Our History

Memorial Hospital of Lafayette County Building
Memorial Hospital of Lafayette County

Early History

Written by Ervin Johnson—original founding Board member and supporter of MHLC.

No one who was not a part of the original planning, organizing, soliciting, building and equipping of the hospital will ever realize the tremendous amount of work that went into the project. Other hospitals had been built in other communities by religious groups or by municipalities but we were the pioneers as far as building a non stock, nonprofit hospital.

In the early part of the 1940's an effort had been made to form an organization for the purpose of building a county hospital. This was not successful. I was president of the local Kiwanis Club at the time Gordon Roseleip returned from World War II. He appeared before the Kiwanis Club and asked the question as to why we were not taking an active part in forming a group to build a hospital. The Kiwanis Club appointed a committee to study the matter. The following persons served on this committee: Gaylord Thomas, Gordon Roseleip, John Burke, Russell Hinkins, Dave Taylor, C.E. O'Bierne, Paul Gleiter and Ernest Gossner. As I recall, the first meeting of the committee was held at the office of the Co-op Oil Company at 308 Main Street. I believe it would be accurate to say that we met several times a week for the first two or three years. I drew the original Articles of Incorporation. They were dated May 24, 1946. Besides the original Committee, J.W. Howery, Dr. McWilliams, Ernest Rug, Paul McGettigan and Dr. Schrear were very active in the organization.

Memorial Hospital of Lafayette County Building
MHLC Founders

John Burke, Paul F. Gleiter, Darlington Motor Sales, Gordon Roseleip, Frank Reichling, Russell L. Hinkins and myself made the first donations so that an option could be taken on the McConnell-McGreane Hospital. Plans were drawn to acquire the land north of the old hospital which is now the office of the doctors near the library and plans were drawn for a new building at this location. It was later decided that there was not sufficient room to build a hospital at this point. Martha Riley, who had offered to give money towards the hospital, said she would withdraw her pledge unless another location was acquired.

Palmer Evenstad was the main solicitor of funds. He spent most of his time over a long period driving door to door and farm to farm acquiring funds for the hospital.

We sodded all of the front area of the hospital. The sod came from the Homer Smith farm. Palmer and Homer Evenstad cut the sod and hauled it in and we all took part in laying it.

The flag pole was dedicated to the memory of Phil Curry.

L. J. Finger, a contractor from Mauston, was the general contractor for the hospital and Pharol Plumbing and Heating of Madison ahd charge of the plumbing and heating.

John T. Burke also was president for a number of years and was a tireless worker for the hospital.

Paul McGettigan acted as president and treasurer through much of the organization and operation of the hospital and performed invaluable services to it.

The architect, Durand and Berquest, planned to place a bronze plaque setting forth the names of the contractor and of the Board of Directors. This plaque was to be attached to the outside wall of the west side of the entry way. However, a problem was encountered so the plaque never materialized. Before the Federal money was received, we had to have the lot surveyed. This was done by E.E. Clarke who taught surveying at Platteville for many years. However, when the city was putting the street in, their engineer, Arnie Peske of Davy Engineering, who had been a student of Clarke, found Clarke had made a mistake and the street was much closer to the hospital building. Thus, the portion of the lot in front of the hospital had to be terraced and there was not a suitable place for the plaque. None of the Board members ever received compensation for their work or expenditures. I served about 30 years.

As I became more busy in the law office, Dr. W. H. McWilliams shouldered a lot of the responsibility in the building and equipping of the hospital. He worked at this project almost full time for several years, until his death in 1951. Dr. McWilliams' daughter, Mrs. Wadsy (Geraldine) Martin, then filled in where her father left off. She acted as secretary and kept excellent records of the proceedings from then on.

The county originally voted to give $100,000.00 to the hospital. This donation was contested by a taxpayers' suit and the hospital lost the lawsuit. I then drew an amendment to Section 45.05 and 45.055 of the Wisconsin Statutes to make the law clear that municipalities could donate funds to a non stock non-profit organization for the purpose of providing a memorial to the veterans who had lost their lives in our wars. This took a lot of trips to Madison and meeting with the legislative committees and the legislature. the law was finally changed and the City of Darlington and several of the surrounding townships then voted to give money to the hospital. Most of the municipalities financed this donation by the issuance of bonds and this required much work to legitimize the bond proceedings. I conducted the auction when the City of Darlington Hospital Bonds were sold. Paive, Webber, Jackson and Curtis, the Milwaukee Co. and Harley, Haydon and Co. Were the three bidders. Representatives of the three companies sat around the table and bid. After 54 bids Harley, Haydon and Co. purchased the bonds for $35.00 a bond, below 2% interest.

As I recall, the original hospital and the equipping thereof cost in the vicinity of $500,000.00. The federal government through the State Department of Public Health furnished about 45% of these funds under the Hill-Burton Act. The balance of the funds was raised by private donations together with the donations from the municipalities. This may not sound like much money now days but at that time milk was only bringing about $2.00/100 and hogs about .08/pound, bread was about 0.5 a loaf, we drew wills for $5.00 and deeds for $3.00, the cost of having a baby was less than $100.00 and you could get a new set of false teeth for about $50.00. Among the early donors was Lucille Shaber who sent a letter and a check for $100.00 if a hospital could be built. Harold and Walter Roelli were making cheese together and they mailed $100.00. The Bates-O'Brien Post gave $2,000.00. The creamery gave $1,000.00 and there were several people in the community who gave $1,000.00. Many churches and ladies aid groups gave substantial donations.

During a critical period in the fundraising, one of the questions raised by those opposed to the hospital was "How are you going to operate the hospital?" This objection was met by contacting the Reverend Mother Superior of the Franciscan Sisters at Little Falls, Minnesota. After some discussion it was agreed that the Franciscan Sisters would furnish an administrator and the key department heads.

The hospital opened in January 1952. The first patient was Mrs. Ben Martin. The first baby born at the hospital was Luke Francis Pink (son of Bob and Juanita Pink), on February 3, 1952. I believe the original price of a double room was $12.50. In 1964 the charge was $14.50 for a double room and $16.50 for a single room.

The Sisters continued to run the hospital for a period of 12 years at which time the Reverend Mother advised us that because of the shortage of Sisters they had been forced to close one of the hospitals they owned and thus must withdraw the sisters from our hospital. An earnest plea was made by the hospital board to the Reverend Mother, but her decision was final. The hospital board, its members and the entire community expressed their sincere gratitude to the Franciscan Sisters for the excellent manner in which the hospital had functioned under their guidance. After the Sisters left, lay help had to be hired to perform the functions formerly rendered by the Sisters.

During one period we met with several professional fundraisers. I recall one representative from a New York firm who came to Dubuque. We met him and had a meeting that evening in the office. Because of the fees which would have to have been paid to the fundraisers, we decided to prevail upon Palmer Evenstad to finish the job which he very willingly did.

As soon as it appeared that the hospital was going to be a reality, we started working on acquiring more doctors for the area. Several doctors were interviewed and many trips were made to interview doctors in other areas that had made known an interest in coming to Darlington. This too required much time and work.

When money became available for the purpose of assisting and building a nursing home, Vincent Otis of the State Department of Health called me and said that since we had done so much work in laying the ground work for the several hospitals that were later built through the authority of the State statute which we had amended, he thought it only proper that we should be given the first donation for a nursing home. I talked this over with Dr. Fitzgerald who was the City of Darlington's representative on the County Board, and it was decided that it would be better if the County Board made the initiative in building the nursing home rather than the hospital organization since there had always been a belief that the hospital was more of a City of Darlington project than a County project. There would have been some advantages in building a nursing home on the south end of the hospital property and having it connected to the hospital.

There were many, many people who donated hours and hours of work and money in making the hospital possible. Many of these people are no longer with us, but their efforts and the sacrifices which they have made will never be forgotten. -Ervin Johnson (1989)

Memorial Hospital of Lafayette County Building
Memorial Hospital of Lafayette County

Recent History

In the 1960's additional space was needed and an addition to the original building was constructed to the north. This space was then used for offices and medical records. In 1979 the Wisconsin Health Planning Council recommended that Memorial Hospital close its doors. This was not acceptable to the community who overwhelmingly rallied in support of their hospital. Lafayette County purchased the facility and began the reorganization process.

In 1983 the State of Wisconsin mandated that Memorial Hospital upgrade its surgical facilities and expand its emergency room area. The Memorial Messenger was newly formed and undertook the raising of over $500,000 to fund the project. Their extremely successful fund raising efforts provided for a new OR suite. The suite consisted of an operating room, recovery room, sterile supply room, clean up room, nurse change room, and physician change room. The existing operating and recovery rooms were converted to emergency rooms. The new emergency rooms were much larger than the old ones and allowed adequate space for all of the equipment and personnel needed in life saving emergency situations.

In 1993 the hospital felt the need to have in-house CT scanning capabilities. CT scanning was provided by a mobile scanner which came 2-3 days per week. The Messenger raised $60,000 to provide the addition of a room for the CT scanner.

In 1998 space once again became a problem. The Rehab Services department, outpatient clinic, and Medical Records had all outgrown their present space. The lobby/registration area was also not accessible to wheelchair patients. A multithousand dollar building project was undertaken which remodeled the outpatient clinic giving it more space with more functional rooms. A new Rehabilitation Services Department was built which provided a large open area for group treatments as well as private treatment areas for individual therapies. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, cardiac rehab, and pulmonary rehab provide therapy in this space. A new Medical Records department was added providing adequate space for filing medical records, coding functions, dictation, and transcription. A registration and lobby area which was accessible to wheelchair patients was added and a conference room to accommodate hospital and community meetings. The Memorial Messenger raised $50,000 to buy equipment for the new area.

In 2000 the need to expand and upgrade the Radiology Department was identified. With the help of Rep. Tammy Baldwin and a $980,000 HRSA grant, new fluoroscopy, general radiography, mammography, C-arm, and CT scanner were obtained. The department was also expanded and remodeled to provide more efficient space.

In 2002 it was once again identified that MH LC needed to upgrade patient rooms, the OB department, add a dialysis unit, add a larger ER, and remodel the OR suite to accommodate the types of OR cases being done.

The remodeling plan provided each patient room with its own bathroom.

The OB department was remodeled to provide 2 beautifully decorated and home-like Labor, Delivery, Recovery, and Post partum(LDRP) rooms. The mom is now admitted to an LDRP room in labor and spends her entire hospital stay in this beautiful room/suite. A waiting room for OB patients and family was also added.

New trauma rooms were built with a separate nurses station that provides room for computers, printers, forms, and an area where physicians, nurses, and family could confer outside the trauma rooms. An ER waiting room has also been added in this area.

The OR suite has been reconfigured to correct some life safety code deficiencies and add more storage space. Over the past 20 years since the new OR was built, new procedures requiring more equipment are being done. The OR remodel provides for a more efficient patient flow.

A need for a renal dialysis unit had been identified for many years as a much needed service by the Lafayette County community. With this remodeling project, space was added to accommodate a six unit dialysis suite. Thus preventing long drives to the existing dialysis units. Treatment can now be received in their own community.