Memorial Healthcare: History overview

On May 1 in 1921, Memorial Hospital was officially opened. Imposing in appearance, complete in every detail, and equipped to the minute, as nearly fireproof as human mind and hand could make it; built for service. This was the description used to portray the new $210,000 structure erected in memory of Shiawassee county soldiers, sailors, marines, and nurses who served their country during the world war. No finer monument to those who served could be conceived, knowing that it would stand for decades to come, a constant reminder of the services and sacrifices of those heroes. At the same time, the hospital would render real service to humanity honoring those who fought and died for others.

It is with great pride, that Memorial Healthcare celebrates 100 years of dedicated caring to residents of Shiawassee County and beyond. We believe that the description of the original structure still holds true today and that the dedication of the original board of trustees, women’s auxiliary and the residents of the county has endured throughout the years. True to the hospital mission, Memorial strives to promote health and provide quality compassionate healthcare in our region through a commitment to service excellence, teamwork, and innovation.

Memorial Healthcare serves over 68,000 residents in the greater Shiawassee County region by providing high-quality services not only at the main hospital but through its many satellite locations in Chesaning, Durand, Perry, Laingsburg, Ovid, Elsie, and Corunna. Our footprint now expands into seven counties: Shiawassee, Clinton, Ingham, Genesee, Bay, Saginaw, and Wayne. The medical staff at Memorial Healthcare totals over 200 physicians representing 34 different medical specialties and over 1,500 employees.

Years of Dreams Became Reality: Funding and Building a Hospital

A decade of effort was crowned with success with the completion of Memorial Hospital in 1921. When the doors opened to the public for the first time, the dream of Owosso and Shiawassee county people, that had endured for years, became reality. The need for a modern hospital had been apparent for nearly a decade prior and each year increased the urgency of that need. Those interested, and this means the entire population, dreamed of a time when the county would have a hospital adequate to her needs and which would also be a credit to the county itself.

Early in 1908, the first definitive step was taken by the Visiting Nurse Association toward the attainment of a goal to build a new hospital. These women hosted a tag day to raise what was to become the nucleus of the fund that built the new hospital in later years. No one now remembers how much was raised that day, but the association turned over $600 in 1921 to the hospital trustees for which to furnish one room in the new hospital.

In 1912, the need for a hospital was first discussed by the Chamber of Commerce, then known as the Improvement Association, and a bill was introduced making it possible for boards of supervisors to be petitioned to submit to the people of the county, the question of building and maintaining a hospital by a tax. Unfortunately, this bill did not carry through. In 1915, the subject was again agitated and plans and specifications were prepared for a 30-bed hospital but this plan also failed.

Time went on, without much more being done, than to talk of the need of such an institution. In 1916, Miss Bertha Bowman, who had purchased the Miller hospital announced plans to erect a new structure on the site of the old hospital. However, at about the same time the doctors of the city started a movement to build a similar institution, and Miss Bowman abandoned her plans and closed her hospital. Then in 1917, a committee from the Improvement Association met in the Masonic Temple with physicians of the county and $20,000 was subscribed, and an option secured on the Dudley property at Water and Oliver Streets. However, Mr. D. M. Christian desired that property as a residence and offered the association $500 more for their option and declared his willingness to subscribe $3,000 toward building a new hospital. He was better than his word, for when funds were being raised, he doubled this figure. The physicians let him have the property and sought a site elsewhere.

Soon afterward, our country entered the war and the hospital project was given up until hostilities ceased. The government needed all the doctors it could get, and it needed all the hospital equipment available. It was no time to build private hospitals.

Memorial Project Launched

With the war over and the servicemen returning in 1919, the project was revitalized. The question of the form of memorial to be erected to these men came up and the sentiment was unanimous that no finer monument to them could be erected than a hospital honoring them. Further meetings throughout the end of April resulted in an exhaustive report detailing all phases of the hospital situation including the need, the location, size, and cost. The report ended with a recommendation that $150,000 be raised and a modern hospital of 50- or 60-bed capacity be built.

Permanent Hospital Committee Formed

The original committee members heading the hospital effort ultimately became the Permanent Hospital Committee. These members included: C. P. Bentley, C. E. Rigley, Jr., J. F Field, Fred B. Woodard, Fred Welch, J. E. Ellis, D. M. Christian, J. C. Mulaney, W. F. Gallagher and J. H. Robbins. Mr. Rigley later resigned and his father, C. E. Rigley Sr, succeeded him.

The committee immediately began work. Architects were consulted and tentative plans for building and estimates of the cost secured. S. D. Butterworth, Lansing Architect, who had drawn plans for several buildings in Owosso was called into a conference with the committee and later visited several cities, including Chicago and Detroit, looking over the newest hospitals. His plans were the basis on which Memorial Hospital was built.

In May 1919, the work of organizing the drive for funds was started by Mr. Cornelius Loder. Mr. Loder’s work resulted in a thorough organization of the women of the entire county into an auxiliary that has been a most important factor in the hospital work ever since.

The Funds are Raised

The drive for funds went over with astounding success. The county Red Cross turned over $25,000 left over from funds raised during the war. Another large contribution came from the county, the board of supervisors appropriating $36,000 to be paid in two installments, and the Bentley family donated $25,000 to the effort. Smaller contributions came from other sources, nearly everyone giving something and the campaign ended. The success being $167,000 pledged.

A Site is Chosen

Meanwhile, committee members had been searching for a site best adapted to hospital purposes. In April 1919, Fred Welch, realizing the desirability of the West King Street site where the building now stands, secured an option on 11 acres belonging to the Beckwith Estate. Fred Hartshorn then purchased the option and presented the property to the hospital board in memory of his father, the late A. E. Hartshorn.

Shortly thereafter, the late E. O. Dewey, informed the board that the heirs of the Williams Estate had deeded to the board two and one-half acres of what was then known as the King Street Woods, and which adjoined the site chosen for the new hospital. With the site chosen, the plans drawn and the monies subscribed, plans were set in March 1920. The general contract went to C. H. Maliskey and son Walter of this city. Ground was broken as soon as the frost left the ground approximately one year before the hospital officially opened its doors a year later.

The New Hospital

The building was 200 feet long by 50 feet wide, four stories high, and had a minimum of 60 beds with three operating rooms. It was built along the most modern lines of hospital architecture and was built to ensure future additions could be made as necessary. The contractors used light sand brick, trimmed with manufactured stone on the exterior. The floors were of terraza and the woodwork was all white, except the doors which were a beautiful walnut veneer. The floors of the corridors were of cork, one half inch thick, rendering them virtually noiseless. Every room was an outside room, making it light and airy within. As one entered the front doors, a vestibule of Italian marble greeted the visitor. All departments of the hospital were a marvel of completeness. Absolutely nothing that would alleviate the suffering and restore health was omitted. In addition to the three operating rooms, the new hospital was also equipped with an x-ray room, laboratory and a sterilizing room.

Schedule of Rates for New Hospital

The board of trustees of Memorial Hospital, after consulting the physicians and surgeons, affixed the following schedule of prices for the institution upon its opening:

  • Four-bed rooms – $2.50 per day
  • Two-bed rooms – $3.50 per day
  • Private rooms – $5.00 per day
  • Private rooms with bath – $7.00 per day
  • Obstetrical:
    • Mother………$2.50 per day
    • Care of babe…$1.00 per day
    • Delivery room..$5.00
    • Infant Ward….$1.50 per day
  • Operating Room:
    • Minor operations..$5.00
    • Major operations.$10.00
    • Minor operations with gas..$10.00
    • Major operations with gas..$15.00

Hospital’s First Census:

Sixteen patients were transferred to the new facility from the temporary hospital located on Pine Street. These patients ranged in age from 5 to 74; nine of them were surgery patients, three were war veterans, and four were medical patients.

Did You Know?

  • The first obstetrical patient delivered twins at Memorial!
  • Patients admitted during the hospital’s first two weeks came from as far away as Saginaw, Dansville, Gaines, North Star and Cadillac.
  • During the first year of operation, the hospital had an attending staff of fifty doctors located throughout the county. The Medical Advisory Board consisted of eighteen members and was chaired by Dr. W. T. Parker.
  • Throughout the hospital’s long history, the doctors have played a major role in the developments that have taken place. They were the first to subscribe $20,000 towards the building fund. Over the years, the medical staff has contributed financially whenever their help was needed.

The Grounds

In March of 1921, Tony Ercole took over the landscaping of the grounds, which literally “blossomed” under his care. Utilizing the hospital grounds as best he could, Tony created an orchard and a large garden. Tony also kept chickens and cows on the grounds. In 1926, the hospital had the honor of owning the cow with the largest production of butterfat in the county for the month of February. The cow produced 1775.2 pounds of milk and 69.2 pounds of butterfat in the 28-day period. The garden and animal products were used in the hospital, cutting down on expenses and providing fresh produce for patient consumption.

Owosso Women’s Auxiliary

The Auxiliary had played an important role in the establishment of Memorial Hospital. After they had fulfilled their responsibility of preparing the temporary hospital, they went to work at the new building providing linens, kitchen ware, food, equipment, etc. Members often contributed their own time to help out at the hospital. Twenty years later, the Auxiliary officially organized its volunteer services which continue yet today. In 1964, the name was changed to The Memorial Hospital Auxiliary, making it possible for them to accept any men who wished to join.

1st Women’s Auxiliary Board: Began July 17, 1919


  • Cornelius S. Loder, Hospital Commissioner
  • President: Mrs. George M. (Annie Thomas) Dewey
  • 1st VP: Mrs. W. F. (Florence) Gallagher
  • 2nd VP: Mrs. T. O. (Nellie) Christian
  • Recording Secretary: Mrs. Harland P. (Minnie) White
  • Asst Recording Sec. Miss Nan Todd
  • Corres. Sec: Mrs. Charles (Jennie) Ward
  • Asst. Mrs. James (Jennie) Osburn
  • Fina. Sec: Mrs. C. S. (Eva) Watson
  • Asst Mrs. J. Edwin (Sarah) Ellis
  • Treas: Mrs. W. A. (Hattie) Rosenkrans
  • Asst Treasurer: Mrs. W. P. (May) Harryman

Timeline of the First Ten Years:

  • May 1 (1921) Memorial Hospital Opens Its Doors
  • 1921 – Memorial Hospital School of Nursing Opened
  • May 1924 – Ground Broken for Building of Contagious Cases Ward
  • 1924 – First Class of Training School for Nurses Graduates 9 Women
  • 1925 – Training School for Nurses Graduates 7 Women
  • 1925 – Children’s Ward Added
  • September 1925 – Contagion (Isolation) Unit Opened serving 7 typhoid patients in its first week
  • March 1926 – Children’s Ward Completed
  • 1926 – Training School for Nurses Graduates 4 Women
  • June 19, 1927 – $80,000 Nurses Home Completed on Hospital Grounds
  • 1927 – Training School for Nurses Graduates 6 Women
  • 1928 – Training School for Nurses Graduates 7 Women
  • 1929 – Training School for Nurses Graduates 8 Women

Administrators of Memorial Hospital:

  • 1921 Geraldine Mahaney
  • 1922 Charlena D. (Robbins) Letts
  • 1927 Fantine Pemberton
  • 1928 W. T. Parker, MD
  • 1931 G. T. Soule, MD
  • 1936 J. Lou Brandel
  • 1941 Macie Knapp
  • 1944 Frances Chappell
  • 1954 Emil Hansen
  • 1960 Lee F. Nichols
  • 1967 Hugh D. Witham
  • 1992 James Johnson
  • 1994 Margaret Gulick, RN
  • 2001 Steven Grinnell
  • 2004 Cheryl Peterson, RN
  • 2009 Thomas Teal, MD
  • 2010 James M. Full, FACHE
  • 2013 Brian L. Long, FACHE

Expert Care Close to Home

Patients in the Greater Shiawassee County area and surrounding locations rely on Memorial Healthcare for compassionate care services. Besides the 161-bed facility in Owosso, MI, Memorial Healthcare also has over 25 satellite offices. Contact us today to learn more about our providers or to receive answers to other questions.