How The Payson Clinic Got Its Start



The history of medicine in the Rim country is filled with drama and the heroics of many citizens.

For years the settlers had to do without anything but home remedies, and that did little to help in the face of diphtheria, difficult childbirth, traumatic injury and prolonged illness. Sometimes a doctor was in the area who had been hired by the local mining companies. There also were pioneer women who served as midwives.

When early automobile travel made a trip to a hospital feasible, there was the long, rough trip over the Fossil Creek Road to Cottonwood in the Verde Valley.

In 1912, the Rim country 's first resident doctor, Christian Risser, took up practice and remained until his death in 1933. After that, only short-term doctors broke a hiatus in medical care.

In 1954, the Payson Junior Woman's Club was formed to raise funds for a clinic, and with immense efforts and generous donations by businesses and residents, a small clinic building was dedicated in December of 1956. Two doctors from the Valley donated their time to see patients, one coming to Payson on Wednesday and the other on Saturday.

A board of directors was formed, donors being the stockholders and each dollar given represented one vote in the election. Fund-raising by the Junior Woman's Club continued, and in July 1957, a young physician who had just finished his residency at Good Samaritan Hospital answered the call to become the clinic's resident doctor. He was Dr. David Gilbert, and for several decades remained Payson's only full-time doctor.

Meanwhile, the clinic board continued to raise funds for medical equipment, increased the staff with a nurse and an optometrist, and added a wing to the clinic building. Later, a second doctor and more nurses were hired to staff the growing patient load at the clinic.

All of this we have written about previously. But here enters the Payson Clinic Auxiliary, a new chapter in Rim country medical history. The Junior Woman's Club, having received a National Community Achievement award for their monumental accomplishment in establishing the clinic, recognized the need for ongoing volunteerism and moved to establish a ladies auxiliary.

In a 1975 Payson Roundup article, Ele Inscho wrote how in May of 1958 "Peggy Miller took on the task of organizing an auxiliary. Peggy Miller, Mamie Ruth Hale and Pat Cline were helping in the clinic ... (By) November, 1958, chairman Peggy Miller reported the Payson Clinic Auxiliary very active with 24 members among whom were Joyce Flack, Martha Gilbert, Ruby Picht, Wanda Strahan, Ella Slaughter, Sandy Peters and Pearl Cheuvrant. Members were donating freely of their time so that one of them was on duty at the clinic each day."

Auxiliary meetings were held in the member's homes, and uniforms of pale pink were chosen, "with caps died to match." Jeanette Miller and Helen Bates told the story in a publication celebrating the hospital auxiliary's 25th anniversary, June 1985. "Different colored letters to sew on caps were earned by hours served. The group's motto was ‘It's not who is right, it's what is right.' There were no bylaws, just rules on appearance and absenteeism. Dues were 25 cents a month..."

By 1961, they became members of the state hospital auxiliary and of the Arizona Council Auxiliary.

The group continued the tradition of fund-raising throughout the 1960s to supply hospital gowns, curtains, carpet, emergency bandages, linens, and medical equipment. The auxiliary used a multitude of ideas for their fund-raising, including dues, paid tours, horse shows, luncheons, dances, raffles, coffee and pie sold to hunters, rummage sales, concerts, breakfasts, parties, food stands at the rodeo, craft bazaar, and ultimately a gift shop

Another fund-raiser was instituted in the 1970s called the Mile of Dimes. The goal included dimes that would reach 90 miles from Payson to Phoenix if laid side by side. They figured that would be $8,976 per mile, something of a Herculean task that took many years to achieve. Jingle contests were held each year, and, for example, the winner was a California boy with this one:

"A mile of dimes seems like a lot,

But think of all that can be bought

With all the dimes you have given

To help someone keep on living."

Throughout the years, when the clinic became a hospital, and the hospital went through a series of enlargements, the auxiliary continued the work of providing vital medical equipment, working with patients, and serving as receptionists and office workers.

In the 1980s, purchases continued for the benefit of the hospital and its kitchen. The lists of medical equipment donated by the ladies of the auxiliary makes one believe there would be no hospital at all without them.

A partial list begins with beds and linen, office equipment and furniture. It continues with blood pressure units, diathermy machine, sonic aid machine, intermittent traction and cold pack machine, and for physical therapy a high voltage ultrasound machine, treatment table and hydrocollator.

Then there was a kitchen stove and equipment, nursery equipment, a sigmidoscope and other machines laymen like most of us cannot even pronounce let alone understand.

The Almost New Shop was opened and continues to bring funding to the auxiliary's wonderful work.

Many local women have come and gone as officers and volunteers. To recite the roster of Rim country women who served over the years would read like the local telephone book. A significant number of articles and documents on the auxiliary have been donated to the Rim Country Museum archives by the auxiliary for future study and understanding of this wonderful heritage in civic devotion.

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