The birth of Gerber Memorial 100 years ago
By Randy Stasik, president, Spectrum Health Gerber Memorial
Spectrum Health Gerber Memorial turns 100 this year and we are blessed to have served this community since 1918.
Gerber Hospital started out as a home, remodeled to care for a few patients. Newaygo County and Fremont were growing in the first decade of the 20th century and a medical facility was needed to serve the needs of local families. After the death of Joseph and Agnes (Moyer) Gerber in 1917, their children donated their family home at 212 West Maple, built by Matthew Mullen, “for the establishment of an institution for the care of the sick.”
In May 1918, a committee was formed to organize the establishment of the municipal hospital. The committee members were: W.J. Branstrom, Harry Reber, Frank Gerber, C. Gerber, F. H. Smith, Rev. R.A. Thibos, Rev. H. Keegstra, H. C. Buck, John Pikaart, Don VanderWerp, Mrs. C. Gerber, Mrs. W. H. Barnum, Mrs. Milo A. White, Mrs. Dirk Kolk and Mrs. Ben Dill.
As the Fremont Times-Indicator reported May 2, 1918: “With very little remodeling, the Gerber property will give the city a splendid hospital building. The house is large and commodious and is surrounded by beautiful grounds. Its location is ideal for hospital purposes.”
In July 1918, articles of incorporation were adopted. And in August 1918, officers for the hospital were selected from nine trustees: President, W. J. Branstrom; Vice President, W. H. Burns; Secretary, Mrs. Milo A. White; Treasurer, John H. Ensing. Trustees were Keegstra, Nellie Gerber, Frank Newlin, William DeKuiper and Mabel Barnum.
The next step: remodeling the building and purchasing medical equipment. To raise funds, membership certificates were sold for $10, and the State of Michigan issued the hospital’s charter in September 1919. The new hospital was official called “Gerber Memorial Hospital.”
For some context, the health care landscape at the time was very different from what it is today. Insurance, Medicare and Medicaid did not exist. Country doctors made house calls. Home remedies were the first line of defense and house calls were a last resort.
A doctor’s visit at the time could cost around $4, which is an estimated $72 today. Insulin was still three years away from being discovered. The global flu epidemic of 1918 was just beginning in America.
On Aug. 1, 1918, just before kicking off the fundraising drive, Gerber Memorial’s board of directors appealed to the community through the Times-Indicator: “This hospital means much to this community. Its value cannot be measured in dollars. The sick and afflicted can be as well taken care of here at home, where they will be near to those that are dear to them, as if they were taken to some distant institution. The institution will be non-sectarian. The same treatment will be accorded to all.”
On Aug. 15, about a week into the fund drive, Gerber Memorial had raised $1,500 from the community, the equivalent of around $27,000 today. Still in its infancy, Gerber Memorial was taking solid first steps toward the future.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of columns to commemorate Spectrum Health Gerber Memorial’s centennial, coinciding with National Hospital Week May 6-May 12. Next month: Leading Gerber Memorial.
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