“Sister Albertine, Can You Bring Me a Coke?”

Sisters of Mercy 1950

Sisters of Mercy 1950

The only hospital in El Dorado, Arkansas from 1921 until 1965 was Warner Brown Hospital. From my earliest remembrance Warner Brown Hospital played a large part in my life because of my family’s investment in it from its’ beginning. My granddad, Dr. J.A. Moore was one of the founding physicians. Granddad, Pop, Bubba and I were members of the medical staff and each of us served at some point as Chief of the Medical Staff. In 1965 a second hospital, Union Memorial Hospital was opened and both served the community of South Arkansas as full service hospitals.

Warner Brown was operated by the Sisters of Mercy from 1927 until the mid-1970’s when they returned the management of the hospital back to the community. I have nothing but wonderful memories of all the Sisters of Mercy. As a child I frequently accompanied Pop to the hospital when he would make evening rounds or attend to a patient in the emergency room. One of the prime reasons I enjoyed going with Pop was I would get to visit with one or two of the Sisters on duty that evening. I think the Sisters had a special place in their hearts for me, not only because of their love for Granddad and Pop, but because my mother had died of breast cancer when I was an infant.

There were several Sisters who were special favorites. I remember with fondness Mother Ursula, the hospital Director. She was an elderly but robust woman, and the first one I remember wearing the strange-looking dress (Nun’s habit). When she would see me she would say, “There’s my favorite little doctor,” and always give me a big hug and squeeze. It seemed as if I was being buried into her fresh smelling and always starched black dress, which crackled as I was being engulfed. In those days no one hugged me quite as well and as lovingly as Mother Ursula. A few years later Pop told me Mother Ursula was very sick as a patient in the hospital and was not expected to live much longer. He said she would love to have me visit her, so I was excited to go. It shocked me to see her in bed, and although she was well covered with the bed covers, I had never seen her without her habit and never seen her hair which was closely cropped. Despite her weakened state she was still able to lean over and give me another big hug.

My favorite Sister was Sister Albertine who was the supervisor of the operating room and recovery room. Whenever she heard I was in the hospital with Pop, she would make a special effort to find us and visit with me for a few minutes. She would say things like, “Be sure and call me if I can do anything for you.” I was certain she meant what she said because even at age four or five years I was able to call the hospital. This was a few years before dial telephone service was available and when one picked up a receiver a telephone operator would say, “Number please.” I would just say Warner Brown and the operator would connect me by plugging into the three digit switchboard number. The hospital operator was Mrs. May Wall, and I would tell her I wanted to talk with Sister Albertine. She easily recognized my voice and always connected me. Sister Albertine later told me I would usually say, “Sister Albertine I’m out here all by myself. Would you send me a Coke?” She knew I was not alone but my favorite drink was Coca-Cola. Often she would get the hospital orderly, Richard Holt to drive to our home with an ice-cold Coke. I don’t think I ever abused the privilege and probably only made the request a couple of times. More often when I called Sister Albertine she would ask what I was doing and when was I coming to the hospital to see her. I loved hearing her voice, and she always made me feel important. She never made me feel I was imposing on her time. Sister Albertine served at Warner Brown Hospital until the 1960’s and was transferred to St. Edwards Hospital in Fort Smith. I lost contact with her for many years.

In the Fall of 1989 our daughter Mary Kay, who  was a freshman at the University of Arkansas was horseback riding with a friend in a mountainous area south of Fayetteville. She was an excellent rider but had an uncooperative horse which she was unable to control. She was thrown from the horse and sustained serious pelvic injuries which required  hospitalization. Because of her proximity to Fort Smith she was admitted to St. Edwards Hospital in the middle of the night, and Cathy and I were called. We immediately dressed and began the six hour drive from El Dorado to Fort Smith arriving there about eight AM.  Thankfully we found Mary Kay well care-for and stabilized but requiring significant amounts of pain medication for the serious and painful injuries.

When we were certain Mary Kay was out of immediate danger I asked the nursing supervisor if Sister Albertine was still working there. She responded, “Yes, and she is on duty today.” I had her paged and when she answered I said, “Sister Albertine, this is John Henry and I am here in St. Edwards in Room 410 all by myself. Can you bring me a Coke?” She said, “I’ll be right there.” When she arrived, she had an icy Coke in her hand, and we embraced and praised the Lord we could meet again. Sister Albertine was seventy-nine years old but was still energetic and with the same sweet personality which had made me feel so special years before. We got caught up on the years which had separated us, while Cathy and Mary Kay also got to know this special Sister they had heard me talk about so often.

Sister Albertine lived to be ninety years old and was buried near her birth place in central Arkansas. I’m certain God gave her long life in order to minister to the needs of others, and especially to the least of these, like little three year old boys who are lonely and could use a kind word and an ice-cold Coke.

Dr. John

The Good Samaritan Mission

Good Samaritan Mission 2

Uncle Paul West seemed to know everyone in El Dorado, and many of his special friends he introduced to me. He and Uncle Ed were brothers of my Mom and both were special favorite uncles. When Pop and Mom married in 1944 her brothers were serving on active duty in the US Army, and when they returned home in their uniforms as Private First Class at the end of World War II, they were heroes to me. As an impressionable six year old anyone in uniform automatically became a revered hero. Just to have the chance to talk with them would have been enough, but they loved telling about their experiences while serving overseas and fighting the Germans. Uncle Ed fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and when he would tell stories of bullets flying, grenades exploding and mortar shells coming in, I sat with rapt attention.

When they returned home both men had families to support, and there was not an abundance of job opportunities in El Dorado. Mom and her wealthy sister from St. Louis, Aunt Tooky (Thelma Manne), purchased a small grocery store on Jackson Street for their  brothers to have steady jobs. Both men were personable and able salesmen, and the Quality Grocery was moderately successful with their work in the meat and produce sections.

Uncle Paul was by far the best in the family at sales, and the other jobs and positions he held in later years were enhanced by his ability to meet people and establish close relationships. He seemed to know people from all walks of life and could usually tell a funny story or tale about everyone he knew. I was always fascinated to hear his stories but was never quite sure they were all true.

After I entered my surgical practice in El Dorado Uncle Paul was a very good referral source for me. I have been present when he would tell someone with whom he was having a conversation, “When you get ready to have surgery, you need to let John Henry operate on you. I taught him how to cut meat down at the Quality Grocery!” Depending on who heard the story I would usually smile and say something like, “Uncle Paul is a great surgical teacher, and he never had a patient complaint.”

One evening when I arrived home for supper after a particularly hard day the phone rang and it was Uncle Paul. I was pretty sure he had another referral when he said, “I have this good friend named Brother W.O. Miller who is a retired Baptist minister, and he needs some help. He is bleeding and had to go to the emergency room. Can you go out there and take care of him?” My initial impression was to let the ER doctor take care of him, but I would have disappointed Uncle Paul and made him look bad when he told Brother Miller he would call me to help him. I’m glad I did without supper this particular night and went to the ER to offer my services. Brother Miller needed an operation which I was able to do for him, and he recovered from a serious malignant condition.

Brother Miller and I became good friends and spent lots of time talking about the Lord Jesus, and how He had changed both of our lives. He had such a passion for serving people, and he demonstrated it daily through his fifty plus years in the ministry. His pastorates had been mostly small congregations who struggled financially. Consequently Brother Miller and his wife had lived on a meager income and had no significant retirement funds apart from Social Security.

About a year following his recovery from the operation Brother Miller called and said he had a group of like-minded men who were meeting to discuss the formation and opening of a mission church. The church would be in a very economically depressed area of El Dorado and would minister to the poor and needy. He wanted me to meet with them. The meeting culminated in the establishment of The Good Samaritan Mission which opened its’ doors within three months of the initial meeting.

Brother Miller was the Pastor, and Uncle Paul was the Administrator. My brother Berry Lee (Bubba) was on the original administrative board along with three other committed Christian men and me. Brother Miller had our motto printed on one of the signs for the Mission, “Wanted, the Unwanted.”

The photograph above was taken on the official opening Sunday morning in 1975. Brother Miller is seated on the front row and to his right is his wife with a small child between them. On the end of the front row to Brother Miller’s left is our son John Aaron and to his right is Mom in her elegant fur coat which seemed a little out of place at the Mission. To her right is Aunt Helen, Uncle Paul’s wife. I am on the back row directly behind Brother Miller. Bubba is to my right and he was one of the speakers that morning. Uncle Paul is to Bubba’s right. Bubba’s wife, LaNell is seated in front of Uncle Paul.

The Mission served God’s purposes in this area of town for a number of years. Most of the people in the photograph apart from Bubba, Mom, John Aaron and me were regular attenders of services at the Mission. We were active in our own church and couldn’t attend most Sundays. On this particular Sunday my wife Cathy and our daughters Mark Kay and Ginny were not present because of prior commitments at our church.

Brother Miller invited Bubba and me to preach as often as we were available, and those were some of my earliest experiences at preaching. In looking at my preaching notes from those days my preaching was pitiful but never lacked for personal enthusiasm. I would study for hours and based on my notes, the messages were deep on historical information and very shallow on practical spiritual information which would have ministered better to the listeners at the Mission. Everyone present endured my messages patiently and many even complimented me on a “fine job.” I now understand the effectiveness of sound Biblical preaching is not related to how well the preacher does, but how effective the Word of God penetrates the hearts of the preacher and the hearers.

Brother W.O. Miller completed his earthly service for the Lord at The Good Samaritan Mission, and his work there might have been his greatest. I do know he was faithful to the finish, and I am so thankful my Uncle Paul knew such a spiritual giant who served as an ordinary preacher. I’m equally glad Uncle Paul introduced me to him, because I am a much better man for knowing both of them.

Dr. John

“George, You Don’t Talk Much, Do You?”

Cathy and Her Dad

I have already written about the wonderful legacy Cathy’s dad, George Young left for his family and friends and some of the wonderful character traits which marked his personal life. He was a master builder who owned the oldest building contractor business in Fort Lauderdale. He purposefully kept the business small so he could assure every customer the work done on their particular project would have his personal attention and would be of the highest quality. His reputation as a quality builder was widely known in Broward County and south Florida.

Dad Young was a quiet and thoughtful man who did not easily share his personal thoughts with any but his closest family members and not all of them. According to his son, Dr. George W. Young, Dad had a stuttering problem as a child and was able to overcome that problem with time and personal discipline. I don’t believe his parents retained any professional help for Dad, and I’m confident this struggle affected him greatly. Cathy has told me on many occasions the empathy her Dad had for anyone with a speech impediment.

Another characteristic of Dad Young was he didn’t like to travel outside of Broward County. On one occasion when Cathy and I were visiting her brother George obtained tickets to a Miami Dolphins football game and Dad agreed to go with us. I was excited not only to see a Dolphins game but have a chance to spend time with both men whom I admired greatly. Early in my marriage to Cathy I bonded with Cathy’s brother George, and he helped me understand many of the family dynamics. He drove me all around Fort Lauderdale pointing out landmarks and especially homes and businesses that Young Construction Company had built.

The football game in Miami was exciting, although I don’t remember the opposing team nor the outcome. As we were driving  home following the game I asked Dad how long it had been since he had made the forty mile trip to Miami. He responded, “About forty years.” I said, “I know the roads are much better now and it is easier to get there. When do you think you’ll go back?” In his usual quiet manner and with a little chuckle he said, “In another forty years.”

He told me the following story concerning his travels (or lack thereof), and this is one my favorites. It probably occurred ten to fifteen years prior to entrance into family which was in 1965. He had a trip scheduled with another man to go to Atlanta for either business purposes or for a training seminar. Dad was not one to make leisure trips, and I don’t recall him ever travelling with anyone except Mom. The interstate system in Florida then was not as well-developed, and an automobile trip to Atlanta might take as long as twelve hours depending on traffic and the numbers of stops one made. According to Dad when they were about fifty miles outside Atlanta, the driver looked over at Dad and said, “You don’t talk much, do you George?”  This was when they realized not one word had been exchanged between the two of them since they left Fort Lauderdale eight or nine hours earlier. They each had a good laugh knowing how quiet they were 

 Dad was very content within himself to be quiet, since most of his life he was with people who had a need to talk. It was such an obvious quality known by everyone who knew him, and when Dad did speak everyone stopped to listen, because it would always be relevant.

He never raised his voice toward me in correction or rebuke, but if it had happened I would have been shocked. The only time he verbally showed some displeasure toward me was in his misunderstanding of something I had said. Cathy and I had just arrived on a visit from Valdosta, Georgia where I was stationed in the Air Force. Mom had just been elected Mayor of Fort Lauderdale, and we were very excited to hear all about the election and her new role. As Dad was helping me unpack our car and we were alone in the garage I innocently  asked, “How does it feel to be married to the Mayor of Fort Lauderdale?” He stopped what he was doing, looked me in the eye and said, “What do you mean by that?” He must have thought in some way I was demeaning him and he felt judged. I quickly said, “Oh, I didn’t mean anything except a compliment to her and to you. Cathy and I are very proud of her accomplishments!” He picked the bag back up and made no other remark. I assumed my explanation cleared the air and nothing else needed to be said. Thank goodness it didn’t take eight or nine hours for us to re-engage in conversation.

Dr. John

Bon Appetit

beautiful-meal

A well-known citizen in El Dorado for the decades of the 40’s through the 70’s was Irving Leon Pesses. He was better known by his nickname, Izzy Pesses and was a prominent businessman who owned and operated Pesses and Marks Pipes and Supply Company. Originally Izzy was from New Orleans and had graduated from Tulane University as a civil engineer. He and his family were members of the small Jewish community in El Dorado and worshipped at the Temple Beth Israel.

Izzy was a tireless businessman and civic leader, and I was told he seldom travelled outside of Union County for either business or pleasure. He served the town as Mayor from 1967 through 1976 working very hard to improve the streets and infrastructure of a town which had declined in wealth and population since the oil boom days of the 1920’s. One of his famous campaign slogans was “Izzy’s Been Busy,” and he truly lived out that slogan.

I was told he had made a promise to his wife upon his retirement he would take her on a long vacation to Europe. As he neared the time he decided to retire she reminded him of his promise made years before. He told her to schedule the trip, but reminded her he was not flying because of his distrust of airplanes. She scheduled an ocean voyage to Europe which left out of New York City. They travelled to New York by rail and boarded the giant ocean liner for the five day trip across the Atlantic.

They obviously had no experience with ocean travel, but quickly discovered they were assigned regular seating for every meal in the dining room with the same travelers. They did not meet their table companions until the first meal of the first day which was in the evening. One of the four other guests at their table was a gentleman from France who was returning home after visiting relatives in the USA. He could not speak English and neither Izzy nor his wife could speak French. As they were seated the first evening there was some initial discomfort with the strangers at their table. The gentleman from France seated directly across from Izzy spoke first and said, “Bon Appetit,” to which Izzy held out his hand to shake and said, “Pleased to meet you. I’m Izzy Pesses.” Izzy’s conversation for the remainder of the meal was with his wife and the others at the table since he couldn’t understand a word the Frenchman said.

The following morning they gathered at the table for breakfast and immediately upon sitting, the Frenchman said, “Bon Appetit.” Izzy was a bit taken back, but held out his hand again to shake and said, ” I’m Izzy Pesses.” No other words or gestures were made between the two. The lunch meal seemed to come too quickly following breakfast, but again shortly after sitting the Frenchman said, “Bon Appetit.” Izzy responded again with a handshake and his name, Izzy Pesses but summoned the table steward and whispered, “Is that man sitting across from me crazy? He has introduced himself to me three times, and each time I told him my name. This could go on for the whole trip.” The steward asked,” What was it he said?”  “He said his name was Bone Appetit.” The steward said, “That’s not his name. He was just saying, have a good meal in French.” Izzy said, ” Well, that makes a lot more sense. Thanks.”

In the evening as the guests were again being seated, it was Izzy who looked across the table and politely said to the Frenchman, “Bon Appetit,” to which the Frenchman reached across the table to shake hands and proudly said, “I’m Izzy Pesses!” They both laughed without either one knowing what the other had said. The correct meanings of the spoken words escaped both men, but the cordial spirit of each one bridged all the language and cultural barriers. They had a pleasant crossing, enjoying the voyage and probably continued greeting and introducing themselves at each meal!

Dr. John