Nifong family played large role in hospital’s growth

In the ’20s and ’30s, Boone County Hospital cared formany county residents who could not pay. Nurses worked for a low wage plus food, lodging and laundry. An older white frame home was on the property when it was bought from the H.H. Tandy family for $10,000 for the purpose of building a hospital. The Tandy home became a home for nurses, and it was particularly convenient for unmarried nurses to live in this separate home, eat at the hospital and have their white uniforms and other garments laundered at the hospital’s own laundry, a separate building on the grounds.

My memory is that the nurses’ home facedS. William Street near where the present main entrance to the hospital is located. Boone was the first public hospital in the county, and its existence is partly related to the enthusiasm and generosity of two families: The Lenoirs and the Nifongs.

Dr. Frank Nifong married Lavinia Lenoir. The desire to live near Lavinia’s parents prompted the doctor to discontinue his St. Louis medical practice and move to Columbia. He soon developed a large practice for surgery and patient care. He was also the doctor for Stephens College’s student infirmary.

Frank Nifong worked tirelessly with the Missouri legislature to pass measures permitting counties to spend money for public hospitals. After many disappointments there was sufficient money to build. A large, enthusiastic crowd met as ground was broken for Boone County Hospital in the spring of 1920. "The History of Boone," prepared at the time of its 75th anniversary, relates that local residents sometimes lined the streets in their Model Ts and in horse drawn vehicles to stare at the miracle building which was to be their hospital. Seventeen months later, on Dec. 10, l921, Boone County hospital officially opened and soon began admitting patients. The registered nurses wore the traditional white uniforms with little white caps balanced or neatly pinned down on the backs of their heads. The caps’ stripes indicated the level of their nursing training.

Eleanor Keely, the first superintendent, served for more than 20 years. The board of directors was repaying the debt and was also able to build a new nurses’ home instead of trying to repair the Tandy house. Columbia’s and the hospital’s financial conditions were improved, but not for long. The Depression, plus a steady growing population of the sick and injured, caused the new superintendent, Bertha Hochuli, some sleepless nights.

Frank and Lavinia Nifong became impatient that public money was insufficient to make the changes that were so badly needed in the hospital. They offered to anonymously donate $100,000 for expansion - if the community matched that amount. With gifts large and small the community raised the money! Sadly, the doctor and his wife both passed away soon afterward. The expanded area was named "The Nifong Wing."

I write this last paragraph from memory: Lavinia’s family was very much involved in Christian College where I taught. When Christian was preparing a display of antiques for a Charter Day exhibit, three of us were asked to select interesting things from the Nifong home, catalog them carefully and to submit a list for insurance purposes. Someone else would remove them and return them. It was a unique and unusual experience because both Lavinia and Frank Nifong passed away without ever being back home. The Nifong home is a major attraction for viewing Sept. 21 and 22 during this year’s 25th annual Heritage Festival. A visit to this beautiful 19th century home can be the highlight of a very special festival. Mark the calendar now!

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