MOULTRIE -- Thursday's celebration of the life and times of the Vereen Memorial Hospital drew a sizable crowd. It was an occasion to remark and remember the former hospital and governmental building scheduled for demolition.
Dismantling of the building begins this weekend, CRMC Director Jim Lowry said. Some of the salvageable features of the building likely will be spared and sold by the demolition company, but that's just bricks and mortar. The true treasures to be taken from the old hospital are the memories of the people who breathed life into those walls.
One by one offering flowers, people came to the steps of Vereen Memorial Hospital one more time to pay their respects.
"The Vereen Hospital has seen and heard many tears of joy and anguish and tears of sorrow. A pathos in drama was a daily occurrence. Many people left, however, with bodies that were healed or healing. Many left with bundles of joy, and I can say that Phyllis and I had that experience with our sweet Beth," said Dr. Walter Harrison, who added his mother died in the old hospital.
"Many dedicated persons in the healing business also left their tears, drops of perspiration, anguish on their souls, as they went to their homes many times drained of emotions and energy," he said.
In 1939, businessman W.C. Vereen donated $50,000 to build a modern hospital for the growing population. Vereen succeeded in getting a match in funds from the community to complete the project, said his great-granddaughter Barbara Vereen.
There were many remembrances Thursday of births, deaths, close calls and the way things were.
Betty Manning Ott, daughter of Nora Manning, one of the hospital's earlier administrative directors, offered insight into the old days.
"Mama ran Dr. Daniel's little hospital in an old building on West Central Avenue, and we lived in that building. I used to go into the operating room in the afternoons when I got home from school and I didn't have anything else to do and watch them do operations. I'd sit on a stool by the anesthesiologist -- did a lot of appendectomies and always thought I could do a passable appendectomy if I had to," Ott said.
Two years after Vereen Hospital opened, the board approached Manning to run the hospital after sliding into financial decline, she said. Manning agreed to work there for $400 a month.
"She did that for 28 years," she said, "and they paid her $400 a month for 28 years. Since she had no formal training of any kind. This was just something she had a knack for, she was afraid to go to the board and say anything, afraid that they would pull it out that she really wasn't qualified, and they'd fire her."
After Manning retired at age 70, the hospital had no retirement plan, so the board agreed to continue to pay her $400 a month the rest of her life.
"They didn't realize she was going to live 30 more years," Ott said.
Ott also remembered how resourceful her mother could be. When theater owner Charlie Powell began showing movies on Sunday to give servicemen a respite from the South Georgia heat, his name around this God-fearing town became mud. Powell became a pariah, of sorts, she said.
Manning approached Powell with a solution to bring him back into the fold: He should donate money to the hospital, specifically buying an incubator so desperately needed. Manning would make sure, Ott said her mother told Powell, that The Moultrie Observer would make a big splash about it on the front page. Powell bit, and the story had a happy ending, she said.
The Vereen hospital started out as a 45-bed hospital. Manning found grant money to expand to 150 beds. Vereen's nursing school program, an extension of Norman Junior College, was made possible by the R.B. Wright family, she added.
Businessman Hinton Reeves also had an anecdote about Nora Manning.
After World War II, the hospital was in dire need of more doctors, he said. Manning threw a shrimp dinner for a prospect and his wife. She asked her maid to boil the shrimp, let them cool before putting them in the refrigerator. She did, but soon after the maid was running to Manning to inform her that the family cat had helped himself to the doctor's supper. The cat had pulled the shrimp onto the floor. Manning had her maid wash the shrimp and promptly stow them in the fridge.
That night, they dined on the shrimp, but after guests left, Manning discovered her cat dead outside her house. She frantically dialed the prospect's hotel and advised them to get their stomachs pumped, which they did. The next morning, Reeves said, Manning's neighbor walked up and apologized for running over her cat.
Doris Spry, a nurse at Vereen beginning in 1971, said, "I always remember Dr. Harrison going into the delivery room. He would always say, 'Spry, cut it on the knot.' If you didn't get it on the knot, he'd hit your hand with forceps or whatever he had, but I was so scared I was going to cut the patient. And Dr. Court, he'd spank you in the butt with a chart. I'll never forget that."
"My nursing career began here, and I thank God for all of it and all the associations with all these wonderful people, and I dedicate my rose to them," said Lola Jean Willis.
"This building will probably be missed more by me than anyone in the audience," said Patricia Shepard, who lives in a grand brick house across the street, "because every morning I get up and this is what I see, this majestic beautiful building, and it will be greatly missed."
Shepard told the audience her mother and grandparents died in the old hospital.
Former nurse Edith King threw a spotlight on volunteers.
"I stayed with Mrs. Nora Manning for nine and a half years. So, I've heard a lot about every one of you -- not what you've told here tonight," said King. "I'm dedicating this rose to Mrs. Nora Manning and the other nurses that I knew, and I'm also dedicating this rose to all the volunteers at Colquitt Regional Medical Center and those who were here at Vereen Memorial. They were all under Mrs. Manning, and she loved the volunteers. God bless you all."