Weston County Memorial Hospital - part IV Mondell Heights

By: 
Bri Brasher with Leonard Cash

By Bri Brasher 

with Leonard Cash

NLJ Reporter 

 

The story of the property first owned by the Kilpatrick family and then by Frank Mondell wraps up this week with the end of Weston County Memorial Hospital’s timeline and the start of the Mondell Heights retirement community, the property’s current inhabitants. 

Last week’s issue of the History on Main series with Leonard Cash explained the transition in leadership from the Daughters of the Divine Redeemer to a county hospital under the direction of Roger VanderBloom. The next event on the timeline, as reported in the news, came on Oct. 1, 1959, when the hospital installed a new X-ray machine to replace the facility’s oldest and nearly obsolete machine.

Next, VanderBloom retired from the hospital in August of 1963, and Thomas Humphrey was hired to take his place as hospital administrator soon after. On Sept. 26, 1963, the hospital hosted an open house, providing tours of the hospital to the community and an opportunity for Humphrey to get acquainted with the people of Weston County. Like VanderBloom, Humphrey did not stay in the position long, as yet another change in leadership occurred in January of 1965. Mrs. Edna Silbaugh was selected to be acting administrator until a new candidate could be found and hired. 

Additional upgrades came to the hospital in the fall of 1966 when the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post purchased $800 worth of equipment for the hospital’s nursery. Then, in September of 1967, the News Letter Journal ran an article titled “Hospital Gets Accreditation.” Cash explained that the hospital had to meet certain standards in order to qualify. The paper reported that “B.W. Vandine, president of the Weston County Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees, today announced that the local hospital had received its second three-year accreditation by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals.” The commission was responsible for the development and application of quality of standards for hospitals. 

The hospital then remodeled the laundry space in the basement of the facility, as reported in the News Letter Journal on Aug. 15, 1968. The dumbwaiters, used to transport soiled and clean linens between the main floor and the basement, were also updated, and a generator was put in so that the hospital could have emergency power. Fire detection with automatic fire and smoke alarms were installed throughout the building, along with smoke barrier doors with automatic door closure. A fire retardant ceiling was also added in the corridor on the main floor. The projects took about six months to complete.  

Not long after, Gene Bergstedd was hired as the hospital’s office manager, and William Lockerby was hired as an x-ray technician, according to a May 1, 1969, issue of the News Letter Journal. 

Skipping to 1975, the hospital received a large bequest. The News Letter Journal reported on the bequest: “The Weston County Memorial Hospital has been bequeathed some $43,000 in cash and stocks by the late Elizabeth M. Wells.” The money was reported to be used for a major improvement to the hospital, and the hospital board was said to be meeting soon to make recommendations. 

“Doctor Wells! He was an old-time doctor from Cambria. He even took care of me! We lived two doors down from him,” Cash recalled, adding that Dr. Wells was retired by the time the hospital opened.

The hospital received another bequest via the estate of Earl C. Bedell, a longtime Weston County rancher, in January of 1978, according to the News Letter Journal. The article stated that “Peter Field, president of the Hospital Board of Trustees announced that the money received has been deposited in a special fund which will be used to replace the cardiac monitor equipment when the fund becomes large enough to do so.”

Cash then discussed information on the county’s purchase of the Manor, referencing an article previously included in the series. The article was published in the News Letter Journal on Jan. 15, 1981: “In September, 1975, through the auspices of a Joint Powers Board and funded by a 1% sales tax, the county bought Weston Manor, a convalescent and nursing home. This 41-bed facility originally built by the Weston County Development Corporation in 1970, was privately managed for five years. It is currently operated as a satellite of the Weston County Memorial Hospital.”According to Cash, the Manor was going bankrupt under private ownership before the county bought it and took it over. 

Regarding the hospital on the hill, the next main event came in April of 1982 when Stan Fosnes, administrator of the hospital at the time, announced his resignation. Fosnes had been administrator for the past 17 years. In July 1982, the hospital was searching for a new administrator. According to the News Letter Journal, Darla Farella, chairman of the search committee, said, “The process of finding a certain special person to assume key responsibility as administrator of the hospital is a tremendous challenge. We are experiencing major changes in medical and hospital services in Weston County for the first time in thirty years. We face serious problems, but the opportunities are very great indeed.”

The same issue of the newspaper also mentioned that two physicians visited Newcastle for potential employment opportunities in Weston County—a Dr. Donald Rappe and Dr. Kurt Dallow, neither of whom Cash remembers. The article also notes the proposal of a new hospital on the six acres adjacent to the Weston County Manor. Recommendations for the new hospital came after careful consideration of the state of the current hospital and renovation needed to expand the facility. The News Letter Journal wrote that the board accepted the recommendation for a new hospital, and the search for an architectural firm began. 

Cash explained that after the announcement, the new hospital went into the planning process, but not much was reported in the news. Cash said he combed through the history several times in compiling his records. The next report on the new hospital came on Aug. 29, 1985, when the paper reported that work continued on the new facility with over 50 workers on the site. Meanwhile, plans were also being made for the next phase of the hospital on the hill. 

Then on March 5, 1987, a photo in the News Letter Journal carried the following cutline: “The Wyoming Odd Fellows and Rebekahs building board received a deed last week to the old hospital facilities. The board paid $2,500 for the facilities and site, which will be used for retirement apartments and housing units.” Cash said board members for both organizations spanned the state. 

“It really must have been a statewide effort between the two groups to renovate the old hospital into Mondell Heights.”

Revenue bonds became available for sale to the public for $425,000 renovation project of the former Weston County Hospital facility in Newcastle as reported on May 14, 1987. The facility was to be turned into an 18-unit residential care facility for the elderly, and it was to be known as Mondell Heights, operated by the Odd Fellow/Rebekah Retirement Association led by president James Chittim. 

The article says that Chittim explained that all 18 units were reserved with a waiting list of interested senior citizens, and monthly rates were anticipated to be between $600 and $900, depending on the unit selected. Chittim said, “Our facility will provide both board and care in a licensed group living arrangement. This will involve 24 hour security and supervision, meal service, activities, housekeeping, laundry and a level of personal care depending upon the needs of each resident.”

“I think most people were excited about Mondell Heights because the building was just sitting empty for a short time after the new hospital opened,” explained Cash. “There were private homes that offered similar care but nothing the size of Mondell Heights.” 

A follow-up article in the News Letter Journal on July 23, 1987, was titled “Mondell Heights Needs Bond Buyers.” The Odd Fellows and the Rebekah Retirement Home Association put out an urgent call to the community to sell $425,000 in first mortgage revenue bonds. Chittim said that recent drives raised about half of the money needed. The bonds were to be used to remodel and furnish the old hospital. 

The News Letter Journal then published a story on Sept. 3, 1987, reporting that “Mondell Heights, a resident care facility, will become a reality as a result of action taken last week by the Wyoming Economic Development and Stabilization Board. The board approved a $50,000 grant that brought the total amount of money available to $425,000. Prior to the grant application, the Odd Fellows and Rebekah Retirement Home Association was able to only sell about $325,000 in bonds. The $50,000 grant has been matched by additional bond buyers.” Brent Sundstrom of Newcastle was hired as the general contractor for the remodeling project.

Next, on Nov. 12, 1987, the Weston County commissioners adopted a fair housing resolution and other policies to accommodate the community in order for Mondell Heights to receive a $50,000 Economic Development Grant. With funding secured, Mondell Heights began accepting applications for suites or apartments in the complex, as reported in the News Letter Journal in December of 1987. Rates were reiterated at $600-$900 per single person or $200-$250 for two in a double room. The facility was projected to open about March 1. 

Jody Gaines, long-time Sundance area resident, was appointed administrator of Mondell Heights in the spring of 1988, and an open house was held for all interested in seeing the facility on May 23. The grand opening was announced on June 9, 1988, in the News Letter Journal. The opening was held Sunday, June 12, with a dedication and open house. All were invited to attend and help celebrate. 

“Usually they have pictures and accounts of who was there, and I couldn’t find any of that,” said a disappointed Cash. 

The Odd Fellows and Rebekah Retirement Home Association ran the facility until Doug and Diane Hudson bought Mondell Heights in 2010, according to Cash. The Hudsons ran Mondell Heights as a nursing home, which Cash explained was a similar setup with more staff needed, but they changed the care back to subsistence living in 2012. The Mondell Heights Retirement Community is still successful today and still owned by the Hudson family. 

Category:

News Letter Journal

News Letter Journal
14 W. Main St.
P.O. Box 40
Newscastle, WY 82701
Ph: (307) 746-2777
Fax: (307) 746-2660

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