Betty Wall, the last remaining founder of Unity Hospital in Fridley, passed away at 91
A leader and significant role player in Unity Hospital’s history, Betty Wall passed away at the age of 91 on Feb. 23, just 10 hours before her husband Calvin Wall.
Betty leaves behind an unforgettable legacy as the founder of Unity Hospital in Fridley and CEO of the North Suburban Hospital District for 43 years. The longtime Mounds View resident was the first representative from the city to serve on the North Suburban District Hospital Board.
The driving force behind the creation of Unity Hospital, Betty vowed to see a hospital in the northern suburbs after a frightening situation in the 1950s. Her son, Randy, was only four years old and had recently been discharged after a tonsillectomy at St. Mary’s Hospital. That night, Randy had ruptured his stitches, causing him to bleed out.
Randy Wall recalled the story his parents had told him. He remembered that all the surrounding roads near his home were dirt and gravel. There were no freeways or highways, but the family had to act quickly. Luckily, a police officer was driving nearby, who sped them down Central Avenue to St. Mary’s Hospital. The Walls arrived in time and Randy was able to receive blood transfusions.
“This really told my mother that we need a hospital in the suburbs, we can’t just rely on downtown,” Wall said.
In the late 1950s, Betty began her campaign of receiving care close to home, rallying for community support for a hospital in the suburbs.
“Betty was the driving force behind getting mayors and council people in their metro area to get a hospital located in this area,” current Chairman of the North Suburban Hospital District Board Gerald Maeckelberg said. Maeckelberg said Betty worked to get special legislation passed so it would be possible to form a hospital district, which in turn would allow for the hospital districts to build hospitals.
The mayors of nine suburbs and Betty then formed the first North Suburban Hospital District. The original members included Carl Eck of Circle Pines, Robert Pearson of Fridley, John Pappas of Columbia Heights, Bruce Hay of Hilltop, Arthur Otte of Lexington, Roy Anderson of Blaine, John Hillman of Coon Rapids, James Kinne, member at large, and Betty Wall of Mounds View. Eventually, four cities removed themselves from the group to form the present day board.
The next step was to raise money to build the hospital. Betty went door to door, trying to convince neighbors in the north metro that this was a worthy cause and to gather voter support for bond referendums.
Although three bond referendums were defeated, she sought out the help of Art Whitney, founder of Dorsey & Whitney law firm in Minneapolis. Whitney assisted the board with submitting legislation that allowed for the sale of general obligation bonds. These bonds are issued when a municipality will have the ability to repay its debt obligation through taxation or revenue from the project.
The funds allowed the group to start construction of Unity Hospital, purchasing a site on Osborne Road in Fridley which was originally a dozen acres of farmland.
In May 1965, a historic and deadly tornado ripped through Fridley, killing nearly a dozen people. This disaster delayed the opening for another year, and finally on May 23, 1966, Unity Hospital held its grand opening. Betty gave the opening remarks, stating that “her vision and dream had come true.”
Betty continued to be a leader to Unity, serving as the board’s chairwoman from 1962 to 1989. She championed many ventures to enhance the health of the community. During this time, the North Suburban Hospital District Board provided seed funding to build two senior housing units in the community, Wildwood and Osborne Apartments. They also worked to create Fridley Convalescent Home, a nursing home facility, which was purchased and operated. The hospital also nearly doubled in size and saw many additions, meeting the needs of the growing communities.
When Betty retired from the board, a street in front of Unity Hospital was renamed Betty Wall Drive as a memorial of her work.
In 2013, Betty was the first recipient of the Spirit of Unity award, recognition given by Unity Hospital. The award was given to Betty because without her vision and passion, the Unity campus would not have been a reality as it is today.
Contact Sarah Burghardt at [email protected]