Glenwood Springs bids farewell to original Valley View Hospital building
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – A building does not a hospital make, but a building sure can make for a lot of memories.
Of course, Kent Harris doesn’t really remember the first time he was in Valley View Hospital. The Glenwood Springs native was among the first babies born in the then-brand-spanking-new hospital on Blake Avenue, on Sept. 7, 1955.
“It’s sort of sad to see this building go,” said Harris, who was on hand for the farewell celebration and time capsule opening ceremony on the hospital lawn Tuesday, along with his 85-year-old father, Desmond Harris, also a Glenwood native.
The original 1955 Valley View structure and an addition that was built the following decade will be torn down soon to make way for the new VVH Cancer Center and hospital addition.
Three of the four Harris children were born at VVH, including Kent’s sister, Karla, who very nearly was the first baby of the new year at the hospital when she was born 27 minutes before midnight on New Year’s Eve 1959.
“The plans for the new building are beautiful, and it’s great that we’re getting a cancer center here in the valley,” Harris said. “My wife passed away from cancer, and she didn’t have the treatment and care here at the time.”
The old building brings back a lot of memories for Gene Trauger as well. He spent 371⁄2 years working in the hospital’s maintenance department, including 27 years as the director of maintenance, before he retired in 2002.
“I did a little bit of everything, from the laundry room to general maintenance,” he said. “I also took care of the county building next door when it was a nursing home.”
The original air-conditioning system in the hospital building involved a series of evaporative coolers situated in the hallways, and one of two furnaces in the building was still coal-fired for a period of time before it was converted to natural gas, Trauger recalled.
“I remember several sleepless nights trying to keep that thing running,” he said. “And I hauled a lot of ashes out to the South Canyon landfill.
“I’ve got some feelings about the old building coming down, but it’s probably time,” Trauger added. “A cancer center is certainly needed in this area.”
Phil Anderson was the first non-Mennonite member of the hospital board, after administration of the new hospital was contracted to the Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities, which operated a number of medical institutions in small communities around the country.
“Things ran pretty smoothly then,” said Anderson, who was also in attendance Tuesday with his wife, Joan, who was the second president of the local hospital auxiliary and also served as secretary of the state hospital auxiliary.
“The Mennonites had a good operation and brought a lot of their own people out here on sabbatical,” Phil Anderson said. “Quite a few of the staff were Mennonite.”
In fact, the Mennonite Church of Glenwood Springs was established because of the hospital workers who came to town.
VVH Trauma Coordinator Nancy Frizell, speaking before a crowd of more than 100 people gathered for Tuesday’s ceremony, recalled that health care, and especially emergencies, were different just a few decades ago.
“The valley was different then. We had the coal mines and a lot of ranches, and the ski areas were just getting started,” she said. “The skiing injuries were different than what we see today.”
Frizell also recalled the hospital’s role through disasters such as the Mid-Continent coal mine and Rocky Mountain Natural Gas explosions, and the different wildfires.
“We provided patient-centered care even before they had a name and a designation for it,” Frizell said. “And it was never about the building, it was really always about the people. And it’s still about the people.”
Another former hospital board member, former Glenwood Springs mayor Don Vanderhoof, recalled his parents saying that the $340,000 raised in the early 1950s to build the new hospital was one of the easiest fundraisers they had ever been involved with.
“People in Glenwood were so proud of the new hospital, and that Glenwood was growing up,” Vanderhoof said. “We should be just as proud today of the new cancer center as we were in 1955 with the first hospital building.”
Remarked Valley View CEO Gary Brewer, “It’s sad in a lot of ways to see the old building go, but I’m glad, too, because it also means progress for the valley.”
With that, Brewer and Vanderhoof opened the time capsule that was contained inside the cornerstone of the original building.
In it, they found a dollar bill and several coins from the era. “They must have known we’d need some money for this new building,” Brewer joked.
Also in the time capsule was a copy of the Thursday, Aug. 11, 1955, Glenwood Post with an article about the upcoming hospital building dedication, and several other newspaper articles from the time.
Written on the back of a business card from one of the original subcontractors, Thomas Boys Plaster, Brick and Stucco of Canon City, were the words, “I laid this stone,” dated Aug. 24, 1955, and signed by Maurice S. Thomas.
A time capsule is also being planned for the new building, Brewer said. Crews are busy doing salvage work in the old building, and demolition is expected to take place sometime in November. Valley View is targeting a late 2012 grand opening for the new cancer center addition.
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