CAMBRIDGE — Mary McClellan Hospital may be gone, but it’s not forgotten. Close to 100 people with ties to the Cambridge institution gathered Saturday to catch up with old friends, reminisce and share a potluck lunch.
The hospital opened in 1919 as a gift to the community from native John McClellan, who made his fortune in proprietary medicines. For decades, the hospital was the medical home for southern Washington and northern Rensselaer counties. Deteriorating finances closed it in 2003.
“I started working in the kitchen as a junior in high school,” said Gina Wold Lathrop. “I applied for the doctors’ scholarship to go to the Mary McClellan nursing school.” She graduated in 1972 as an LPN and started in the men’s ward. “They moved me all over the place,” she said, but eventually she became the office nurse of Dr. Arnold Wise, an orthopedist. She left in in 1986 to work on her husband’s farm in Shushan.
Her friend Sharon Beaty, another graduate of the nursing school, was an obstetrical nurse. “You made lifelong friends there,” she said.
“It was a community. The doctors we worked for were like our brothers,” Lathrop said. She believes she got the scholarship in part because “all the doctors knew me” from her work in the hospital cafeteria. “I was the girl with the Jell-O,” she said.
“I saw so many things improve in the community as a result of the hospital,” Beaty said. “It was so sad when it closed.”
Cambridge native Laura Porter was supervisor of the hospital’s data processing for 11 ½ years, starting around 1979. “When Asgrow closed, a lot of us went to the hospital,” she said, referring to the company that took over the former Jerome B. Rice Seed Co. “Everybody knew everybody,” Porter said. “It had a family-feeling atmosphere. If you were a patient, you weren’t there all by yourself.”
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“We had a lot of fun,” said Sue McDonough, who was the business office from 1993 to 2001. “You knew everybody. We ate lunch with the doctors, like eating in the school cafeteria.” She now does billing for Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington. “A lot (of staff) went to Seaton Hospital (in Troy), and others to SVMC,” she said.
“It had a nice small-town atmosphere,” said Cathy Shaw Hebert, who worked in obstetrics for many years. Staff “knew the doctors and knew the patients,” she said. “Everybody cared about everybody else. It was a safe place.”
Judy Welling’s late husband, Dr. Searle Welling, came to the area to retire but joined the hospital to help reorganize its obstetrical floor. She was a nurse in the recovery room.
“I loved the small town feel,” Welling said. Her husband “loved it up here — he really did.”
Perry and Betty Young hosted the reunion in the barn behind their house on the Crossroads, just south of the village. This was the third reunion, Betty Young said. The first, in 2017, was an impromptu fundraiser for someone with cancer. Doris Warrick, who knew Young from the hospital’s financial department, encouraged her to organize the second last year. There are no definite plans for a fourth reunion, Young said.
After the hospital closed, the property went through a number of hands. It was donated to North Eastern Expansion Development Corp., a social services nonprofit, in 2017. Cambridge Village Mayor Carman Bogle said she visited the 124-acre property with the organization’s CEO in May.
“They have some ideas of what they’d like to do with it,” Bogle said. “They’re working on the environmental pieces first. They know it’s going to take a good sum of money.” The bulk of the property, which lies in the village, is on the village tax rolls, she said.