Ronceverte physicians leaders of medicine for Greenbrier Valley

X-Ray Room of Greenbrier Hospital 1929
X-Ray Room of Greenbrier Hospital 1929

By Doug Hylton
Part IV – Final Installment
By 1930, Ronceverte had established itself as a vibrant industrial and commercial center. The population had grown to 2,254 residents. The partnership of Guy Vaughn and Milan Lemons created the City Meat Market. Virginia Ellis opened the Greenbrier Drug Store on Dec. 31, 1931. The 1930s saw the establishment of J. J. Townley and Company with the addition of the Townley children, Mildred, James and J. Gordon into the business. Still, as the depression began to have its effect on the city, businesses as well felt the economic downturn of the Great Depression.
Things were difficult for the Greenbrier Valley Hospital as the depression began to impact the town. Birdie Mae Shires writes “For two years we worked 12-14 hour days and received $65 every second month. People paid their hospital bills with whatever they had to give. Sometimes it was hams, beef, lamb, garden produce, or whatever they had.”
Part of being a nurse in those days included firing the furnace, having it backfire and be covered with coal dust, white uniform and all, and starting the coal stove at four in the morning in order to cook breakfast for the patients.
Still despite the hardships experienced by the Greenbrier Valley Hospital, the facility continued to serve the needs of its citizens. In May 1937, the hospital was given the highest rating by the American College of Surgeons. An article of the day in the West Virginia News of May, 1937, states “In the modern operating rooms of the Greenbrier Valley Hospital are the very latest scientific instruments, the best x-ray equipment available today, and every aid to successful anesthesia. A new elevator was installed in this building three years ago and new wings and offices have had to be added. The hospital has 50 beds. The staff has 8 trained and experienced doctors, specializing in every field of medicine and surgery, and 16 nurses, four graduates and 12 in training.”
The staff also included physicians of the highest experience. The Daily News continues, “The chief surgeon is Dr. H. L. Goodman, one of the most widely known surgeons in the state. Dr. Goodman was for many years before coming to Ronceverte chief surgeon of McKendree State Hospital. Others on the staff are H. D. Gunning, M.D., surgeon and urologist; J. N. Reeves, M.D., a new addition to the staff who has been chief surgeon at McKendree Hospital for the past seven years, and who will do general surgical work here; L. W. Bryce, M T. pathologist; A. D. Ferrell, M.D., eye, ear, nose and throat; J. W. Compton, M.D., obstetrician, A. G. Lanham, M.D., internal medicine; L. C. Thrasher, D.DS, dental surgery; Miss Ettamae Newton, R.N., superintendent of nurses.”
Photo 20: Dr. A. G. Lanham
Photo 21: Dr. J. N. Reeves
Photo 22: Dr. A. D. Ferrell
Photo 23: Dr. L. C. Thrasher
Photo 24: Dr. H. L. Gunning
Dr. Kathlene “Kay” Harrington and Pat Bashen, daughters of Dr. Morris Ferrell, provide unique background on their grandfather, Ashby David “A.D.” Ferrell. A.D. started his career in medicine in the late 1920s after running a general store.
“A.D. use to catch the train in Ronceverte with his friend, Bill Coleman, of Coleman Pharmacy in Lewisburg, to attend Marshall Collegefor pre-med classes.,” said Dr. Harrington. A. D. Ferrell was a general practitioner at first, later specializing in eye, ear, nose and throat medicine.
He delivered Sue Ella Gee Miano of Ronceverte in 1929, and Jackie Goodall of Lewisburg in 1931 when he served as a general practitioner. Kay speaks of her grandfather providing teaching instruction for the nursing school. “It was in 1939 that my mother, Kathlene McClung, began studies in the nursing program. Everyone was abuzz about Dr. A.D. Ferrell’s son, Morris, coming to join his father at the hospital as he graduated in 1939.”
In July 1940, Kay’s mother, Kathlene, married Morris and then gave up her studies as a nurse. Both A.D. and Morris were graduates of the Medical College of Virginia. By 1945, the two doctors set up the Ferrell Eye Clinic, still operating today on Lafayette Street in Lewisburg.
Following in this legacy, Dr. Morris Ferrell’s daughters, Kay, an optometrist, and Pat, an optician, opened a practice in Lewisburg in 2001. Kay took over her father’s practice in 1980 after graduating from Southern College of Optometry. They attribute much their success to the reputation their grandfather and father established in years past. “Many of our patients had been treated by our father and either they, or their parents or grandparents, were well acquainted with our family.” said Dr. Harrington. She retired in 2013.
Continued next week
Following the death of Dr. Horace L. Goodman on February 28, 1944, Dr. Paul E. Prillaman Sr. became part owner in the hospital in June of that year. Greenbrier Valley Hospital continued to grow and change to meet the needs of the community. In May 1955, the hospital extended 22 feet in the front of the original structure to provide eight more private and semiprivate rooms, two additional offices and examining rooms and a new enlarged lobby. It also added another room to the business offices and a library for the medical staff, plus new laboratory diagnostic equipment.
The medical staff continued to change. Dr. Phillip Oden became a part owner of the hospital when he bought out the partnership of Dr. Harold Gunning, who retired in 1949. Dr. Oden was a surgeon and a native of Warrenton, Va. Dr. Ernest T. Cobb, who specialized in general medicine, joined the staff in 1952 following his discharge from the Navy.
Dr. Cobb was born and raised in Ronceverte and, upon joining the staff, immediately became the health doctor for the city. Mr. Robert Kearney arrived in December of 1951 to assume responsibility as laboratory director. Ms. Ilona D. Scott was added the staff in January of 1956, having arrived from Budapest, Hungary. Also in 1956, following the death of Dr. Hutton Strader, Dr. Arthur Benshoff was added to the staff. Dr. Benshoff specialized in internal medicine.
Dr. Phillip Oden continued as a partner in the hospital until he was bought out by Dr. Paul E. Prillaman Jr. in the early 1960s. The Prillamans continued to own and operate the hospital until they sold the facility to Extendicare Inc. in November of 1970. The hospital was changed to Humana Hospital in 1974 when the new facility, located on Maplewood Avenue, was opened. The hospital continues to thrive and today is known as the Greenbrier Valley Medical Center.
Now, with a 122 bed facility, the modern hospital of today is a far cry from the two small buildings that were begun by Dr. John Witt DeVeber in 1907. Still, the medical heritage of the Greenbrier Valley, as connected with the city of Ronceverte, gives the citizens of the town pride in knowing that it was due to the efforts of the physicians who served the community, that today the Greenbrier Valley Medical Center is ready to meet the health needs of not just Ronceverte, but all of the Greenbrier Valley.


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