To understand and appreciate the history of the Memorial Medical Center Volunteers, one has to understand and appreciate the history of the hospital itself. For it was a group of enthusiastic women—volunteers each of them—from whence Memorial Medical Center had its start.
This condensed version of the history was written by Fran Schauer, right, who was president of the Auxiliary in 1964 and was one of the original founding members. Shown at left is Wilma Paulus, wife of Al Paulus, MMC Administrator in 1973.
It was in September 1906 when this group of women presented the idea of a local hospital to their husbands and other men of the community, who flatly rejected the idea, saying it had “no merit” and was a “waste of time.” In those days, people in need of hospital care went to Detroit or by boat to Chicago. These women were determined, however, and despite the early criticisms and drawbacks, plowed forward and drew up a constitution and bylaws, thereby establishing the Mason County Hospital Association.
The Association was recorded in Mason County in November 1906. Justus Stearns, a local businessman, supported the project and pledged $1000 to help fund the Association. He was one of the few supporters initially, but he was a staunch one and well-to-do, and was also a very generous man.
In 1907, a tragic accident on the Epworth Dummy Line railroad awakened the community to the need for a hospital. Many people were severely injured in this accident and had to be put up by caring citizens and the few local doctors in their own homes to be cared for.
After this accident, support for the Hospital Association increased, and Justus Stearns again provided assistance, this time offering his home, for six months, for use as a hospital. The board voted to name the hospital in memory of Stearns' deceased wife, Paulina. Money was raised to renovate Stearns home, and on October 19, 1907, Paulina Stearns Hospital opened.
The women of the Hospital Association held benefit card parties, skating parties and other events to raise money for the renovation of the 15-room Stearns home. They became “attic angels” rummaging for discarded furniture that could be used in the hospital. The doctors loaned instruments and donated equipment. The telephone company gave a telephone; the electric company offered free electricity; the firemen gave dishes and silverware; and businesses gave linens and kitchen utensils. Resorters and residents of the county contributed. At no other time—until the recent years—had so many individuals and businesses supported their local hospital!
Another extensive addition was built in 1911.
The constitution and by-laws of the Mason County Hospital Association were amended in 1928, so that men could be elected to the Association and the Executive Board of the Hospital.
A public meeting was held in 1929 at which the doctors and members of the Mason County Hospital Association discussed the need for a new hospital building. Unfortunately, the stock market crashed and banks closed in 1929. Plans for a new hospital building were put aside. The hospital continued to serve the community.
Justus Stearns continued his generous support of the hospital until his death at age 87 in 1933. He often visited the hospital and took current bills off the spindle and paid them himself.
As the effects of the Great Depression began to ease, the men of the community began working diligently for a new hospital. The women decided to form an organization of their own. With help from the Women’s Auxiliary of Hackley Hospital in Muskegon, the women’s Auxiliary to Paulina Stearns Hospital was organized in 1938. Mrs. K. B. Matthews was elected the first president of the Auxiliary. This group was incredibly active and served the hospital in many ways, raising funds and working alongside the staff, offering help in many ways large and small.
In 1939 the first hospital was no longer large enough to meet the community’s needs and a new 30-bed hospital was built on Washington Avenue and opened in August 1940.
In 1953 a three-story west wing was added. Over time, more space was needed, so property on Ludington Avenue was purchased. In 1967, Memorial Hospital of Mason County, a 76-bed facility opened, and in May 1981, the name was changed to Memorial Medical Center of West Michigan. The hospital has grown steadily ever since and is now a 95-bed regional Medical Center with a full array of outpatient services and inpatient medical, surgical, critical-care, step-down and behavioral health units.
Yet, for all its growth, the hospital will always trace its roots back to a small group of enthusiastic women, unpaid but hard-working, with big plans and perseverance, who dreamed it was all possible.