TMC pauses to reflect on seven decades of community service

Tucson Medical Center has been providing continuous service to Southern Arizona from the day it admitted its first patient – Nov. 9, 1944. In the 70 years that have passed since then, through good times and bad, TMC has never stopped delivering on its mission as a community nonprofit hospital.

TMC’s roots extend back to the 1920s, when the internationally known Desert Sanatorium began operating as a tuberculosis treatment center and health retreat. Some of the original buildings from the Desert San remain in service today, as a testament to the long history of health care delivered on this site. The desert landscaping and sun-drenched patios of today are part of the heritage established by the Desert Sanatorium.

Erickson HouseThe original vision for the Desert San came from Dr. Bernard Wyatt, who saw the health benefits of a dry, sunny climate. Through time, ownership of the institution transferred to financial backers Alfred and Anna Erickson of New York. (The Erickson home, pictured left, is still used for offices.)

Anna Erickson usually divided her time between New York City and Tucson, especially after her husband’s death. After struggling through the Great Depressing and the arrival of World War II, it was becoming apparent that the Desert San’s days were numbered.

Tablets summarizing TMC’s history are installed at Founder’s Park, a shady retreat near the Beverly Avenue entrance to the TMC campus. Here is the way the hospital’s origin is described in the TMC history plaque, prepared in part by TMC history buff and retiree Jerry Freund:

By 1943, the world was at war. Everything around Tucson and the Desert Sanatorium changed dramatically. Tucson found itself stripped of many of its resources – namely, housing and hospital beds. The Desert Sanatorium feared there would be no research money, no world-renowned physicians, and no paying guests. Anna Erickson foresaw troubling times ahead and decided to close the Desert Sanatorium for the summer of ’43 – and maybe forever.

Out of the chaos of the times came the strength of the Tucson community. Organizations such as St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, the American Red Cross and the Pima County Medical Society rose to the occasion to see what could be done, and to take necessary action. Anna Erickson, seeing the community response, declared that if certain goals could be met, she would donate the Desert Sanatorium to the community. Committees were formed and goals established to form a new hospital – a new Community Hospital open to all physicians and all patients who needed care.

On Nov. 2, 1943, the articles of incorporation were filed, and after a successful community fund drive, Tucson Medical Center was officially established in January 1944. The first patient was admitted Nov. 9, 1944. The life of this hospital is tied to the life of the community, the founders, the benefactors, the physicians, the employees, and those dynamic individuals who had the courage to shape and reshape the vision we share today as Tucson Medical Center.

It was something of a Christmas miracle that TMC was created in late 1943. One man who helped make the dream come true was Roy P. Drachman, a well-connected realtor and visionary. His memoir (called “This Is Not A Book: Just Memories”) includes his first-hand recollection of how TMC came to be:

It was learned that Mrs. Erickson, owner of the Desert Sanatorium on Grant Road, under certain circumstances, might make a gift of the institution to the community. The group encouraged Rev. Ferguson to pursue the matter with Mrs. Erickson.

A short time later we found that she would make the gift providing the money would be raised by Tucsonans to convert the sanatorium into a community hospital to be operated by a board of directors made up of a broad-based membership representing all segments of the area. It was estimated that $250,000 was needed to make the conversion.

After many other meetings, to which more people were invited, the group officially formed itself as the first Board of Directors of the Tucson Medical Center. It was decided to go to the community and ask for contributions to the $250,000 fund. I was appointed chairman of the fund-raising committee. The campaign was conducted during December of 1943 and the early part of 1944. (Photo, right, TMC staff in 1948) 

One of the most generous contributors was the Rosensteil family who kicked off the drive with a substantial gift. The financial drive was successful in reaching its goal, and the Tucson Medical Center became a reality.

No one knew for sure whether TMC would survive when the new hospital opened. But Tucson has never had a day without TMC since Nov. 9, 1944, and there’s no end in sight.


Check out these blogs on TMC’s history:

1928 building getting total makeover as part of TMC’s campus upgrade.

‘Strange potency’ of Tucson’s desert sun and air drew health enthusiasts

What about the decree that kept TMC a single-story hospital?

To stay open in 1940s, TMC developed perks for employees

Thank the ‘Kactus Kid’ for TMC’s landscaping legacy

Volunteers have helped TMC grow since hospital’s earliest days

TMC’s first baby has nearly 70 years worth of recollections

Founders Park monuments add new tribute to TMC’s history


Founders Park monuments add new tribute to TMC’s history

Tucson Medical Center is marking its 70th anniversary this year, commemorating the day its first patient was admitted, on Nov. 9, 1944.

70th Anniv Display updateWhile Tucson Medical Center was upgrading its roads and walkway over the past few years, the timing was perfect to create a new distinctive space to honor its history at the corner of Grant Road and Beverly Avenue.

TMC’s Founders Park is a shady retreat located at the intersection that has been the historic main entrance for decades.  The spot is next to the Arizona Building and across from the Patio Building, two historic structures dating back to the 1920s – and Founders Park is just south of the new Orthopaedic and Surgical Tower, which opened last year with new operating rooms and patient care services.

Founders Park houses permanent displays highlighting people and events important to the history of the Desert Sanatorium and its successor institution, Tucson Medical Center.  The five large columns that define the space carry three plaques: one describing the Desert Sanatorium, one covering Tucson Medical Center, and the third honoring the benefactors who were most instrumental in the growth of both institutions, Alfred and Anna Erickson.Founders Park monuments update

More recently, another touch has been added.  Five pedestals line the walkway through Founders Park, and each now carries a list of milestones from across the decades. The timeline stretches from the start of construction at the Desert Sanatorium through the latest developments on the campus of TMC.

2014 Display updateInside the hospital’s West Entrance, a new display case has been created to illustrate a condensed version of the timeline, alongside several items from TMC’s long history. The new feature enhances previously created display windows with other historical highlights.

As TMC celebrates its 70th anniversary, visitors can linger at the sheltered space along the hospital entry road and at the new exhibit along a busy hospital corridor to learn more about how this place of healing came to be.


TMC’s first baby has nearly 70 years worth of recollections

Tucson Medical Center is marking its 70th anniversary this year, commemorating the day its first patient was admitted, on Nov. 9, 1944.

The first baby born at Tucson Medical Center – Peter Erickson Godfrey – was delivered by Maj. Ralph Gause at 5:50 p.m. on Feb. 27, 1945 – the son of Janet and Chief Warrant Officer John Godfrey.  To commemorate the event, noted artist and Tucson resident Charles O. Golden painted a watercolor portrait of the mother and infant and presented it to TMC. That portrait has remained on display through the years, originally in the “Father’s Waiting Room” at Labor & Delivery and most recently in a case near TMC’s West Entrance with various historical artifacts. Godfrey Portrait

In honor of TMC’s 70th anniversary, TMC’s Baby #1 has offered a first-person tribute to his place of birth – in the words of Peter Erickson Godfrey:


It was almost the end of World War II. Marines had just gone ashore on Iwo Jima and the “Greatest Generation” was beginning to make the greatest population bump in U.S. history.  Tucson Medical Center and my parents, Chief Warrant Officer and Mrs. John R. Godfrey (Jack and Jenny) were eager to get it all started.

Their generation was full of surprises.  My parents learned of my middle name, Erickson, from the morning newspaper, the day after my birth.  The obstetrician, Major Ralph Gause of Davis-Monthan Field, and the president of the board of directors of TMC, the Rev. George Ferguson, named me Erickson, in honor of Mrs.

Jack, Janet and Peter Godfrey, with artist Charles Golden

Jack, Janet and Peter Godfrey, with artist Charles Golden

A.W. Erickson, who made a gift of a million dollars worth of land and buildings to create Tucson Medical Center. The beautiful, southwestern style Erickson home is in the middle of the TMC campus and still used by the hospital.

After my younger brother was born in 1947, my family moved on to various military bases across the country, but my parents loved Tucson and finally returned in 1952 to raise their four children and retire.  TMC continued to play a major role in our lives for the next 35 years.  Mom always wanted to be a nurse and after my father’s death she began working at TMC as a Nursing Assistant in Pediatrics.  When Mom retired from TMC in the summer of 1978, The TMC Spokesman featured both of us in front of our Mother’s Day 1945 portrait by Charles Golden, in an article called “A Portrait From The Past.” It symbolized the wartime Mother’s Day.

Janet and Peter Godfrey, at Janet's retirement in 1978

Janet and Peter Godfrey, at Janet’s retirement in 1978

It was also at TMC, a decade later on the morning of Dec. 25, 1987, that my sister, Sharon Wait, and I were at our mother’s side when she died after a short illness.  As stated in “A Portrait From The Past,” Janet Godfrey’s years of dedication to the hospital will surely be remembered in the pages of TMC history.

Tucson was a wonderful place to grow up.  We got into everything.  I especially enjoyed riding bikes with my friends to the top of Sabino Canyon and freewheeling it back down the narrow road and bridges, out of the canyon, trying not to scare the life out of snowbirds driving up the canyon.  I graduated from Rincon High School and started college at Northern Arizona University.  Several years later, I was called to serve in the Marine Corps: two years, two months and 22 days – but who was counting?

A week after leaving Vietnam, I was back attending classes at Northern Arizona University. Joyce Dalton of Tucson and I met at NAU and married in 1969. I went on to Graduate School at Arizona State University for my MSW and my wife began her teaching career. I enjoyed a career of 32 years in many different aspects of social work in New Mexico and Arizona.

Joyce and I raised two children, Jason Eric, born in 1973, and Beth Elaine, born in 1975.  Jason is teaching high school English and coaching soccer in Tempe and Beth is an ordained Presbyterian minister currently serving as a chaplain and studying at Georgetown University Hospital as a Supervisory Candidate to be certified by the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education.  She and Robert Romano will celebrate their first anniversary this October.  Now that Joyce and I are retired, we love to travel throughout the world and do volunteer work with both our church and community.

Tucson Medical Center and its staff have cared for my family for 70 years.  The enduring history of my parents and their four Godfrey Army Brats with TMC is remarkable.  We marvel at what you’ve accomplished.  Thank you for so many years of caring. Good luck in the next 70 years.

Peter Erickson Godfrey


Volunteers have helped TMC grow since hospital’s earliest days

Tucson Medical Center is marking its 70th anniversary this year, commemorating the day its first patient was admitted, on Nov. 9, 1944.

The TMC Auxiliary is celebrating its own anniversary this November, marking 65 years as the hospital’s official volunteer support organization.  Hope Thomas, director of Volunteer Services & Community Programs at TMC, prepared an updated history as a backgrounder for today’s Auxiliary members – this from the Sept./Oct. issue of Patio Post, the Auxiliary’s newsletter:

Even before the first patient was admitted, community volunteers were contributing time, money and great effort to help get TMC started. In February 1946, 10 women, Medical Center Volunteers, pledged time to support the hospital staff. Just two years later, in November of 1948, the Women’s Advisory Board was formed and in 1949 changed its name to the TMC Auxiliary. The Auxiliary came fully armed with a constitution, by-laws, 50 members and $13 in the bank!

Gift ShopIn 1951 the first Auxiliary Gift Shop opened and by 1988 was fully renovated and moved to its current location adjacent to the Marshall Conference Center. By the end of the 1950s, Auxilians had donated over 12,000 hours to the hospital.

In the 1960’s, over 600 women supported 18 areas at TMC, and because the times were changing, the Auxiliary ‘piloted’ a Men’s Auxiliary in 1969.  The men, wearing special gold jackets, worked 5-8 p.m. shifts in the Father’s Waiting area. By 1984, 75proud, gold jacketed men were actively participating.

Through the next several decades, the hospital prospered and the Auxiliary continued to grow. Fundraising was robust and volunteers peaked at 1,000 by 1989. During these early years many Auxilians donated 40 hours a week and were logging over 20,000 hours in their tenure. The Auxiliary Executive Board was busy and very active in all facets of TMC.TMC70Final

Today, the Auxiliary supports 26 hospital-based services averaging over 7,000 hours each month. With a strong adult volunteer core complemented by college students, our legacy of giving continues.


Thank the ‘Kactus Kid’ for TMC’s landscaping legacy

Tucson Medical Center is marking its 70th anniversary this year, commemorating the day its first patient was admitted, on Nov. 9, 1944.

The picturesque grounds of Tucson Medical Center have always fostered a healing environment, bringing extensive elements of the Sonoran Desert to the campus at Grant and Craycroft. And so it has been since the days of the Desert Sanatorium, the first occupant of the site.

One man’s handiwork is most responsible for this longstanding heritage – the man known as the “Kactus Kid.”

Rutger Porter aka: The Kactus Kid

Rutger Porter
aka: The Kactus Kid

Rutger Porter was the man with the shovel and the pickup truck – the man who transplanted a wide variety of desert plants to create a dazzling desert landscape at the Desert Sanatorium in the late 1920s.  The owner of the Desert San, Anna Erickson, hired Porter because of his agricultural expertise and love of local plants. Desert San Cactus 2Porter and his friend, author Harold Bell Wright, researched and located the cacti and other plants that made the Desert Sanatorium famous as a beautiful desert destination.

When Erickson donated the Desert San to the community to become Tucson Medical Center, the scenery was part of the deal. Throughout its history, groundskeepers have been valuable members of the team that makes TMC a unique place of healing. The patios and open spaces have given patients and their families a connection with nature that few other hospitals could match.

Tucson Medical Center’s landscaping has been recently enhanced during major construction projects, with new walking trails and roads around the campus – recognizing the legacy of the Kactus Kid.

Beyond TMC’s boundaries, Rutger Porter and wife Bernice left an additional legacy, apparent today at Tucson Botanical Gardens. The home where the Porters raised their family and ran a plant nursery now forms the core of Tucson Botanical Gardens (TBG), on Alvernon Way just south of Grant Road.

As TMC marks its 70th anniversary of patient care, TBG marks its 40th anniversary at its Alvernon site this year – with a special gala coming up in October. The details are on their web site:

From one community institution to another: Happy Anniversary!TMC70Final

To stay open in 1940s, TMC developed perks for employees

Tucson Medical Center is marking its 70th anniversary this year, commemorating the day its first patient was admitted, on Nov. 9, 1944.

In late 1943, the community raised a quarter of a million dollars to finance the conversion of the Desert Sanatorium to Tucson Medical Center – but that was just the start of the process. After the Desert San owner, Anna Erickson, donated the facility to the community, it was up to the Board of Trustees and the new hospital administration to keep TMC staffed and operating.

TMC opened to the public with a small workforce and a few rooms in November 1944. Because TMC was so far out of town along a rough dirt road, many hospital employees lived on the campus, commuting to work on foot.

Staff members at main entrance, 1948

Staff members at main entrance, 1948

By the time the hospital welcomed the community to a big open house on Feb. 25, 1945, TMC boasted 25 RNs, most of them living in the nurses’ residence at the corner of Grant Road and Beverly Avenue. Various aides and orderlies lived over the garages, and dietary workers lived over the kitchen.

As the new hospital grew, TMC steadily increased its staffing levels. According to TMC historian Reba Grubb in her book Portrait of Progress, TMC was the only hospital in Arizona with a defined personnel policy for salaries, raises, vacations, holidays and sick leave.

And to support the health and well-being of its employees, TMC offered a Blue Cross hospitalization plan for any employee who wanted to pay the extra fee to sign up. In the mid-1940s, the prices were a bit different than today; the monthly health insurance premium was 85 cents for an individual and $2 for whole family coverage.

As time passed, TMC wanted to honor its ‘long-time’ employees who had been on board for a decade or more. The first Service Award Pins were issued in 1955.TMC70Final

The latest version of TMC’s Service Pin Celebration takes place Sept. 13, 2014 – honoring employees who have reached five-year milestones of employment. Among the honorees who are receiving pins this year are six employees who have served 40 years, and four who are 45-year employees of Tucson Medical Center.



What about the decree that kept TMC a single-story hospital?

Tucson Medical Center is marking its 70th anniversary this year, commemorating the day its first patient was admitted, on Nov. 9, 1944.

It was something of a local truism in past years that Tucson Medical Center was prohibited by code, deed or law from building any structures taller than one story.

There was a whiff of truth to the tale…. but the stipulation about building height expired more than half a century ago.

The one-story story dates back to the days of the Desert Sanatorium, the health retreat founded by Dr. Bernard Wyatt in the 1920s out in the desert northeast of Tucson. The Desert San was transferred to financial backers Alfred and Anna Erickson in 1927, and the Ericksons built a home on the site as their winter retreat away from New York City.

After her husband’s death, Anna Erickson held the Desert San until 1943, when the Depression and World War II had left the facility no longer viable. She donated it to become a community hospital – and continued living part of the year in the Erickson home on campus.

Anna Erickson, outside her two-story home on the TMC campus

Anna Erickson, outside her two-story home on the TMC campus

Years later, the specification of the “Low-Level Concept” for the hospital finally appears in TMC’s 1959 deed to the medical office park across Grant Road. The deed reflects Anna Erickson’s desire for unobstructed views, stating that TMC…

“…hereby agrees with Erickson that it will not during her lifetime erect on any of the land which it shall hereafter acquire under this agreement any building which shall exceed one story in height.”

That agreement only lasted a couple of years, as it became void upon Mrs. Erickson’s death in February 1961. Yet, that agreement cast a shadow for many years, as the hospital considered and rejected several high-rise concepts.

After extensive preparation work by TMC in 2006 and 2007, the Tucson City Council unanimously approved a Planned Area Development plan that now governs how vertical construction could take place on the Tucson Medical Center campus. Today, TMC has upgraded its grounds and facilities with new roads and walkways, plus larger patient care areas. TMC now celebrates 70 years of patient care with a new four-story “skyscraper” that houses sophisticated surgical and patient care services.


“Strange potency” of Tucson’s desert sun and air drew health enthusiasts

Tucson Medical Center is marking its 70th anniversary this year, commemorating the day its first patient was admitted, on Nov. 9, 1944.


Years before Tucson Medical Center was born, a world-renowned health care institution – the Desert Sanatorium – grew on this “remote site” out in the desert, four miles east of Tucson’s city limits.

The Desert Sanatorium grew out of the vision of one man: Bernard L. Wyatt, M.D. He pursued his interest in treating tuberculosis and other ailments with Arizona’s sunlight and clean air, creating the Desert San in 1925.dr wyatt 1920

Why did he choose Tucson as the site of his institution? As Wyatt later wrote in a single long vivid sentence, his choice was “…the result of studying the strange potency of that Arizona mesa land, a continuation of the Sonoran desert across the Mexican border, where for years in increasing numbers have poured invalids and semi-invalids, particularly old people, eager to luxuriate in warm, dry air, half a mile above sea level and in a baking sun whose blazing light has set countless artists crazy in the endeavor to put on canvas the hard outlines and color of the southwest desert scenery.”

Wyatt’s role at the Desert Sanatorium changed from owner to physician director in 1927 when he conveyed the title to the new owner, his financial backer, Alfred W. Erickson. And in 1943, it was Erickson’s widow, Anna, who donated the Desert Sanatorium to the community, provided a public fundraising campaign could support the institution. By late 1944, Tucson Medical Center was fully operational as our community non-profit hospital, still basking in the ‘strange potency’ of the desert environment.


1928 building getting total makeover as part of TMC’s campus upgrade

Copy of Patio Bldg BWAs Tucson Medical Center prepares to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its first patient admission, the hospital remembers its roots, which extend back even before TMC’s opening in 1944.

Tucson Medical Center’s historic Patio Building is being restored, harkening back to its construction in 1928 to serve as the Institute of Research and Diagnostic Clinic for the Desert Sanatorium.

Before TMC was born, the Desert Sanatorium served as a tuberculosis treatment center and as a healthy retreat for those seeking the benefits of dry desert air and abundant sunshine. The Desert San, a cluster of buildings out in the desert northeast of Tucson, faded in popularity through the Great Depression and World War II. In 1943, owner Anna Erickson donated the property as the foundation for a community-run hospital – TMC – that began admitting patients in 1944.TMC70Final

Today, this significant building from the Desert Sanatorium’s early days still stands at the TMC entrance at Beverly and Grant. Designed by architect Roy Place with later renovations by Henry Jaastad, the Patio Building perpetuates the Hopi-inspired design motif utilized in the Sanatorium’s first buildings, including the use of battered walls and parapets and wood beam details.

The U-shaped building features a central patio surrounded by a covered arcade graced with hand-hewn beams and columns. Finished with a smooth stucco finish, the building has walls constructed of brick, floor and roof slabs of concrete, and support beams made of steel. At the eastern corners of the building are two towers that once housed specialty research equipment, designed to enable treatments using the rays of the sun. Copper domes atop the towers protected the equipment at both corners.

Now, in 2014, one of the final phases of a seven-year, $250 million campus improvement project is the renovation of the Patio Building. The new Orthopaedic and Surgical Tower is the centerpiece of the project, which also has included new roads, parking areas, walkways and expanded Pediatric and Mother/Baby units.

The historic Erickson Building, once home to the owners of the Desert Sanatorium, has already been restored. The work on the Patio Building is expected to last until nearly the end of the year.

Patio Bldg 4

Patio Building project:

  • Removing the adobe mud surface to assess the structural brick repairs needed.
  • Repairing the walls where needed and reapplying an adobe mud surfacing using historical processes
  • Installing helical piers at critical points under the foundation to help alleviate settling fractures
  • Replacing much of the rotted wood lintels and porch beams that have deteriorated over the decades
  • Replacing the hand-troweled porch concrete walk with a new hand-troweled concrete walk
  • Re-roofing close to half of the existing roof
  • Installing two copper domes (non-functional) to restore the original appearance of the domes on the two east corners of the buildingPatio Bldg 2

Patio Bldg 1


Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461