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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Story of Sid Peterson Memorial Hospital

Sid Peterson Memorial Hospital, early 1950s.
Note the gas station on the first floor.
Click to enlarge photo
I've had occasion this week to visit a family member at the Peterson Regional Medical Center and am once again reminded how fortunate we are to have such a good hospital in our community.
The crew there, from doctors and nurses to technicians and clerks, have all been very helpful and kind. Even late at night, when yours truly was grumpy and tired, they were unfailingly professional and courteous. I am often surprised how helpful Kerr county people can be to total strangers.
I was reminded of the history of the beginning of that hospital -- a story of two brothers about which I wrote years ago:
"Kerrville really shouldn’t have a hospital as nice as the Sid Peterson Memorial Hospital. When it was opened on July 3rd, 1949, it was a really big deal. But it was a deal that, if you take a hard look at the numbers, probably was bigger than the community it served.
"The population of Kerr County in 1950 was only fourteen thousand; then, as now, about half of the county’s population lived in Kerrville.
"To build a hospital in such a small, rural community wouldn’t seem to make a lot of financial sense. Hospitals require a lot of capital – equipment changes all of the time, medicines are expensive, and the people you need to run a hospital are highly trained.
"Yet two brothers, with help from others in the community, made it happen.
"One, Hal “Boss” Peterson, was a gifted businessman. He left his parents’ ranch home at 15 to work in M. F. Weston’s Garage, on the corner of Sidney Baker and Water Streets in downtown Kerrville. By the time he was 18, he owned the garage.
"Together with one of his brothers, Charlie, he built an empire known as the “Peterson Interests,” which included bus lines, real estate developments, businesses, and ranch land, altogether 22 major enterprises worth millions of dollars.
"Hal was the visionary, more the gambler of the two. He had more business ideas per day than most have in a year. Charlie was the more grounded, quieter of the two. His counsel helped keep Hal from many a business mistake.
"So when Hal had the idea to build a hospital in Kerrville – a grand idea which seemed impossible – and Charlie supported the idea, they began to make it happen.
"They “put the big pot in the little one” with the project. Hal Peterson only had one regret about the project, wishing they’d named it after both of their parents, calling it the Sid and Myrta Peterson Hospital."
While the community was grateful to the brothers when they announced their plans, there was also a lot of disagreement where the hospital should be built. Some favored sites on the edge of town, and other sites were discussed. Most of the discussion was ill-informed.
The story goes that Hal Peterson got tired of listening to all of the suggestions and bluntly decided to build the hospital on land the brothers owned, even if it was right in the middle of downtown Kerrville.
And so the hospital was built on the corner of Sidney Baker and Water Streets, where it stayed until the new hospital, renamed the Peterson Regional Medical Center, opened in 2008.
Even though the 1949 hospital building is gone, along with the numerous additions and buildings which came to be part of its campus, the kindness and care are still here.
I'm thankful we have such a good hospital in our community.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who was born in the old Sid Peterson Memorial Hospital quite a few decades ago.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 1, 2017.

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