By NANCY DeGENNARO, The Daily News Journal
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) — Dozens gathered May 2 to mark the 95th anniversary of Ascension Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital in Murfreesboro with a celebration led by president and CEO Gordon Ferguson.
Murfreesboro native Betty Loveless, granddaughter of founding hospital board member Simeon B. Christy, marveled at the progress over nearly a century of healthcare.
“Riding out here I was thinking, ‘What would (grandfather) think now?’ The expansion of this place,” a smiling Loveless told the crowd. “Boom, both directions, it’s unbelievable.”
A similar time of celebration occurred on May 2, 1927, at the grand opening of the original University Street campus. The plaque above the front door of that building read, “For the welfare of mankind.”
That motto has remained one of the hospital’s guiding principles over the decades, even after a 2010 relocation to today’s larger, more modern campus at Medical Center Parkway that boasts nearly 300 beds and an eighth-floor expansion under way.
FIRST BABY BORN AT HOSPITAL
Marcie Richmond, daughter of Mary Alice Robinson Richmond — the first baby born at what was then known as Rutherford Hospital — also spoke about her ties to the deeply rooted healthcare facility.
“It’s funny how the fact of how mom’s being the first baby born has continued to be mine and my brothers’ (Bill and Steve Richmond) claim to fame,” Marcie Richmond joked. “But more important to me and my family is the strong feeling of history and legacy that we have carried with us.”
Mary Alice was the daughter of Dr. WT Robinson, the first chief of staff at Rutherford Hospital, who was instrumental in bringing the facility to Murfreesboro.
Janet Cluck, daughter of longtime hospital volunteer Ann Cordell, spoke about her mother’s 52-year legacy and love for the people and patients that came through the doors.
Ascension Saint Thomas Rutherford’s roots reach back to the 1920s when the Commonwealth Fund launched a Blue Ribbon Campaign to teach Rutherford County children and families about health and hygiene.
The charity also donated funds to build a Rutherford County Health Department on North Church Street in 1924.
In 1927 the original two-story Rutherford Hospital opened on a 3-acre lot on University Street at a cost of around $162,000, Ferguson said, with the capacity of 50 patients. There were 18 patients admitted in the first 10 days. Half were from Murfreesboro, while the rest came from surrounding counties.
James Arnhart arrived at Rutherford Hospital in March 1954, during some tumultuous years, and served as hospital administrator for 32 years.
“During that time he oversaw the construction of four new hospital additions plus a new medical office building that would later be named in his honor,” Ferguson said.
MOVE TO MODERN MEDICAL CARE
Art Hastings joined as administrator in 1986 just as the hospital sold and transformed into what became Middle Tennessee Medical Center, a modern facility. He led the hospital in multiple expansions, including the addition of new clinical services.
During that sale the hospital board convinced the Harkness family, which endowed the Commonwealth Fund, to create an endowment with the proceeds.
So the Christy-Houston Foundation was formed with the proceeds of the sale, about $41 million and a donation of $1.5 million from Frank K. Houston. These original funds were used to create an endowment.
Arnhart took the helm of the Christy-Houston Foundation for 14 years, followed by Bob Mifflin and most recently, Anne Davis, who spoke at the celebration.
“Today … our directors have granted $129 million back to local nonprofits and our largest recipient is Ascension Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital at $28 million,” Davis said.
The foundation grants around $4 million each year to local nonprofits that focus on enhancing healthcare and care of the disadvantaged. Some of those nonprofits helped over the years include Stones River Manor senior living and medical center, Greenhouse Ministries and The Journey Home outreach center and housing initiative. Around 10% of grant monies has gone to educational organizations.
“Hopefully our close partnership will continue to flourish for years to come,” Davis said.
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