CEDAR RAPIDS — The St. Luke’s bill for surgery, including 16 days in the hospital, came to $56. But that was 1919, a year after the hospital had weathered the flu epidemic.
“We were surprised St. Luke’s survived,” says Dot Hinman of Cedar Rapids. “The flue epidemic, two world wars, the Great Depression. They had trouble finding people during World War II because everybody was drafted.”
“They also had closings and chronic debt,” adds her husband, Gene. “They once had egg festivals, to have people bring in eggs so they had something to eat.”
But, since 1884, St. Luke’s Methodist Hospital has been a presence in Cedar Rapids. And the Hinmans, longtime community volunteers, have spent the last two years sorting through two rooms of documents, photographs, equipment and memorabilia to uncover artifacts for the hospital’s history wall just off the A Avenue lobby entrance.
“It’s really neat to watch people stop and look at it,” says Dot. “They say, ‘I remember when they did that. I remember when they did this.’”
Of course the hospital bill, which was $2.50 per day, stops a lot of folks. So do the photographs of the original building, of surgical rooms with open windows, and of trash cans located next to the freight elevator that doubled as the public elevator.
Dot, 80, and Gene, 82, responded to an idea from hospital president Ted Townsend.
“He thought this was a project somebody should do,” Dot says with a laugh. “Apparently we looked like history types.”
Actually, the Hinmans are volunteer types who appreciate history. They were first hit with the idea in 1963 when a hurricane removed part of the roof from their Texas hotel while he finished graduate school. Gene retired in 1995 from Cornell College in Mount Vernon after more than 35 years as a geology professor. Dot had worked in admissions at both Cornell and Coe College. Divorced after a 30-year marriage, they remarried 15 years later on Jan. 7, 1997.
“It was a failure as a divorce,” Gene jokes.
Getting back together has not only been beneficial to them, but to hundreds of people around the country. For, from 1998 to 2008, the Hinmans helped at 31 disasters for the Red Cross including Hurricane Katrina, 9/11 in New York City and three hurricanes in Florida. They continue to volunteer at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Iowa City on Mondays and at St. Luke’s on Wednesdays.
Their first St. Luke’s duty was to put together a hospital directory for other volunteers, followed by a dictionary of acronyms. Then it was on to organizing for the history wall, which continues.
In the beginning, the Hinmans divided items between the nursing school and the hospital, sorting them by decade They soon had 50 pages of lists for the scrapbooks, photographs, yearbooks, nurses caps, uniforms, equipment and a variety of bedpans including one that was galvanized.
“It must have been real cozy to sit on that,” Gene says.
As they scan documents to computer files, the Hinmans have learned not too many stories exist since the 1980s. “We hope people will come forward with their stories,” Dot says, “before they’re gone.”
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