Blog post by Randi Richardson
Although the location, or even the existence, of certain buildings in Monroe County are a mystery to some residents, everyone knows the tall, limestone building at Second and Rogers—Bloomington Hospital.
I learned the early history of this building recently when Cynthia (Shephard) Burroughs from White Bear Lake, Minnesota, stopped by the History Center with a fat envelope of clippings collected by her mother, Alice Shephard. Alice was married to the late John H. Shepard, a native of White Bear Lake, who came with his wife and three children to Bloomington in 1960 at the age of 33, from Tarpon Springs, Florida.
Shephard was hired by the twelve-member board of hospital directors, six of whom were elected by the Local Women’s Council, to be the hospital’s new administrator. The task before him would be a challenge. It would be his responsibility to make the board’s proposed expansion of the hospital a reality.
There was no doubt that the hospital was badly in need of expansion. As late as 1962 the hospital had only 75 beds, just one for every 1,000 Monroe County residents, and the State Board of Health recommended four per 1,000. Patients were tended to by 53 doctors on staff and a grand total of 181 other hospital employees including nurses to housekeepers and everything in between. Due to the shortage of space, patients who required more than a short-term stay were often transferred to other facilities.
Upon his arrival, Shephard discovered the only thing done toward the expansion was the completion of a community survey. In the first four months he was here, he did 130 speeches in an effort to pull the community together so that a successful fundraising campaign could be initiated. The estimated cost of the new hospital was $3,800,000. Of that amount, an anonymous Mr. X had pledged $150,000 to the campaign fund. Eventually, nearly half the cost of construction would be funded by private donations.
It was anticipated that the actual work on the expansion would begin late in 1963. Prior to that time several important changes took place. In late 1961, a 19-room, 2-story house at 601 W. 1st St. was moved to the north side of the hospital property. This house had been owned by the hospital for a number of years. It was originally purchased as a residence for nurses but in the recent past had been used for furniture storage. Once situated on the hospital grounds, the administrative offices, waiting room, dining room and labs from the first floor of the hospital were moved into the house making room for a 25-bed nursing unit. Although considered only temporary, the relocated departments and operations would remain in the repurposed house until the new hospital was complete. Moving day into the repurposed facility began in February 1962.
Another major change took place in the summer of 1963 with the razing of the 10-room house purchased in 1905 for use as Bloomington’s first hospital and later used as a residence for nurses. It was built by Absalom “Ab” Ketcham. Ab worked as a station manager for the Monon. He and his wife, Nora, sold the house to Isaac Hopewell around the turn of the century and it became known as the Hopewell House. After owning the house for less than three years, Hopewell sold it to the hospital.
Right on schedule, the bones of the new, 5-story hospital began to take shape. It was to be connected to the old hospital by a two-story walkway. Floors one through three would be totally finished with bed space for 140. As a cost-efficient measure, however, space for an additional 160 beds on floors four and five would be shelled in and finished at some future time when community growth demanded more expansion.
Under the direction of Shepard, work progressed without apparent incident. Finally, in March 1965, the much needed and long dreamed of new hospital was a reality—quite a feather in the cap of such a young administrator.
Having finished what he started, Shepard looked around the country for other career opportunities. It wasn’t long before he was approached by a hospital in Oakland, California. They had expressed interest in him before his sojourn in Indiana. In the late summer of 1966, they made him another lucrative offer, one he couldn’t refuse. His new job began on January 1, 1967, and Roland “Bud” Kohr was appointed to fill Shepard’s vacancy as the hospital’s new administrator.
Today Bloomington Hospital has been expanded a number of times. However, once again the building has been outgrown and no longer meets the needs of the community. There is no more room to expand on the existing property, and a new hospital is already under construction in a new location off the Highway 45/46 Bypass. Ground has been broken and a new dream will become reality in the next year or so.
More information about the history of Bloomington’s hospital is available in a vertical file labeled “Hospital–History” at the Monroe County History Center. The file includes all the clippings donated by Shepard’s daughter in 2018.