Aug 10 2016

Cucumbers, Lard and Live Chickens – Philanthropy in 1925

The scene was 1925. World War I had ended and the nation was recovering. Calvin Coolidge was the President. A first-class stamp cost 2 cents. Life expectancy was less than 60. The population of the nation was 115 million.
In downstate Illinois, the City of Bloomington and Town of Normal were stable and thriving. Health care was gaining importance with three hospitals: St. Joseph, Brokaw, and the newest one, Mennonite.

People were mainly hospitalized for surgical procedures. However, this was 10 years before the concept of health insurance had started and the ability to pay for unexpected care was limited for many patients. So the hospitals looked to the community for support.

Fast forward to 2016. In the process of moving the archives at what is now Advocate BroMenn Medical Center, the Mennonite Hospital business ledgers from 1924-1954 were found. And the stories they tell about the people in that era are lessons for us all. The community of Mennonites was there then, and continues, to address the needs of the “sick and suffering”.

Among all the ledger accounts of expenses such as heating bills and wages, there are pages and pages listing the donations that came in during 1925. Many were from individuals, and some were credited from the churches or the ladies aid societies of the churches.

Food appeared over and over on the list. It was what the people raised and could share. For example:
1 peck of cucumbers
5 dozen eggs
14 quarts of canned fruit
A gallon of lard
Pints of jelly
Bushels of apples, sweet corn
Cottage Cheese
2 live chickens
½ beef

They were also able to make fabric goods to use in the hospital. There were many entries, such as:
15 sheets
6 pillow cases
18 dresser scarves
7 bed-pan covers
And to keep everything clean, homemade soap

Occasionally cash was given to apply to an account for a patient.

Many donor names are still familiar in this community, such as Roth, Troyer, Ropp, Kaufman, Sommer, and Schertz. The churches are legend: East White Oak, Salem, Meadows, Anchor, Danvers and many more.

What a rich history of giving is told in this old ledger. How fortunate we are today that our predecessors cared enough to share their wealth in the best way they could. It is a lesson for us all.

By Sonja Reece, May 2016

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