Heller Hospital, a Gift of Samuel M. Heller
(This article is reprinted with permission from the Defiance Crescent-News, March 27, 1969)
Efforts of a Napoleon woman half a century ago were responsible for acceptance of a gift by the city which resulted in the present Heller Memorial Hospital.
She is Mrs. Vadae Meekison, who became the driving force in urging city councilmen to accept the gift of the Samuel M. Heller mansion at the corner of Scott and W. Clinton Streets.
The Heller will, admitted to probate in 1918, left the home to the city for use as a hospital, with the stipulation that the gift must be accepted within a year.
Mrs. Meekison recalls that there were mixed emotions about the project from the start. Some residents were delighted with the idea, but others were opposed. The opponents argued that the town could not afford to keep up a hospital.
She says, “I was in favor of accepting it, as was the incumbent mayor, Okee M. Palmer. At his invitation, I went with him to go through the house and make tentative plans for its use.”
Before the year’s period stipulated by the will was up, the city administration had changed. Rumors began to circulate that the new council would not accept the offer of the home. Mrs. Samuel Heller also reportedly opposed the city’s acceptance of the home on the grounds that her daughter and son-in-law, Judge and Mrs. Julian Tyler of Toledo, could use it as a summer home. Mrs. Heller also said the new mayor had assured her the town would not accept the house.
About this time, an old man who lived on the south side of the river needed surgery. The only place he could be taken was the county jail.
The Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad had a round house in Napoleon at that time and about 150 railroad men made the town their home. It was the only big local industry and the workers received good wages. One of the DT&l men also needed treatment about this time and he was taken to the jail where he died.
As the first step in her campaign to get the city officials to accept the Heller home for use as a hospital, Mrs. Meekison visited Gale Orwig, editor of the Northwest News and asked him to write several articles about it. Calling public attention to previous problems and tragedies, he urged that the Heller offer be accepted.
Mrs. Meekison also prepared petitions, which were circulated by various local people. One also was prepared for circulation among the railroad men, who were glad to sign, since they never knew when tragedy might strike.
While the petitions were being circulated, Mrs. Meekison talked to Dr. Charles Harrison, a prominent physician and one of a family of doctors. Dr. Julian Harrison, Napoleon, is the last of five generations of medical men in the family. Dr. Charles Harrison performed many operations and up to this time had performed them in his office or in the homes of patients.
She suggested that he fit up a room in the Heller house and perform some operations there to show how much more convenient a hospital would be. There were no registered nurses in Napoleon at the time, but Elizabeth Jahn assisted Dr. Harrison in performing several operations in a corner room in the house.
Time began to run out and with the DT&I petition still not returned, it was time for council to hold its last meeting before the stipulated year was up. About the hour for the council session to begin, Mrs. Meekison had her husband, George, also a local attorney, drive her to the round house. She was informed that all the men had signed the petition, but the man who had it was on a run, due in any minute. The Meekisons waited, the train came in, she obtained the petition and hurried to the council meeting, held then in the old city building on Clinton Street. It was razed recently.
Mrs. Meekison threw the petitions on the table, saying that the railroad men had one fellow worker die in the county jail and weren’t interested in any more of that kind of care. Council found it impossible to overlook the wishes of the railroad men and approved accepting the Heller offer.
The home was used as a hospital for many years before a wing was added in 1951. A second addition was constructed in 1956 when the old Heller home was torn down. The addition was completed in 1958, with Moser Construction Co., as contractor. The cost was $3,116,285.00. All that remains of the original Heller estate is a carriage house behind the hospital. It was used as the superintendent’s apartment for a number of years, with laundry facilities on the lower floor. The former upstairs apartment is now used for meetings of hospital-related groups.
The 50-bed hospital now offers X-ray and laboratory facilities, emergency, operating and obstetrical areas, dietary department and laundry. There are six physicians on the medical staff and surgeons from Bowling Green and Toledo also are available.
Most crucial need, according to Walter Teeter, hospital administrator, is a betterment in the doctor-patient ratio in the community. The six local physicians make the ratio more than 1,000 patients to a doctor.
There are presently no plans for an anniversary observance, but the hospital board is expected to consider the matter.