Hug for Santa
A 70th BIRTHDAY LUNCH
St. Joseph Hospital History
For days before my three-score and ten birthday my husband Monte kept asking me what I wanted to do.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I just want a quiet day.”
That wasn’t what he wanted to hear. He wanted to do something special.
The day before my decade-turning event he asked me if I wanted to go to a Holiday Luncheon Buffet at the Latrobe Airport branch of DeNunzio’s Restaurant.
“That sounds nice,” I said. “But I’ll only go if we can attend as Santa and Mrs. Claus.”
My daughter and a friend he’d invited couldn’t go with us. The next morning the friend called, asking if she could come over, since she wasn’t going to work because she had to take her car to the garage for emergency repairs.
The three of us took off.
En route, Monte and I had to make several short stops—a grocery store, a pharmacy… Many of the other customers smiled and spoke to us. After all, how often do they meet Santa in these places, even at Christmas time?
When we arrived at DeNunzio’s the owner asked if he could take our picture.
“Certainly,” we responded at this unexpected request. Later, he said, his photographer was arriving later. “Could he take some pictures?”
I was pleased to be taken to a table with a window view of the runway, although no planes landed or took off within our sight while we were there.
We filled our plates with delicious salads, soup, roast turkey/cranberry sauce, beer battered cod, and more. Their chef attended pasta bar allowed us to create our own pasta dish which the chef cooked on the spot. We downed all this with hot apple cider before approaching the dessert bar.
While we were eating a woman came over to us and asked if she could take our picture.
“I want to show my children that I had lunch with Santa,” she said.
Later I thought that we should have invited her into the picture so her children would really believe she had lunch with Santa.
There was a large table adjacent to ours. Suddenly they burst into singing Happy Birthday.
How did they know it was my birthday? I wondered, turning to look. They were singing to a gentleman, Don “Whitey” Bachta, not me.
When they were done singing I walked to him, put my arm around his shoulder and said “Happy Birthday.”
He looked at me, somewhat confused, and said “Thank you.”
“I want to tell you something else,” I said. “It’s my birthday today too.”
“Are they going to sing to you?”
“Yes, but they’ll need some help. Will you sign my menu?”
His friend said “You’ll have to sign his, too.”
I did, including the date of my birth, then returned to my lunch.“Did you ask him how old he is?” Monte asked.
“No, I didn’t.”
“You should have. Why don’t you?”
I didn’t feel comfortable doing so.
When his group arose to leave, Monte…er, Santa…approached him and asked him.
“He’s 70,” he told me. “He was born on your birthday.”
Before posing for a photo I told him I was born at St. Joseph Hospital in Providence. Rhode Island.
His was a home birth.
The three of us posed for a photo before Don left.
We were just about done with our meal when the photographer arrived. He had us pose for several shots.
We returned to our table, finished our dessert, and, as always, I took some photographs.
ST. JOSEPH HOSPITAL, RHODE ISLAND (MY BIRTHPLACE)
As promised in the post Revisiting Providence, R. I., 70 Years After My Birth, the background of St. Joseph Hospital is included in this post:
St. Joseph Hospital first opened its doors to the ‘poor and suffering sick of Rhode Island’ on April 6, 1892 under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence.Its home was the old Harris Estate along Broad Street between Peace and Plenty Streets in an area then considered one of the wealthiest and most fashionable neighborhoods in Providence. St. Joseph Hospital became the eighth hospital in the United States to be run by the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, a religious community then based in Philadelphia.*
The three-story Harris mansion, purchased by Bishop Matthew Harkins in August 1891, was filled to capacity soon after its opening. Within months, plans were made and funds were raised for a new 175-bed hospital building erected next door by William Gilbane and Brothers, of Providence, on adjacent land. Ground was broken in April 1893 and the cornerstone was laid on July 1, 1893 in a celebration that drew a crowd along Broad Street estimated at upwards of 50,000. James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, was principal speaker.*
In its first year, the hospital spent $29,332 and treated 188 patients.*
Within weeks of its opening in 1892, The Diocese of Providence realized that the modest facility could not meet the demand for its services. The Sisters could only accommodate one-tenth of the people who came to their door seeking medical treatment. In addition to its expansion next door, St. Joseph Hospital opened its own School of Nursing. The first class graduated in 1902, joining the hospital staff in meeting the community’s health care needs.
To meet an increasing demand for care of patients with tuberculosis, the hospital in 1904 opened the state’s first sanitarium on its farm in the Hillsgrove section of Warwick, a facility for the chronically ill that remained open for 50 years.
The hospital again had ‘growing pains’ before the 1920’s were over. In 1929, construction began on a new West Wing of the main building, providing additional facilities for medical surgical patients. Six years later, an advanced program for Rhode Island’s crippled children was opened at the hospital.
Wherever and whenever there was a pressing community need, St. Joseph Hospital responded. In 1938, it cared for many people injured by the severe hurricane that battered New England as well as victims of illnesses brought on by the disaster that claimed more than 300 lives and caused $200 million in damage.
When the United States entered World War II following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, St. Joseph Hospital offered its facilities to the armed forces. The Navy designated the facility as a dependents’ hospital to care for the wives and children of Navy servicemen until adequate facilities were made available at the Quonset Point Naval Air Station and the Newport Naval Hospital.
In 1954, the Diocese of Providence opened a new 175-bed facility, Our Lady of Fatima Hospital, in North Providence…
By the end of the 1960s, the Diocese decided to merge St. Joseph and Our Lady of Fatima Hospitals under a single administration and identity.*