The need for a new hospital in Walsenburg became apparent in early December 1960 when the small southern Colorado town’s Lamme Hospital announced it would soon close. After several years of lobbying for a new hospital by the Walsenburg Junior Women’s Club and other civic groups, the contract for a new Huerfano County Memorial Hospital was signed in November 1962. Allen and Ella Mae Wagner, who had moved in 1957 from Perryton, Texas, to a ranch near La Veta, Colorado, initiated Mennonite involvement with the hospital. When community leaders explored building the new hospital, the Wagners introduced them to Mennonite operation of hospitals in other Colorado communities. In December 1960 Ella Mae Wagner wrote to Allen H. Erb, then living in Hesston, Kansas, informing him that the proposed 20-bed hospital needed an organization to assume its operation. Mrs. William Thatch, secretary of the Huerfano County Hospital Association, also wrote a letter to Erb stating that the promotion of a bond issue for a new hospital required assurance of a responsible organization for its operation.
Negotiations between the hospital association and the Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities (Mennonite Church) resulted in a contract that provided for the association’s construction of the hospital and its operation by the Mennonites. After the bond issue passed by a large majority, Erb, who was appointed by the Mennonite Board as tentative hospital administrator, worked with the architects in planning the hospital. Maude Swartzendruber organized the hospital’s department of nursing. A Mennonite Board of Control was selected from members of Mennonite churches in Colorado, and the administration operated the hospital without subsidy from the church or county.
One of greatest challenges facing Walsenburg hospital administrators was procurement of nursing staff and other technical Mennonite personnel. Local residents were utilized to the extent that they were available, but Erb believed it necessary to have core personnel in "full sympathy with total objectives of the Mennonite Church" to make the program an effective witness.
Mennonite workers were encouraged to move to Walsenburg to work at the hospital. At first Mennonite hospital workers traveled some 50 miles to attend worship services at the Pueblo Mennonite Church. However, with the arrival of Eugene Schulz on 1 January 1965, the local group of Mennonites began to hold meetings in homes. With the aid of the Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities the Walsenburg Mennonite Church was formally organized in December 1965 with 20 charter members, and Schulz, then employed as a teacher at La Veta, was installed as pastor.
The 20-bed Huerfano County Memorial Hospital, later renamed the Huerfano County Medical Center, was dedicated on 1 December 1963, and opened on 5 December. Prior to its opening, Erb and Richard and Dorothy Weaver of Elkhart, Indiana, moved to Walsenburg. Erb served as the first acting administrator of the hospital, Richard Weaver as supervisor of maintenance and housekeeping, and Dorothy Weaver as bookkeeper. Maude Swartzendruber became Director of Nursing, serving in that capacity until 1966.
Several months after the hospital opened the Lee Schlabach family moved to Walsenburg from Plain City, Ohio. After the first year of the hospital’s operation, Schlabach, promoted from X-ray technician to business manager and acting administrator after the departure of Erb in December 1964, reported that 2,604 patients had been treated. Overall occupancy was 83 percent, an average of 17 patients per day, and 34 persons were employed at the hospital. In November 1966 a 6,000-square foot addition – containing six private rooms, six semi-private rooms, a five-bed pediatric ward, examining and treatment room, medical library, and office for the director of nursing – was opened. In December 1966 the hospital employed 52 persons and had a 74 percent occupancy rate with an average of 25.9 patients per day. Other hospital administrators during the period of Mennonite operation included Arliss Swartzendruber, Jerry Troyer, and Verland "Duke" Behringer. A Voluntary Service unit was established at Walsenburg in March 1972, and during its seven-year existence the unit provided some nursing staff for the hospital. Ed Rempel served as pastor of Walsenburg Mennonite Church and chaplain of the Huerfano County Memorial Hospital during 1974-1979.
With the expiration of the contract with Mennonite Health Resources on 31 March 1986, the Hospital Board became self-governing.
Christofferson, Nancy. "New Center Becomes Reality after 20 Years." Huerfano World (8 April 1993). Web. 21 October 2011. http://www.kmitch.com/Huerfano/hosp.html.
"The Mennonite Church in Walsenburg." The Echo (June 1971): 3-5.
Rempel, Edwin F. Mennonites In Walsenburg, Colorado, 1963- , Serving in the Name of Christ. August 2004.
|Author(s)||Harlan D Unrau|
|Date Published||October 2011|
 Cite This Article
Unrau, Harlan D. "Huerfano County Memorial Hospital (Walsenburg, Colorado, USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. October 2011. Web. 14 Feb 2016. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Huerfano_County_Memorial_Hospital_(Walsenburg,_Colorado,_USA)&oldid=82294.
Unrau, Harlan D. (October 2011). Huerfano County Memorial Hospital (Walsenburg, Colorado, USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 14 February 2016, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Huerfano_County_Memorial_Hospital_(Walsenburg,_Colorado,_USA)&oldid=82294.
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