In celebration of March being National Women's History Month, the Litchfield Historic Preservation Committee would like to acknowledge three women who contributed to the history of Litchfield.
The first is Madge Bellingham, a registered nurse who graduated from Ashbury Methodist Hospital in Minneapolis. This hospital was moved to St. Louis Park after World War II and became today's Methodist Hospital. Bellingham worked at Ashbury Methodist Hospital as superintendent. On Oct. 13, 1917, she came to Litchfield Hospital in the position of superintendent, which was equivalent to the hospital administrator today. In 1917, Litchfield Hospital was located on North Holcombe Avenue, where the offices for Ecumen are located today.
During Bellingham's first year in Litchfield, the 1918 flu epidemic struck. Bellingham worked more than 18-hour shifts from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily for six months. She took a room at the hospital and stayed there, just in case the staff needed her. During the depression, Bellingham took no wages to keep the hospital solvent. Her $100 monthly salary reached $1,500, and she was compensated when the economy got better over time.
The "new" Litchfield Hospital — Meeker Memorial Hospital — was built in 1952. Bellingham was asked to be the head of the surgery department but declined. Her reputation and professionalism lived long after her retirement and even after her death in 1970. In the 1980s, nurses were still taught patient care and nursing tasks "because that is the way Miss Bellingham did it."
Anna Olson Determan
One of Litchfield's early chiropractors was Bernard S. Determan, and his wife, Anna Olson Determan, came to Litchfield with her family in 1888. Anna graduated from the Litchfield High School in 1905. She attended teacher's training in Winona and the University of Minnesota. She taught high school for 14 years and became the supervisor of the Litchfield High School teacher training department.
Determan's civic accomplishments include forming the Litchfield League of Women's Voters and being the first president in 1921; being chair of the Central Parent Teachers Association of Litchfield; being appointed in 1933 by Gov. Floyd Olson to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents; being one of two delegates from Minnesota to the 1935 National Conference of University Regents and Trustees; and in 1936, being appointed to the Board of Control by Gov. Olson.
Her many civic activities resulted in improvements in the State of Minnesota, not just the city of Litchfield. In his book "The First 100 Years," P.J. Casey noted that she "served with distinction" as a member of the Board of Regents for the university. On Aug. 18, 1920, Tennessee was the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, which allowed women the right to vote. Determan was a pioneer for women's rights in the years following the passage of the 19th Amendment.
The final woman the HPC would like to acknowledge contributed to "recent history" — history within the last 50 years. Norma Berke changed the Litchfield community in several ways. Berke started "The Shopper's Guide" in the late 1950s. Berke, and her husband Fred, purchased the building at 236 N. Sibley Ave. in the 1960s. The space was shared with Tri-County Water Softening. "The Shopper's Guide" was published every Tuesday, and during the early years, Fred and Norma had to drive to Madelia, Minnesota, to have it printed. The Shopper's Guide was sold in 1976, and Norma came back in 1982. In November 1982, the publication was sold to the Independent Review.
Norma Berke and Litchfield became household names in a several-county area with her "Litchfield Area News" on KDUZ Radio at 10 a.m. weekdays. In 1957 KDUZ inquired about someone to do Litchfield news for their radio station. In Joe Paddock's 1990 Oral History project, Norma states that Chief of Police George Fenner suggested her to KDUZ, and the rest is history.
Jim Ohnstad's introduction to the show was "Good Morning from KDUZ. Time now for the Litchfield Area News with Norma Berkke. Our Sponsor today is ...." Some of Norma's frequent sponsors were L & P Selling Service, owned by Laura, Paul and Steve Clouse; Doffing's Smartwear, owned by John and Anne Mattsfield; and Tri-County Water Softening, from Hutchinson with an office in Litchfield. Norma would contact her sponsors and talk about new dresses at Doffings, a mattress sale at L & P or a water softener sale at Tri-County. Norma would announce at the beginning of her show if she was going to have a recipe that day; this allowed all the women to get their papers and pencils.
Berke first called in on the phone from her home. Then she had a microphone and broadcasted from 218 S. Sibley Ave. This home was the radio station for several years. Finally, after buying and building a home just south of Litchfield, Berke had a studio in her home for the weekday broadcasts. During her radio shows, Berke sometimes got her "papers" mixed up, her dog barked when someone was at the door and her phone would ring. These features of her radio show endeared her to everyone since this was just daily life in Litchfield.
These three women made significant contributions to Litchfield. Bellingham's dedication to the health and well being of Litchfield's citizens is long-standing and very admirable. Determan's efforts for women's rights extended beyond Litchfield to a state level. Berke's radio show made Litchfield a household name in west central Minnesota.
"This has been Norma Berke…Thanks for listening…Bye now."