There is an iconic image, central to the development of Teton Valley, that surfaces from time to time in historical reviews. A crowd of well-dressed citizens stands in front of a building faced with stone cut in the rock mills that once operated in the Victor area. Everyone is smiling—for good reason. The year is 1939. For the first time ever, there is a hospital in town.
The young man in the foreground wearing a light colored suit has particular reason to smile. Not many years earlier, he suffered a near fatal bout with pneumonia—a struggle made worse by the fact his treatment occurred far from home. He seemed to do better when the pretty young girl he’d had his eye on for some time was there by his side—not always easy, given the logistics of travel from “the basin” to the lower valley in that era. The young’s man is Merle Kunz. His helpmate during that period, whom he would soon marry, is Maureen Tonks. In time the pair would become my mother- and father-in-law. The smile visible in that picture is a manifestation of the assurance felt by all who gathered that day. Life will be better. There is a hospital in town.
Jump ahead a couple decades. The year is 1959. Another young man has just returned to his birthplace. Donald Coburn fulfills a lifelong dream. He has just purchased the valley’s only pharmacy from J.H. Harper—a business that owes its viability to one simple fact: There is a hospital in town.
Now jump ahead a few more years. My parents closed up shop and made a quick trip “out below” to complete some necessary business, leaving a younger brother in my care. My brother fell off our trampoline and fractured both forearms. We walked a half block and found Doctor LaGrande Larsen just closing up shop. He assessed the situation, then applied two plaster casts. We were both back home when the folks returned. All because there was a hospital in town.
Not long after that, a friend who was aware of my interest in everything that creeped, crawled, or flew entrusted me with a broken-winged owl found while disking a pasture. There wasn’t a veterinarian in town during that era. The solution was obvious: There was a new physician in town, Dr. Kitchener Head. I showed up in the hospital waiting room with a very disgruntled owl under my arm. Dr. Head treated his feathered patient’s wounds. The owl lived for some time. All because there was a hospital in town.
A couple decades later I became the hospital’s first fulltime pharmacist. A red-letter week occurred soon after when my two oldest daughters gave birth to two daughters over a three day interval. There was a moment during that joyful, hectic period of family expansion when I was given charge of a young grandson. I took him to my workspace and began explaining my duties—reviewing orders, repackaging medications, etc., only to be cut short by a 3-year-old’s succinct observation: “I get it. You’re a slave.” A precious memory that hinged on the fact that there was a hospital in town.
In time another young man, fresh from medical school arrived in town: Dr. Chad Horrocks. One of my daughters became his nurse. One of his patients was troubled by symptoms that might possibly be mitigated by the in-home use of an expensive medical unit. Unfortunately, the patient’s family lacked the means to purchase the needed equipment. Dr. Horrocks was convinced a solution could be found. He asked my daughter Amanda to do some discreet checking around the community. In short order the needed funds were raised. All because there was a hospital in town.
Beginning over 76 years ago, each generation has ensured that the next generation would have the security and privilege of having a hospital nearby, staffed with people who can deliver the best care possible every day, every night, year after year. National Health Care Week is May 8 – 14. We thank our community for making it this week-long recognition relevant to Teton Valley. Because we have a hospital in town.