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Avera Clinic History: Despite deaths of doctors, clinic expands in 1930s

Editor's note: This article is the third of a five-part series on Avera Worthington Medical Group history, which has been extensively researched by Avera's Dr. Greg Clark. The series is being published on consecutive Mondays.

WORTHINGTON -- A new clinic hospital building became part of the Worthington landscape in February 1929, but difficult years lay ahead for health care in the community.

First, of course, came the stock market crash of October of that year, which brought no shortage of economic hardship. Then, the subsequent winter, Dr. F.W. Metcalf, a Fulda doctor affiliated with the Worthington clinic, died of pneumonia. His death was an ominous foreshadowing of what was to come, as three more clinic doctors would die between 1932 and 1933.

Nevertheless, throughout those difficult times, the clinic found a way to remain viable and underwent an expansion in 1938. Dr. B.O. Mork, one-half of the partnership that helped launch the clinic 20 years earlier, was still on staff at the time, helping oversee the continued growth of the facility.

Hard times

In 1929, according to a 1939 report written by Mork to his son, B.O. Mork Jr., and the members of the Worthington Clinic, clinic staff "now thought ourselves very nicely taken care of as far as office space was required." The depression, however, was on the horizon, as well as another obstacle -- the death of Dr. Metcalf.

"His lost was a severe shock to all of us," Mork wrote. "In our association since the formation of the Clinic we had come to rely much on Dr. Metcalf's judgment, both in a business way and professionally. From a business standpoint his loss to the Clinic almost proved to be a calamity.

"One of Mrs. Metcalf's best friends advised her that the assets of the Clinic should be put through regular probate procedure and the Clinic assets be appraised in regular form, and the books turned over to someone for collection," Mork continued. "This would have entailed a severe financial loss to the Clinic and indeed might have ended the partnership at once."

Fortunately, "saner counsel prevailed," Mork wrote, and a settlement with Mrs. Metcalf reached. A new partnership agreement was also reached that would serve to avoid similar situations in the future.

Plenty of work

The Worthington practice continued to remain strong "and at times we had to work for long periods without rest," Mork wrote. That type of labor may have eventually continued to the death of Mork's longtime partner, Dr. F.G. Watson, in early 1932.

Watson's son, Sidney, had joined the clinic in 1928, with the thought that he would help relieve his dad of his heavy workload, Mork wrote. That didn't become the case, though.

"Dr. Watson Sr. kept on working and in the summer of 1930, after having a very difficult surgical case, he suffered an attack of coronary thrombosis, from which he never recovered fully and finally died on Jan. 12, 1932," Mork wrote. "Following this Dr. Sidney took over his father's work."

Tragedy would strike again a few short months later.

"In the spring of 1932 I decided to take my vacation in Europe and was away from home for about three months, and on my return learned Dr. Sidney, after a week's illness, had died on July 21."

By that time, Mork's son was part of the clinic partnership, having joined in 1931. A new partner was recruited, and another search would have to be undertaken once again following the death of Dr. J.T. Smallwood in May 1933.

Nevertheless, despite all of these obstacles, the clinic remained situated for continued growth.

"If in the foregoing notes I have conveyed the idea that I have been personally responsible for the growth of the clinic I want to say right here that such is not my intention," Mork wrote. "The Clinic has grown and has come to be a recognized institution in the community life, and whatever success it has experienced is due to the fine teamwork which has always manifested and which I hope will continue."

The new addition

Not much is noted of the new addition, save for a couple of 1938 articles published in The Worthington Globe.

"An addition to the Worthington Clinic will be built early this fall, Dr. B.O. Mork Sr. of the clinic staff reported today," announced an Aug. 9, 1938, article with the headline "Clinic Staff Plans New Hospital Unit." "The addition will extend from the rear of the present building back to the alley."

Another noteworthy item on the expanded clinic appeared in the Nov. 1, 1938, Globe:

"With the completion today of the installation of the latest type sprinkling system, the Worthington Clinic hospital is the first to pioneer this method of fire protection in Worthington," an article reported. "A total of 118 water sprinklers have been installed in the basement, first floor and second floor of the hospital. Simultaneous with the setting off of one sprinkler a bell rings in the hospital warning everyone of the danger."

The 1938 version of the clinic would thrive and flourish for the next several years. Soon -- by 1962 -- it would be time for yet another expansion.

Daily Globe Managing Editor Ryan McGaughey can be reached at 376-7320.

Ryan McGaughey

I first joined the Daily Globe in April 2001 as sports editor. I later became the news editor in November 2002, and the managing editor in August 2006. I'm originally from New York State, and am married with two children.

(507) 376-7320