The Virgin Valley Heritage Museum held a big party on Sept. 29. It was a birthday party. Not for one person, but for the entire group of 37 people who were born in the museum building on Mesquite Boulevard when it served as the medical facility for Mesquite more than 70 years ago.
This special event was put together by museum director Elspeth Kuta and her staff after museum volunteer Val Woods floated the idea of holding a birthday celebration to honor the people born in the former hospital.
Occasionally one of those folks visits the museum and proudly states, “I was born right there on this spot.” Though a good portion of those 37 people still live in the area, it was still as big task to try to contact all of them. It took the museum staff three months to organize the event, with most of that time spent finding as many of the living honorees as possible.
The party was also a salute to the museum building itself. The stone structure was built in 1940 for the purpose of being the town’s library and museum. However, it was soon determined that Mesquite needed a medical facility more than a library, so Dr. Gilbert and Bertha Howe, a registered nurse, drove to Las Vegas and purchased medical equipment with the sum of money collected from each family in town, $35 per family. They set up the hospital in the front room of the building, and it served as Mesquite’s medical facility until 1977.
Hospital records show that Robert T. Hughes was the first baby born at the hospital on May 9, 1944. That year was a virtual baby boom, with Bill Lee born June 22, Bertha Dawn Potter on July 16. Five babies crowded the nursery in September: Lynda Jensen was born Sept. 7, Annette Barnum on Sept. 17, both Lorraine Leavitt and Tim Shaner were born on Sept. 23, and Dean Hardy on Sept. 24. Maxine Thurston arrived Oct. 15, Mary Norvel on Oct. 30.
The 11th baby of the year was Rebecca Reber, born Dec. 20, 1944, and Klint Frehner of Scenic, Arizona, was baby number 12, born Dec. 26, 1944.
That bumper year was followed by 1945, when only five babies were born, and in 1946 three babies, Karla Jennings, Marlin Leavitt, and Bruce Perkins, were born. By 1947, the war years were over and 15 babies were registered on the hospital roles that year.
The hospital was required to have a physician in residence for the birth of children. By the time Dr. Gilbert retired in 1948 without a replacement, only two more babies had come along. Mary Mitchell was the last baby born in the stone building on July 25, 1948. Of course births didn’t stop, but local families were forced to make a long drive to other towns to deliver their children.
Bertha Howe continued to practice nursing, caring for the community until illness caused her to retire in 1977. The old hospital closed, with the building later converted to a Boy Scout center and then it became the town museum. Bertha and her service to Mesquite have been honored with the naming of Bertha Howe Avenue, the street where Mesa View Hospital was built in 2004.
Now, 70 years after the Mesquite Hospital maternity ward closed, that dwindling group of honored individuals gathered at their birthplace to feast on a sumptuous Dutch oven lunch prepared by John Woods. As the crowd enjoyed their lunch in the museum garden, there was time to reminisce with old friends and become acquainted with a handful of town newcomers who joined the party. At events like this it is easy to learn a lot about the roots of this close knit town. Several families brought their children to meet distant relatives and view the intriguing displays of the museum.
The walls of the museum certainly echoed stories of the “good old days” when a baby could be born in the hospital on Mesquite Boulevard, close to home, close to family.