Mayor Freeman Decker presents keys for the new ambulance to Mother Imelda Koch for use at Providence Medical Center

Providence has a rich history with roots deep in our community

As Providence Medical Center pushes forward in its impressive construction and renovation project, we will publish a series of five articles centered around various aspects of PMC. This week focuses on the hospital's history and background and next week will highlight developing the healthcare system.


Prior to 1960, the need for a new hospital was evident in Wayne. From a lack of space to being unable to fireproof the building, the facility that had been serving Wayne since 1942 had served its purpose.

The old 26-bed facility had become obsolete as medical advances and standards increased. The population, which in 1940 was 2,719 according to census data, had grown to 5,380 by 1970, yet the medical facility was still serving the city and surrounding area.

Dr. Walter Benthack had constructed the hospital in 1942 and it later became the Wayne Municipal Hospital in 1959.

Continued medical care was an issue, so the Wayne Hospital Foundation was formed in 1961 to help combat that. By the early 1970s it was obvious a new medical center was necessary.

Efforts began to come up with funds to make this new facility a reality.

One idea, a hospital district with taxing authority, was abandoned after the public raised objections during a hearing in early 1971.

But 1971 became the year for real progress as the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Norfolk agreed to provide half of the total cost of a $1 million hospital. The only catch was that the Wayne area would be responsible for raising the remaining funds and allow the sisters to operate the facility.

The chairman of the Wayne Hospital Foundation board at that time was Robert Carhart. Carhart, together with Mother Anella Salber, O.S.B., prioress of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Norfolk, announced plans for the facility.

Raising the initial $500,000 was done within a few months, however, interviews with communities suggested that additional funds would be necessary for construction.

Eventually, over $880,000 was raised through subscription-type pledges from area business and individuals. An additional $383,300 was obtained in federal Hill-Burton funds.

Carhart named Adon Jeffrey, then president of the First National Bank, to general chairman of the Medical Center Building Program. Harold E. Hein was named co-chairman with Carhart on the pattern gifts committee just a  week later.

Jeffrey and Hein announced subscription gifts totaling $75,000 from the two Wayne banks, giving the fundraising a sizable boost.

In mid-November of '71, Dr. Walter Benthack was named chairman for solicitation of the Wayne Hospital's medical staff  while Louise Jenness was named chairman for  hospital employee solicitation.

Others involved with fundraising included Wayne realtor Walter Moller as chairman for the special gifts division of the subscription campaign and Cal Ward, district extension director and superintendent of the University of Nebraska Northeast Station, became the chairman of the service area division of the fund drive.

Donations came in from the Wayne Federal Savings and Loan Association, WSC's Bowen Hall and the young women of Neiardt Hall at WSC.

Thanks to employees of the Wayne Hospital, the halfway point of fundraising had been met in mid-December when they subscribed $9,032 to the drive.

Contributions were made by the Wayne Firemen, the American Association of University Women, Acme Club and even the current mayor Kent Hall.

Roy Christensen, general manager of Carhart Lumber Co. and Edward Owe, president of Paxton and Vierling Steel Co. of Sioux City both donated $5,000. The Royal Neighbors Lodge, Wayne Jaycees, Wayne PEO chapter and the Wayne Lions Club all made donations and pledges.

And it didn't stop there.

The theater department at Wayne State pledged money from a benefit performance. William Norvell, chairman of the city of Laurel announced pledges in March of 1972. Wayne's Royal Neighbors of America, a former Kiwanian Dr. Alward E. Brown willed money to the fund and the Wayne Kiwanis matched the gift. Mrs. Virigina Chapin McCain donated $20,000 while Dart Industries Inc. of Florida donated $25,000 to the fund via former Wayne resident Hamer Frank Wilson III.
 While the big donations stamped out progress in the drive, it was the hundreds of smaller donations that brought about the astonishing total of $866,602.

And the location? Well, Wayne State College gave eight acres to the hospital to build on. The neighbor only had one condition: the facility would be made available to students attending Wayne State.

The facility was to be built on the north-east side of Wayne State's campus without using a penny of City of Wayne or Wayne County monies, which was eventually done successfully.

By the fall of 1972, the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Norfolk finished final revisions of the floor plan and the Foundation had ordered outside signage for the building.

On May 14, 1973, Mother Imelda Koch of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Norfolk and Dr. Lyle Seymour, president of Wayne State helped to turn over the first shovelfuls of dirt for what was to be called Providence Medical Center.

Work progressed on the medical facility for the next two years and in August of 1975, hospital administrator Charles Thomas announced plans for an open house and dedication of the facility on Aug. 24.

A crowd of 2,500 attended the dedication where Archbishop Daniel Sheehan of the Archdiocese of Omaha spoke. The president of the Wayne Ministerial Association, Rev. Robert Haas, gave the invocation. Other speakers included Wayne Mayor Freeman Decker, WSC President Dr. Lyle Seymour,  chief of staff for the facility Dr. Robert Benthack and representing the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Norfolk, Mother Imelda Koch.

Caring for twice as many patients, the new hospital was a staggering 42,025 square foot facility, nearly four times larger than the old hospital.

Specific service units within the center included nursing, two surgery suites, intensive care, obstetrics and nursery, pediatrics, inhalation therapy, physical therapy, emergency suite, radiology, laboratory, dietary, dietary department, family-clergy room, chapel, a doctor's library, nurses lounge, employees area, Hospital Auxiliary room and gift shop, central sterile supply and central stores.

This is in addition to outpatient waiting area, lobby, quarters for the Sisters and Chaplain and off-street parking.

Upon its completion, the new facility had beds for 30 patients but had the ability to expand to 50 beds.

The Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Norfolk were responsible for operation and administration and an advisory board of individuals in the area gave direction.

The previous facility was converted into city offices, including the police department, city clerk, utility billing offices, mayor's office among others, which holds true still today.

The Wayne Herald

Mailing Address:
114 Main Street
Wayne, NE 68787
Phone: 402-375-2600

Sign Up For Breaking News

Stay informed on our latest news!

Manage my subscriptions

Subscribe to My Wayne News Newsletter feed
Comment Here