The Legacy of Ralph Wilson
What does a retired Flint cop, a MacIntosh computer and a healthcare educational center have in common?
One thing…or person, actually.
His name is Ralph Wilson and he has propelled Scheurer Health to stay on the leading edge of technology and education in healthcare. After having countless extraordinary experiences with Scheurer, Ralph Wilson donated nearly half of a million dollars to the organization in memory of his wife, all because of the memorable care that she received while at Scheurer Hospital.
Ralph Wilson passed away on February 21, 2021 at the young age of 100-years-old and was a true part of the Scheurer family. It would not be out of the ordinary to see Ralph stopping by our Information Technology (IT) department to chat about the latest Apple product or having breakfast in the dining room. His name is emblazoned in large silver letters on the side of the hospital to designate the Ralph & Betty Wilson Education Center. He went on to live in all three of our Senior Living communities of Country Bay Village, Country Gardens and Long Term Care and was loved by everyone who ever met him.
In 2016, to celebrate his achievements and contributions, Dwight Gascho, then Scheurer President & CEO, and Clark Ramsey, manager of Marketing & Business Development, had the pleasure to sit down with Ralph, capture his story on camera and find out just why he was so generous and financially supportive of Scheurer Health. The next few pages will attempt to capture the essence of Ralph Wilson’s drive to give back to the community and to create a legacy for him, although he tries to redirect any credit to his wife, Betty whenever possible.
The quotes you will read from Ralph Wilson are from that 2016 interview and conversation.
It seems that wherever we go in the Thumb, someone has a connection to Scheurer Health, which can be attributed to the outstanding team of healthcare professionals assembled here. For Ralph Wilson, his first interaction was with the namesake of the hospital himself, Dr. Clare A. Scheurer after he had a small incident involving a chainsaw and his knee, requiring stitches from the famed doctor. Ralph was impressed with the care and service he received all the way back to when Betty and he retired to the Caseville area in 1968 from Flint, Michigan. He was even one of the more than 3,000 people lined up to tour the new hospital in 1972 during its grand opening.
Before moving to the Thumb, Ralph was a police officer for the City of Flint, rising all the way to the rank of Captain and oversaw the investigative bureau. He recalled the enjoyment of the job and noted the changes in the town, “It was a fun job when I hired in. There were times during the war that we would go for an eight-hour shift and never receive a single call and just mostly drive around town.” It was also at the Flint Police Department that Ralph would meet his wife of nearly 50 years, Betty who was a secretary there.
It was a suggestion by Betty that made Ralph experience and fall in love with the Thumb area sometime in the mid-1950’s.
“Funny thing, my wife said something about going up to Caseville for a picnic. I said, ‘Where's Caseville?’ I had never heard of it. So we came up here, I took one look at that lake and I knew that very day that this was where we were going to retire. I just knew this was where I wanted to be.”
Ralph and Betty Wilson bought a lot in 1956 and began to build a house in 1959, a project that Ralph would work on and complete himself for the next nine years.
“We roughed it in and we just lived in it. That was back before the laws were so strict that you had to have it completely finished before you moved in. We spent time there and then when I retired in 1968, I went to work finishing the inside myself.”
The two of them would enjoy many decades together retired, living on the lake and one day in the mid-2000’s, Betty told Ralph that she felt like her memory wasn’t as good as it used it to be. Being the good husband that he was, he downplayed it and said that his wife was as sharp as ever. It was shortly after that their paths would cross with Scheurer Hospital in a much larger way.
They met with Dr. Ali Khan and he diagnosed Betty Wilson with Collagenous Gastritis disease, or “CG Disease” for short and was later confirmed by the Mayo Clinic. It is an extremely rare disease that attacks the digestive system and only 250 people in the United States are diagnosed with CG Disease in a year. It is a fast-acting disease that unfortunately has no cure, as it is unknown how CG Disease is caused.
Despite all of the tough news, Ralph noticed the level of care and service that he and his wife received during that time.
Ralph added, “As a police officer and traffic accident investigator, I spent a lot of time in hospitals. This was so far superior to anything I had experienced. When Betty was in (Scheurer) hospital the last time with CG Disease, they took such good care of us. Cheryl Kowalski and the whole nursing team were so great, Betty was on intravenous. She wasn't eating and they would make sure that I always had a meal. I would arrive early in the morning and stay late each night just to be with her. I would run home in time to take a shower, get a little sleep and come back. One time, I came back and they had moved the extra bed out and put in easy furniture for me to make it as homey as they could. I was just so impressed with the service that we received and the kindness by everyone.”
Betty Wilson passed away on July 26, 2005 and Ralph began a mission to dedicate and honor his wife’s legacy. He met with Dwight Gascho, then the President & CEO of Scheurer Hospital and wrote a check for $1,000 as a memorial, but he was not satisfied with just that. He had something much larger in mind.
“I wanted to establish a memorial for Betty and the hospital was the first and only consideration because of the treatment we had received and the fact that it's local and will benefit local people. I wanted to do more and establish some type of a lasting memorial. I had in mind (to donate) some diagnostic equipment for the hospital to use. Dwight suggested an education center and that really rung a bell with me. It would be longer-lasting and have more of an impact; diagnostic equipment eventually wears out.
(Dwight) told me it would cost a hundred thousand dollars to rough it in and I thought about it and I thought, well, I don't want our name on it if we only just rough it in. So, I was able to do more and I came back and said, let's do the whole thing.”
Just like that, the Ralph & Betty Wilson Education Center was born. Groundbreaking would take place June 13, 2006 and a ribbon-cutting would open the center on September 23, 2007.
“The reason the education center is there is because of all the kindness and exceptional care. Scheurer has a family atmosphere that other hospitals do not have, especially those that have civil service, like the Flint hospitals; a friendly atmosphere that everyone is so friendly and so kind, you don't find that in other hospitals.
“The professional care that you get here, the diagnostic equipment and everything is the best. They're equipped to handle all sorts of things which is rare in a small hospital like this."
Altogether, Ralph would donate over $450,000 to the project, being involved in every step and even purchasing 18 iMac computers for the center. “I’m a Mac guy. I wasn’t interested in buying any more PC’s.”
That is a little bit of an understatement.
At the time of the interview, Ralph was 95-years-old and afterward had to show Dwight and Clark his iMac computer, which he had two of, as well as his iPhone that was newer and larger than either of theirs. Ralph had been fascinated with computers ever since getting his first Apple Macintosh computer in 1987.
As a result, he befriended the IT department at the hospital, especially Michael Potter who together created a local club dedicated to Apple Computers to help educate and discuss all things Mac computers.
On top of living on the lake near Caseville, Ralph also had an apartment for the winter months at Country Bay Village, part of Scheurer Senior Living, which later became Ralph’s full-time residence.
“I enjoy the time that I have to spend on my hobbies and interests. The friendliness here, the food and everything is just wonderful. I feel so much at home here. I don't know what I would do without it.”
As Ralph advanced in age, he moved across the street to Scheurer’s assisted living community, Country Gardens and then eventually Long Term Care. He was always so thankful for the care and love that he received from his Scheurer family and credited his life’s longevity toward Scheurer Senior Living.
So, although we miss the warm smile and daily charm of Ralph Wilson at Scheurer, his legacy continues through the Ralph & Betty Wilson Education Center. Since 2007, it has been home to countless education classes, trainings, meetings and it allows for constant advancement of Scheurer Health as an organization.