Their Good Deeds Live On - Brannan, Wilkins, McGehee, Shellenberger Gifts
Posted on Friday, January 14th, 2022
The 50th anniversary of Mercy Health/Love County is coming up on January 30, 2022.
If you’ve ever been a patient of the hospital, clinic, or EMS ambulance, pat yourself on the back. Choosing local health care keeps rural hospitals open. And rural hospitals keep small counties alive. Ten thousand persons call Love County home.
“The health care sector is indispensable in attracting jobs and families to Love County. No rural county thrives without health care,” wrote recently-retired CEO/Administrator Richard Barker in a hospital publication.
Yet 25 county hospitals in Oklahoma have closed since 1985. The remaining 25-bed facilities receive public support from county sales taxes, as does Mercy Health/Love County. Some of them teeter on the brink of closure anyway, challenged to provide emergency and primary care as well as be the safety net for the uninsured.
In 31 years as hospital administrator, Barker and his team managed finances exquisitely, not just keeping the doors open but actually expanding medical services, adding departments, and even building an award-winning “health campus” in Legacy Park, its walking trail and Growers Market, and the social service centers directed to housing DHS and providing adult day care. The hospital is one of the best employers in the county, with 147 employees.
Strong alliances with Mercy Health System and the Chickasaw Nation the past 20 years were significant parts of the sustainment and growth picture for the hospital, which remains county-owned. But also helping were charitable trusts set up by firm believers in the “Love County Health Center” as the hospital was christened, in its first decade.
Brannan Trust – Bill and Bette Brannan and Claude and Jane Brannan, who had successful careers in the oil and cattle industries in Loves Valley, established the Brannan Trust in 1974 to benefit the then-new Love County Health Center.
“We did it for the purpose of keeping the hospital open and as good as it can be,” Claude Brannan said on the Trust’s 30th anniversary in 2004. At age 83 and since deceased, he was the last surviving between the two couples.
The Brannan Trust has been responsible for more than $1 million in total donations. Spending goes toward hospital equipment, nurse/technician education, and similar hospital needs, according to Arthur Rickets, one of three trustees, along with Ken Delashaw and Lynn Puckett. The investment advisor is the Trust Department of Citizens Bank in Ardmore.
Every department of the hospital, clinic, and EMS has benefited from trust purchases, such as ventilators, rehabilitation equipment, ambulance and trauma room equipment, expensive lab equipment for analyzing cardiac enzymes related to heart attack diagnoses, and radiology lab computers. Trust money also established a preceptor program to allow medical students from Oklahoma and north Texas to train in Love County.
More than 70 nurses and technicians over the years have borrowed, interest-free, from the trust, to complete their educations. They have received generous payback periods or had loans forgiven entirely after working at the hospital for a minimum period.
Brannan funds built the pantry building and make food purchases. Simply having the foundation as a non-profit entity enables the hospital to reach out and participate in community projects. Examples over time have included serving as the holder of funds for the child-abuse multidisciplinary team and other health coalitions.
The Brannan’s gift called for the establishment of Love County Health Center Foundation, made up of citizens appointed by the Love County Commissioners, to approve spending. Rickets chairs the foundation. Members include Delashaw, Puckett, Lawrence Anderson, Patty Bone, Willis Choate III, Willis Choate IV, Ron Jacobs, King Martin, James Moffatt, Dr. J.T. O’Connor, Niki Powell, and Tammy Willis. Carla Bolton of the hospital serves as secretary.
Also notable in the Brannan Trust was the late Gene Washburn. He and his wife Willis Anne and their children moved to Marietta in 1971, when Gene and his partners established FirstBank. He served as president and chairman of the board for the next 23 years.
The Brannan brothers were customers from the beginning. They asked Washburn to chair the Brannan Trust and direct its investments. The Love County Health Center honored Washburn in 2004 for 30 years of service.
At the event, Barker pointed out the essential role Washburn played in the early 1990s when the local hospital, like many rural health care providers in Oklahoma, fought off closure.
“I relied on Mr. Washburn to guide me during the difficult time the hospital faced. He had the idea for the bank to engage in a lease purchase of hospital equipment until the sales tax had been voted in, and with the help of Ken Delashaw, our hospital attorney, we developed the plan and we were one of the first hospitals to stay open in this fashion. Now lease-purchases are commonplace.”
“Also, in the early years of the trust, spending was restricted to capital equipment. During the threatened closure, Mr. Washburn obtained approval from the trust to spend on operations, and that helped keep us open, ” Barker said.
Washburn praised the hospital as “great for the community and one of the few to survive and do so well.”
“Claude Brannan and his brother Bill were always very community-minded, very loyal to Love County and interested in anything for the betterment of the community,” he added. Washburn died in 2014.
EMS/Fire Radio Tower on Oswalt Rd. was a $165,000
purchase of the Wilkins Estate Trust in 2013. The tower
meant that, for the first time, ambulance and volunteer
fire departments would have their own radio frequency,
apart from law enforcement.
Wilkins Estate Trust – A shiny new ambulance, an ultrasound scanner, a 250 ft. repeater tower for EMS/fire department radio communications-- all are examples of improvements made possible by the hospital’s Wilkins Estate Trust.
Investments and revenues from oil and gas production form the bulk of the endowment. The hospital has been a major beneficiary since 1982, upon the death of Chester C. Wilkins, a prominent Marietta lawyer and civic leader.
“He loved the hospital. He formed a strong allegiance because of the care he had received there,” recalled Marietta Monitor publisher Willis Choate, who was mayor during the time Wilkins was active in civic life.
In addition to his law practice in Wilkins and Wilkins, a firm started by his father in 1910, Chester Wilkins served as Marietta mayor from 1923-1929. He held the office of Associate District Judge from 1969-1977. He was appointed to the Marietta Water Company Board of Directors in 1959, the year it was established. He served continuously in the post until a few years before his death. His family included no wife or children.
Increased oil production in recent years strengthened the trust. On numerous occasions, the hospital has used a pass-through loan from the Wilkins Estate Trust to purchase ambulances on a planned basis. Love County EMS repays the Trust, interest-free with collections from the three mills of property taxes that accrue to the county’s ambulance service.
One of the most prominent gifts, in 2004, was a $100,000 ultrasound scanner for the radiology department.
A plaque in the hospital lobby is in memory of Chester C. Wilkins (1891-1982). “This gift,” it states about the Wilkins bequest, “will give additional strength and stability to the organization and stimulate its dedication to superior health care for the people of Love County.”
Ed F. and Jessie McGehee Estate – This Trust was the gift of Mr. McGehee (1895-1982) and Mrs. McGehee (1896-1981). The Board of Love County Commissioners holds the Trust for the benefit of the hospital. For many years, the estate contributed funds for major purchases and special needs.
Shellenberger Land Grant – The heirs of Frank (1878-1968) and Lillie Belle (1884-1969) Shellenberger made a gift of 10 acres on which the Love County Health Center was constructed in 1972.