The Ladies, Bless 'Em, Got A Hospital



This month the Rim Country Museum opens a special exhibit on "Rim Country Women." It seems timely to write January's articles in the Roundup and The Rim Review about that subject.

To begin, let us remember that Payson's modern hospital had its origins through the compassionate efforts of Rim country women.

After Dr. Christian Risser III died in 1933 there had been no resident doctor in the Rim country, except for a one-year period when Dr. Hardenbrook and his family lived in Payson. He often had kept patients in his home, but eventually found he could not afford to remain and moved away.

During and after Dr. Risser's tenure, Theresa Boardman had served as a midwife and nurse. Because it was 100 miles over difficult roads to any hospital, avoidable deaths did occur. Steve Hathaway and Audrie Harrison had airplanes to fly emergency cases, but if the town was snowed in, they could not take off. Journalist Kay Loftfield wrote, "In 1953 Doris Taylor and Gladys Stern were having coffee together and discussing the need for a permanent doctor and a hospital in Payson. Doris was worried about raising her young son, Eddie, so far from medical attention.

The idea was born and they decided to do whatever was needed to build a hospital and get a full time doctor for Payson."

In 1954 Doris brought together a group of young women to meet and take action. They included Pat Cline, Johnnie Cline, Leta Jean Haught, Hazel Owens, Nora Surrett and herself.

They met in the "Rock House" of Richard and Valda Mae Taylor on Oak Street, and began making plans.

They would form a Junior Woman's Club (Note they used the apostrophe, which the senior Womans Club did not use.) and begin raising money for "the express purpose of establishing a medical facility."

From then on their meetings were held in the Payson Womans Club building. Soon the National Organization of Junior Woman's Clubs gave them recognition and they began raising funds through raffles, style shows around the Ox Bow pool, and a "Buck A Month Club."

For all their efforts they still had only $11,000 in the bank. The movement received a boost when Steve and Cindy Hathaway donated two acres of land for the clinic, and Jude and Alice Murphy gave a significant gift.

Jude acted as a business consultant, and on faith the Club went to Valley National Bank for a loan of $25,000 (other sources say it was $20,000). It was granted, and building began on a small clinic.

When the clinic building was completed it included a waiting room, laboratory, surgery room, supply room, patient rooms and an emergency entrance.

The board kept busy seeking donations, and Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix donated hospital beds, bedside tables and hospital equipment. The Marcus J. Lawrence Hospital in Cottonwood donated surgical instruments, gowns and other needed items, while a hospital in Mesa donated a used X-ray machine.

The board also began advertising for a resident doctor, and sent inquiries to Valley hospitals. After a number of positive responses, the board focused on Dr. David B. Gilbert. He had just finished his internship, and with his family he moved to Payson.

He made his office in the clinic, paying the clinic board rent for the space.

Dr. Gilbert immediately found himself doubling as the local veterinarian and ambulance driver, using an old donated station wagon.

Loftfield noted, "The Junior Woman's Club members served as janitors, nurse's aides, clerks, office helpers, window and floor washers. They stayed overnight with patients because there was no money to pay for overnight nurses."

In 1959 an addition to the clinic was completed, including a diagnostic laboratory and ten beds. At this time the board applied for a hospital license from the Arizona State Board of Health, and it was granted.

In 1965 Lewis and Nan Pyle made their first major donation to the Payson Hospital, enabling another addition and increasing the patient beds to 16. In 1967 the beds were increased to 26.

Now that the Junior Woman's Club had fulfilled its original purpose, it disbanded.

In the early 1970s the Payson Womans Club joined the auxiliary in another fund-raising effort that added a kitchen, solarium, hydrotherapy and offices to the hospital.

Throughout much of this time while Nan Pyle never served on the Board or held an office, she was active in the hospital project as one of her many interests.

She had come from the East coast, an heiress who married pioneer Lewis Pyle. Over the years she had become Payson's most active philanthropist, even going so far as to pay the unpaid patient bills at the hospital.

When her husband Lewis died in 1975, Nan gave $100,000 from the sale of their ranch in his memory. It was the kick off for a new building fund, aimed at raising $1.2 million for a major expansion.

The expansion was completed in 1978, and was named "The Lewis R. Pyle Memorial Hospital. It had grown to 44 beds.

The records show that over the years Nan Pyle donated over a quarter of a million dollars for the hospital. The hospital's ownership was community-wide, and for each dollar donated, a person had one vote in electing board members.

This meant that Nan Pyle literally controlled the board and many of its decisions.

Mrs. Pyle died in 1985, and in 1988 the organization of the hospital was changed. The idea of votes being given for donations was discontinued, and the board began to elect their own replacements.

In 1992 an air-evac helicopter was added, and in 1995 the largest of all the additions was completed, funded through revenue bonds. It added 57,000 square feet to the hospital and brought the bed count to 66.

The little clinic, boldly began by compassionate Rim country women had gone far beyond a simple community hospital. It now was called the Payson Regional Medical Center, and ownership was taken over by a large corporation.

But God bless the women! They did it! They really did it!

Sources: Correspondence with Doris Taylor, book by Gordon Sabine, and articles from Payson Roundup archives.

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