Memorial’s First 60 Years

A Story of Commitment to Community

Although Memorial is celebrating its 60th anniversary, the whole idea of Memorial started in 1920. At the time, Belleville physicians all agreed the city needed an additional hospital.

“We need new hospital facilities desperately,” said Dr. Edmund Bechtold, in words that still ring with a sense of urgency and determination. “Our boys fought the Great War so that we could build a better world. Let's build it.”

Within a few years, members of several Belleville churches embraced the hospital cause led by Reverend Otto Pessel of St. Paul’s. He came up with the fundraising idea of selling “bricks” (actually paper pasted onto sheets) for $1 a piece. The campaign raised $4,000, which was invested.

In the meantime, the stock market crashed in 1929, leading to the Great Depression.

Physicians working together

By 1935, concerned physicians saw a critical need for a new hospital.

“This matter is becoming serious,” Dr. R.J. Joseph said. “Unless Belleville soon creates some new hospital facilities, any epidemic or public catastrophe would be disastrous.”

Over the next few years, a group of doctors continued to meet, and on August 4, 1947, formed the Protestant Hospital Builders Club. The founders were Reverend B.J. Koehler, president; Oliver C. Joseph, vice president; W.A. Schickendanz, secretary/finance director; and Walter A. Keil, treasurer. Within two years, they raised $600,000 in cash and pledges. The investment from Reverend Pessel’s “brick” campaign was also turned over to the newly chartered hospital corporation around this time.

As the medical community became more confident in the future of the hospital, a medical staff was established. On August 4, 1953, 36 doctors met at the Elks club and elected Dr. L.E. Tegtmeier staff president.

Building on faith

Walt Marsh became chairman of the building committee in 1953, and within two years the Protestant Hospital Builders Club board voted to sign the building contracts. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on December 4, 1955, even though the board had not raised all the money needed to build the hospital.

“There comes a time when we must act on faith…to see the vision when reality is yet to come,” said Edward Kaufman, a board member. “We need a hospital. We will have a hospital.”

After Charles T. Meyer joined the effort, he co-chaired a $1,000,000 campaign in 1956-1957. During the same campaign, George Ludwig of Belleville donated his Fairview Heights farm, valued at $250,000, to the hospital.

By 1957, Memorial hired Taylor O. Braswell of Fairfield, Illinois, to head the Memorial staff. Beating out 400 applicants, Braswell impressed the board with his eagerness and willingness to embrace the vision of its founders.

Opening and dedication

Memorial Hospital officially opened the third week of May in 1958. It was a major event in Belleville history, and the city’s two newspapers carried articles and pictures daily. The staff opened the hospital to visitors a week before the dedication ceremonies. A total of 61,776 residents toured the new facilities during that time.

Dedication ceremonies were held Sunday, May 18, 1958. At the ceremony, Dr. Frank Eversull, a former board member and pastor emeritus of the First Presbyterian Church said, “From these halls will go forth renewed life and new life to the glory of God and the service of all mankind.”

Voting members

In 1959, the board developed the Participating Voter Member Plan. With this plan, area Protestant churches could agree to pledge $10 per member over a five-year period and acquire permanent voting membership in the hospital corporation. Forty-seven elected to participate, pledging the support and commitment of the Protestant community to the success of the hospital and the excellence of its program.

In January 2016, the by-laws of Protestant Memorial Medical Center, Inc. were revised to eliminate the requirement for an annual meeting of voting members and voting member churches.

Continued growth

Over the years, Memorial has made continual improvements and additions to its Belleville campus, including Medical Office Center 1 in 1991 and Medical Office Center 2 in 1997. In 2011, Memorial’s Orthopedic and Neurosciences Center opened to provide orthopedics, neurosurgery, therapy services, pain management, and sports medicine under one roof.

Also in 2011, the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board (IHFSRB) unanimously approved Memorial’s plan to build a 94-bed, full-service hospital in Shiloh, Illinois. The vote marked the second time in 20 years that the construction of a new hospital had been approved in Illinois. Memorial Hospital East in Shiloh opened in April 2016 to serve the healthcare needs of Memorial patients further east and north. By October 2017, the Memorial Hospital East Medical Office Building opened. It is home to outpatient diagnostic services including the Harold & Dixie LePere Breast Health Center, laboratory and radiology services, rehab services, and physician specialist offices (orthopedics, OB/GYN, family practice, and podiatry).

On January 1, 2018, a strategic affiliation between Memorial Group and BJC HealthCare became official, and now Memorial is part of the BJC HealthCare network of hospitals.

In February 2018, Memorial Regional Health Services, Metro-East Services Group, BJC HealthCare, and Washington University Physicians in Illinois, Inc. received unanimous approval from the IHFSRB to build Phase II of a medical office building project on the campus of Memorial Hospital East in Shiloh. Memorial is working collaboratively with BJC HealthCare and Washington University School of Medicine to develop a Siteman Cancer Center facility in this location that would serve residents of Southern and Central Illinois. This building also will provide space for physician specialists and services as well as expansion of Memorial Medical Group’s (MMG) primary and specialty care providers.