “There was a terrible storm going on. All the lights were out, except for one light in a mason jar. I thought, ‘we’ve got to do something about this hospital.’”
But several things had to come together for a replacement project to succeed. The community had to come together in financial support, if the effort was to win federal funding to help with the project. Suitable land, with an owner willing to sell, had to be found. And someone had to manage the new hospital, as the two nurses who ran the old one — Mary and Martha Schuler — were ready to retire.
Due to years of hard work by a group of committed fundraisers, the generosity of the community overall and one property owner in particular, and the leadership of a Colorado hospital administrator, it all came together. And in 1952, the hospital opened on its current site at 525 N. Santiam Highway.
“It was fun, but it was a lot of hard work,” said Thomas, who was the secretary of the fundraising group.
Between 1948 and 1952, the group raised more than $558,000 from the community (about 2,500 households, according to the Saturday Evening Post) to build a new hospital. The group mainly consisted of businessmen, led by Max Tucker, president of Cascade Plywood; John Nylund, president of the Nylund Lumber Company and the Bank of Lebanon; Mayor Pat T. Tweed; farmer Dan Nofziger; Lebanon Express editor Bob Hayden; and Thomas and his law-office partner, Laurence Morley. Some of the town physicians, including Dr. Norman Irvine and Dr. Joel Booth, contributed generously but quietly.
The American Legion Auxiliary played a significant role as well: Members were up at 4:30 a.m. every morning during the campaign, cooking breakfast for the men who did the fundraising.
Community contributions qualified Lebanon to receive $193,000 from the federal government through the Hill-Burton Act, which earmarked $1.33 billion for 1,800 new hospitals across the U.S. following World War II. Lebanon’s hospital was the 1,000th to open with Hill-Burton funds.
Sadie Dart owned 18 acres of alfalfa farmland just north of town. She was generous toward the hospital effort and sold her land to the group for $40, according to Linn County property deeds.
Her son Ed Dart, who lives just north of town, was a teenager at the time. “She only wanted to keep living there, so they let her live there until she died, and then they took the house down,” Ed remembered.
The Schuler sisters were able to retire when Allen Erb, a Colorado hospital administrator and Mennonite bishop, agreed to manage the Lebanon hospital under the Mennonite church. Erb served as the administrator until he retired in 1959. Gene Kenagy succeeded him, followed by Alan Yordy in 1990, Steve Jasperson in 1997, and Becky Pape in 2004.
During these past 60 years, the hospital has undergone numerous remodels and expansions, added state-of-the-art imaging such as MRI and digital mammography, treatment services including chemotherapy, several physician clinics, and adopted a healing environment philosophy that includes a renowned 11,000-square-foot Japanese healing garden in the middle of the campus.
Many of the hospital’s most significant services and aspects were funded by the community, just as the hospital itself was 60 years ago.