History: Medical care in early LL relied on neighborhood experts
By Ellen Martin Bernardo
Liberty Lake Historical Society
You had to be resilient to live in Liberty Lake prior to 1969. Medical care was available 18 miles away in Spokane, but the 23 minutes it takes now by car on I-90 versus the road and travel conditions before 1969 were not for the faint of heart. When emergencies arose, getting to medical help for treatment was part of the equation.
Before that time, if you were in need of care you went to Spokane. Sacred Heart Hospital opened in 1887 and Deaconess Hospital followed nine years later in 1896, and the options for getting there were via the rails or a horse-drawn stage. The much-needed and long-awaited Valley General Hospital opened its doors in 1969, cutting the travel time to reach the closest hospital care in half.
When possible, the patient was brought to the doctor or hospital, but many times the illness or accident made it necessary for the doctor to go to the patient. Liberty Lake has been blessed over the generations to have kind and compassionate medical practitioners right here to help when the need arose. They did it without regard of ability to pay, as none was expected or accepted.
Before the advent of antibiotics in the 1940s, there were limited abilities to treat diseases and illnesses. Homemade remedies and recipes were often counted on to get through illnesses. Not every community had a medically trained doctor, though usually every community had an herbalist who knew which plants and herbs to use to remedy different medical conditions, a person on whom everyone could count for "doctoring" skills.
"Louisa Neyland was a colorful figure, with her long flowing skirts, hair high on her head wound over what was then known as a "circular rat." She was quite a doctor in her own right, as she administered to everyone who was ill around the lake, whether it was a bee sting or something more serious. She concocted homemade remedies and cough syrups from old herb recipes. Louisa had the power and drive of the typical pioneer woman and was long remembered and discussed after she was gone."
Ron Knudsen, a lifelong resident of Liberty Lake and the son of Sigwell Knudsen, recalled that at Sig's Resort during the 1940s-1960s, if someone was hurt, they would take the person to neighbors Margaret Rademacher or Dr. Blair (if they were home), or they'd call the sheriff to take them to the emergency room or a doctor's office. It was easy to find either of them since they lived on Lilac Lane across the street from each other.
In 1935, Margaret Myette Rademacher (1907-1995) moved from Spokane to Liberty Lake with her husband, Cletus, and their three children, Joan, Sue and John. At 21, she graduated as an RN from St. Patrick's School of Nursing in Missoula, Mont. She was a county health nurse for many years. Her daughter, Joan Guell, recalls her mother nursing the local men who sustained burns while volunteering to knock down the fire above Dreamwood Bay in the 1950s. Back then, many illnesses that are now prevented by vaccines or are mostly eradicated were a part of life. Margaret supplied medical information and treatment for those illnesses, as well as accidents like fishing hooks that were stepped on, sunburns, bee stings and roller skate tricks gone wrong. Craig Guell fondly remembers his grandmother putting butterfly bandages on his cuts. There was nothing that a butterfly bandage could not fix!
Margaret Rademacher never charged for her services, nor expected anything in return. She always remained calm, even when her patient did not. Whenever her name is mentioned, it brings a smile to the face of those who recall her kind and compassionate care.
Karolyn Kosanke, a neighbor of both Margaret and Dr. Blair, remembers Margaret gave Karolyn her allergy shots, all childhood inoculations and, later in life, even sealed up her son Derek's head when he fell off a skateboard.
"She was everyone's nurse out here and a real sweet lady," Kosanke said.
Dr. John E. "Jack" Blair Jr. (1906-1977) went to Harvard and then to Northwestern for medical school. He served as a doctor in the military during World War II in North Africa. Dr. Blair loved fishing, hunting and raising his family in a rural setting. After returning from the service, he and his family lived in Chewelah until he moved back to Liberty Lake in 1961. Jack had his medical practice in the Paulsen Building in downtown Spokane, but it was in his Liberty Lake home that he took care of Liberty Lake locals who were ill or injured. In the basement of the house, Jack and wife Mary built a secret medical room with a table and medical supplies. There he would provide medical care for everyone from laborers to visitors to his neighbors, removing fishing lures, stitching up gashes, and the entire spectrum of medical services, including piercing Karolyn Kosanke's ears and stitching up her brother's cut hand.
In 1968, the Spokane area experienced a terrible snowstorm, and the roads into Liberty Lake were closed due to large snowdrifts. Triber's in Spokane Valley lent Dr. Blair a snowmobile to use in case anyone in the Liberty Lake area might need medical care. One lady in particular concerned Dr. Blair, as she was pregnant and ready to deliver. The loaner snowmobile gave Jack the ability to treat her at her home on Garry Road before transporting her to the hospital, where a healthy baby was delivered. From 1969-1977, Jack was the team physician for the Central Valley Athletics Department. Jack was first and foremost a doctor who cared for his patients whether they could afford it or not. He helped many people who lived in poverty without receiving any form of payment. Jack Blair never really retired, as he was always available to care for those at the lake who needed medical attention.
The face and quality of medicine has vastly changed since Louisa Neyland, Margaret Rademacher and Dr. Jack Blair lived here. This was life before seat belts in cars, mandatory helmets for all sports activities and a time when children played outdoors with minimal, if any, supervision. Whether it was delivering babies or tending to the sick, infirm or injured, the residents of Liberty Lake always pulled together to overcome the challenges that faced them. They were a resilient community of people.
Ellen Martin Bernardo is vice president of the Liberty Lake Historical Society. She has lived in the Inland Northwest 34 years, 24 of those in Liberty Lake. She wants to especially thank Karolyn Kosanke, Joan Guell, Craig Guell, Denise Coyle and the Blair and Chalich families for contributions to this article.