Friday, August 24, 2012

The recognition extended by the Monett City Council to the doctors from the Philippines and their families this week was most appropriate and welcome.

Keeping a hospital in Monett was a struggle from the outset. Nobody but Dr. William West wanted the trouble of running such a facility. Private practice was good enough for Monett's other early physicians.

The hospital became a terrible burden to Dr. West when he couldn't find anyone to take over so he could retire. Securing the Vincentian Sisters of Charity in 1944 to run the hospital was Dr. West's last great gift to the community.

After that, Monettans had to commit to keeping a hospital. A tax to support a city-owned hospital, like the arrangement passed in Aurora, was rejected by Monett voters. But when it came time to expand and upgrade, again, and again Monett residents and their businesses committed big bucks. It was no longer Dr. West's hospital; it was Monett's hospital.

In the early 1970s, when doctors in rural hospitals were hard to find, the Vincentian Sisters turned to a brave handful of Philippine doctors to take up the medical load at St. Vincent's. It was a gamble, wedding a rural Ozark town and doctors from the other side of the world.

It worked. Monettans, invested in their hospital, believed in their doctors. The extraordinary personalities of these doctors and their families also proved pivotal. It was a make-or-break moment for Monett's hospital. The community turned out to be the big winner.

The success of the Philippine families laid the groundwork for the introduction of the Hispanic population 20 years later. Though the circumstances were much different, the evolution of Monett as we know it grew from these pivotal moments. The welcoming spirit of Monett was tested and prevailed.

We most typically point to the "sweat equity" investment required by Habitat for Humanity as an example of how to involve a benefitting party in a charitable enterprise. Monettans learned this lesson all at once, raising money for industrial bonds to make factories possible in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Those drives came at the same time St. Vincent's Hospital expanded from Dr. West's humble one-story building to a modern, three-story hospital. The Monett Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) followed in the late 1950s with the sale of stock to buy land that could be acquired by prospective industries.

We've seen the benefits of this take-charge strategy, from the Centennial Overpass to the new YMCA. And there's more projects to finish before a new hospital comes on the horizon.

The willingness of Monettans to invest could have all stalled out if the hospital undertaking had fallen apart. But it didn't. It's another reason to thank the doctors and their families for making such good neighbors. The city council's acknowledgement of the doctors' contribution was a generous gesture and worthy of the effort.