YVMC’s book on 100 years of Steamboat hospitals now available
Steamboat Springs — A book chronicling the 100-year history of Steamboat’s hospital tells of the many times the institution could have been shuttered but was instead saved by the community.
“This community could have let the hospital die many times,” Yampa Valley Medical Center CEO Frank May said Thursday, during a reception celebrating the release of “Is There a Hospital in This Place?” by Christine McKelvie.
McKelvie drew from newspaper archives from Steamboat Pilot & Today, research materials from the Tread of Pioneers Museum and likely hundreds of hours of personal interviews from hospital employees and board members, past and present, to compile information for the book.
The book details the hospital’s evolution from the Steamboat Sanitarium to Routt County Memorial Hospital to Yampa Valley Medical Center, the financial hardships and struggles of each institution and the work that took place to make the hospital what it is today.
“It really was well worth the time and commitment she put into it,” May said.
During Thursday’s reception, McKelvie shared how she was once a young reporter working for the then-weekly Steamboat Pilot when hospital staff asked her to do a “little freelance work” for the organization, which led her to begin a 30-year career in public relations for the hospital.
She retired in 2012, and after discussions with May, began working on the book more than two years ago, she said Thursday.
What was originally envisioned as a small undertaking that would result in no more than a 100-page book turned into an exhaustive 194-page, 14-chapter work telling the hospital’s detailed history through the stories of the doctors, employees, board members, contributors and community.
“A small town hospital is a reflection of the community it serves,” McKelvie said. “I filled the book with stories of people.”
Through working on the book, McKevlie said she encountered a few common misconceptions about the hospital’s history she hoped to clear up.
Though the former Albany Hotel and current Old Town Pub building on the corner of Fifth Street and Lincoln Avenue was a hospital as early as December 1914, it was not the location of the first hospital in Steamboat, McKelvie said.
The first hospital was located somewhere on Sixth Street, she said, but she never uncovered the exact address.
“The newspaper back then never printed addresses,” McKelvie said. “Everyone just knew.”
Other misconceptions McKelvie often heard were in regard to Dr. Frederick E. Willett, one of the hospital’s founders who was known for his dedication to the community.
While he did more for the community than most doctors, McKelvie said he was never the only doctor, as is commonly believed.
A story that he never sent any bills is also untrue, according to McKelvie, who displayed an oversized print of a Doc Willett bill stamped “Pd.” during the reception.
Thursday’s reception also included comments from Jim Stanko, Williett’s great nephew and one of his only living descendants.
Stanko said he doesn’t have many memories of Willett being a doctor, only that “Uncle Fred” was part of the family.
Stanko did recall, however, that when Willett was older and nearly blind, the community was eager to repay the doctor for his service.
When a teenage Stanko would arrive at Willett’s home to perform his regular chore of refilling his great uncle’s coal furnace, he would almost always discover a member of the community had beaten him to it.
“There was always someone already there,” Stanko said. “I almost had to fight the whole town just to fill the furnaces.”
Proceeds from the book will benefit the hospital. The book can be purchased at Off the Beaten Path, Tread of Pioneers Museum and Yampa Joes coffee shop at Yampa Valley Medical Center. It will also soon be available online from Off the Beaten Path at steamboatbooks.com.
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Time seemed to stop for Matthew Engle for a few seconds after he heard crunching metal last week while he was in downtown Steamboat Springs.