A Yearbook of Memories – Remembrances of Sylacauga by Ginger Clifton
A wonderful yearbook shared with me by retired nurse, Phyllis Crysel Cooper brought back lots of memories of Sylacauga Hospital and a time I remember well. As I share it with you in 2024, I hope it brings joy to some of you and jostles the memories of others who might want to share stories of those times. Even the yearbook’s name, Stat and PRN 1961, brings a smile to my face because as an eighteen year old secretary working my first job, I was neither familiar with hospital terminology nor was I familiar with doing a job PDQ, orders issued to me by a doctor not known for his patience and good temperament. I was in the office alone and I knew his reputation so I tried to find someone to ask what special adaptation I needed to make to get those x-ray films to him in surgery PDQ. Needless to say, I soon got a quick lesson when that phone rang again, and I think the doctor was amused despite himself and was heard to say, “Bless her heart.”
This yearbook is a treasury of Sylacauga’s medical history. It was dedicated to Mrs. Connie Spradley, who was given much credit for working through failures and assuring success of this new Sylacauga Hospital School of Nursing. The eight nurses who comprised the local faculty were names familiar to many of you: Mrs. Loyce Adams, Miss Stella Camp, Mrs. Sarah Conkle, Mrs. Kay DeCoudress, Mrs. Era Gillum, Mrs. Sybil Reeves, and Mrs. Wilma Thompson. Mrs. Ophelia Serviss was Secretary of the School, and Mrs. H. S. Holmes was housemother. Mrs. Allean Machen was the Librarian. Dr. William C. Friday, Sr. was recognized in “appreciation for all that you have done for us.”
I graduated from Sylacauga High School in 1960 and lived with my husband at 303 1/2 West Spring Street across Hickory Street from the hospital. It was natural that I interview for a job there since I thought I might like to become a nurse. It was that experience that changed my mind about those aspirations. Thumbing through this book I see so many familiar faces. The hospital board was John Gann. J.V. Greer, Max Goldberg, Leon Archer, Robert Cleckler, and Ed Smith. These were Sylacauga icons, leaders, men who were different but worked together for the good of Sylacauga and the hospital. Sitting behind the administrator’s desk is William (Billy) Tucker, a former Auburn football quarterback who was crippled from polio shortly after Shug Jordan arrived at Auburn. It was the height of the polio epidemic in Alabama. Tucker was kept on scholarship by Auburn and finished school there in August 1953. For you Auburn fans, he had lost 3 fingers on his left hand in a hunting accident in high school, but he made an impact on Auburn’s team as a quarterback and place kicker. Polio left him paralyzed from the waist down. He kept an eye on the operation of the hospital from that wheel chair and could roll into the office quietly before you knew anyone was in the area. Mr. Frank Perryman was Business Manager.
I interviewed for secretary in X-Ray with Dr. Harry L. Greenberg, Radiologist. The X-Ray technicians were Mr. Joe Davis and Mrs. Barbara Barnett. They came in to work early for all of the fluoroscopies(G.I. Series, Gallbladder Series, etc.) and I.V.P.’s and Pelvimetries, and rotated on call duty. Clarence Baker was on duty in the dark room where films were developed, fixed, and dried. Sometimes if a need arose for developing after Clarence went home, Willi Littleton and I would pitch in. She was the other half of the office staff. When Dr. Greenberg read the films, he transcribed his reports onto a dictaphone. We would type them in a very specified way, and put the reports on Dr. Greenberg’s desk. Unsigned copies were placed on patients’ charts for doctors’ afternoon rounds. One of us delivered, and the other stayed in the office. After he read the film, Dr. Greenberg left and would return about 2:30 or 3:00, so this was our busiest time. He would read over reports and correct any errors. He put a big red X across any page where a smudge or a fingerprint was detected. If there were no errors in the typing or smudges on the paper, he would sign them. Then, we would exchange the rough drafts for signed copies on patients’ charts. It was all a very primitive procedure compared to today’s technological x-ray departments, but we took pride in our work, and it was overseen by Dr. Greenberg with a fine-toothed comb. It was done in a timely fashion compared to reports today, and there was no waiting for reports and little room for error. Sometimes patients were referred and transferred to Birmingham.
Dr. Greenberg lived in Sylacauga on Main in the Eddie Thomas apartment. His favorite story was how he put on old clothes and parked his Cadillac down the street, hopefully not looking wealthy, and perhaps getting lower rent. Not only was Dr. Greenberg a radiologist, but he also was a pharmacist, and had a PHD in psychology. He was a bachelor who drove a brand new luxury car. and was very demanding. He was very detail-oriented, not a bad characteristic for a doctor.
I so much enjoyed looking at the pictures of that hardworking medical staff: Drs. David and Kathryn Azar, Dr. Robert Stock, and Dr. M. D. Moody from Childersburg. In Sylacauga there was Dr. Donal Barlow, Dr. Charles Camp, Drs. Craddock, Sr, and Jr, Dr. Henry Mosely, Dr. William Gammon, Dr. W. C. Friday, Dr. Paul Nickerson, Dr. Everett Schneider, Dr. Robert Rea, Dr. John Thompson, Jr. Dr. L. L. Terry, Dr. Max Vaughn, Dr. J.M. Washam, Dr. Robert Winslow, and Dr. James Wright, and Dr. John D. Pitchford. There was no ER doctor at that time, and each doctor took his own call and was a part of the rotation for patients who did not have a physician. They lived in our community and had a personal commitment to its success. I will be forever grateful for those days and for that hospital. All four floors were busy places with busy nurses, and great supporting staff. The Sylacauga School of Nursing fed into this nursing pool, and it was a win-win situation for the hospital and the school.
The Sylacauga Hospital School of Nursing graduates continue to have reunions. The last one was June 14, 2023, when over fifty nurses gathered at Good Ole Boys. Joyce Merkel Chambless, Alberta Cook, and Phyllis Cooper helped to get things going. No mailed invitations were sent, but this summer was their highest attended reunion. (See next week for reunion picture). It was a good time in Sylacauga, a kinder, simpler time; and it was not so long ago at that.
With special thanks to retired nurses especially Phyllis Cooper for sharing this great yearbook. Thanks to Samantha Machen and staff at B.B. Comer Memorial Library for their interest and promotion of local history. Thanks to Coosa Valley Medical Center for keeping quality medical care in Sylacauga and always looking for ways to improve it.