A crowd was expected for the March 8, 1915, open house of Menomonie’s City Hospital, "…but no one anticipated the coming of the thousands who filled the structure from basement to third floor for hours…"
Thus began the history of hospitals in Menomonie and the tradition of caring still evident today — a tradition that guides Mayo Clinic Health System – Red Cedar into the future.
City Hospital served Menomonie’s 5,000 residents and the surrounding area’s population without interruption until 1920, when sparks from a chimney ignited the building’s roof. Low water pressure serving "Hospital Hill" and equipment failures hampered the efforts of fire fighters. As the 14 patients were moved to safety, volunteers rescued equipment from the burning building and formed a bucket brigade to carry water to the blaze. A $15,000 insurance policy allowed the hospital to be rebuilt. A $16,000 bequest from a retired city merchant, Melchoir Brooks, led to the construction of an addition in 1927. The area’s population grew, medical technology advanced and, soon, City Hospital became too small to meet local needs. Attempts to enlarge the hospital failed, largely because of the burden of cost to the city alone. Starting during the years of World War II, patients sometimes had to be turned away. There wasn’t room to provide the care they needed.
A 1947 federal program offering funding for expansion of hospitals paved the way for the next chapter in the tradition of caring. To access funding, the City of Menomonie and Dunn County became joint owners of the hospital. The jointly owned facility was renamed Memorial Hospital, a tribute to the members of the United States armed forces from Dunn County who were killed in World Wars I and II. Additions were completed in 1950 and 1960. A nursing home section was added to the Hospital Hill complex in 1965.
The 1970s were a crucial time for medical care. The nursing home ceased operations in 1974. In 1975, the 1915 and 1927 sections of the building closed, which resulted in a financially troubled hospital in an old structure with an inefficient layout. Menomonie was in danger of losing local hospital services.
Harold Polasky, a Menomonie business leader, headed efforts to construct a new facility. Starting in the mid 1970s, he helped get state approvals to build a new hospital and establish a nonprofit organization to raise funds for construction.
In 1978, the new facility was approved and plans were finalized for a $5.07 million structure to be built next to the Red Cedar Clinic on Menomonie’s east side. The Menomonie City Council agreed to issue tax-exempt industrial revenue bonds to assist in the project’s financing. A public information campaign accompanied efforts to raise $1 million in donations to offset construction costs. More than $400,000 had already been pledged by the fund drive kick-off celebration. By the July 31, 1978 groundbreaking ceremony, donations and pledges totaled more than $600,000. The hospital, which was to be built on land donated by the physicians of Red Cedar Clinic, was soon to be realized.
The move into the new building began Dec. 19, 1979. On Jan. 10, 1980, local and regional ambulance services transferred 22 patients from the Hospital Hill building to the new facility. More than 1,300 people toured the facility during the open house in early May 1980.
The hospital was named Myrtle Werth Medical Center in honor of a registered nurse who dedicated her life to serving patients. Myrtle Werth joined the staff of City Hospital in 1932. When she retired in 1974, she was the assistant administrator of nursing. She served as a volunteer in her retirement, tending the information desk in the hospital lobby until shortly before her death on Feb. 28, 1999.
Stories about Werth are many. She greeted every new mother at the hospital. During storms, she brought her blanket to the hospital and slept on the floor in the dining room to be close to her charges. She received Menomonie’s Citizen of the Year Award in 1973, and the inscription on the plaque sums up her contribution to the region’s health care system: "No person has ever given more of herself so that others may be well and happy." In 1974, she received a citation from Gerald Ford, then president of the United States, for dedicated service to mankind.
Only a few months after Myrtle Werth Medical Center opened, on July 15, 1980, tornado-like conditions hit much of the region, leaving it immobilized for several days. The new facility proved to be up to the challenge, using an emergency generator to provide power for 29.5 hours. All hospital functions operated as normally as possible.
The clinic in Glenwood City joined the medical center in 1985 following years of dedicated service by brothers Al Limberg, M.D., and Phil Limberg, M.D. The clinic in Elmwood, along with Frank Springer, M.D., became part of the medical center in 1988 and closed in 2021.
The most definitive moments in recent health care history came in 1995 and 1996, though, when Red Cedar Clinic and then Myrtle Werth Medical Center affiliated with Mayo Clinic. Officially named Red Cedar Medical Center in 2006, the union with Mayo launched a new era in medical excellence, giving patients access to remodeled, state-of-the-art facilities and the resources necessary to maintain the vitality of the organization. In 2011, Red Cedar Medical Center and the other Mayo Health System locations became Mayo Clinic Health System to outwardly reflect the hard work and dedication to bring more of the resources of Mayo Clinic to the area.
Through decades of social and technological change, the greater Menomonie area has benefited from a tradition of caring that began in 1915 with a group of dedicated nurses and a 20-bed hospital. The medical staff and administration of Mayo Clinic Health System – Red Cedar welcome the responsibility of that legacy, and work to ensure the facility will continue to meet the needs of the region — today and in the years to come.
Historical information taken The Dunn County News archives