Mary Ann Fuller (Markham) went to work at the Ilwaco Hospital on January 5, 1940. Her pay was $55 a month and board. Except for a brief stay nursing her aunt in Seattle, it was her first job after completing her nurses’ training at St. Luke’s Hospital in South Dakota. “I loved it,” she told Pat Aase (Erikson) in a 1998 interview about those early years in Ilwaco.
“Then Dickie Ojay (Dickie Peterson), my good friend, came in the fall of that same year and soon after she came, another girl … Kay Lohse and we three worked with Dr. Strang and Dr. Marsh. We all came single and all got married here and Dickie and I raised our families here. Kay went back east… her husband was from back there… but our Ernies (Ernie Ojay and Ernie Markham) were both from here so we stayed.”
Of those first few years she said, “I lived downstairs in the basement and Dickie lived up in the attic… and Kay lived up there most of the time [unless] she stayed with friends in town. If we had an emergency that came up at night… I had a long broom handle and I’d knock on the ceiling and wake Dickie up and she’d come down and help me or, if she was on duty, she’d stomp on the floor over my bedroom and that meant get up and get going!
“When I first came here it was pretty primitive. We did not have a sterilizer so we had a pressure cooker. We had an electric plate we sat on the floor over an asbestos pad and sterilized our stuff in that pressure cooker… a bit awkward but very effective. I think, if I’m not mistaken (and I could be), the oyster workers gave us our first real sterilizer, an honest to goodness one… It was a very welcome piece of equipment. We felt a little better about our sterilizing after that although we had very few infections so it [the old method] must have worked.
“Of course, we didn’t have any of these walkie-talkie things, but if we decided we wanted to go maybe to Long Beach it was quite a project because we walked or hitchhiked. In those days… everybody knew us and we knew everybody…there was no danger in it. So, if we wanted to go somewhere at the same time, then we’d have to keep calling in to see if there was anything going on that we should get back for and then somebody would always take us back. Of course, if there were any sirens or anything, we knew we’d better go home.”
Except for five years in the mid-1950s when she lived and worked on the Quinault Indian Reservation at Tahola where her husband was a fish buyer, Mary Ann worked in Ilwaco. She was at the “old” hospital until it closed and then at the “new” hospital when it was completed in 1978. She also worked for Dr. Neace at his clinic in Ilwaco and was a founding member of the Washington State Nurses Association. But it was her work at the “old” hospital that patients and staff members remembered with affection. Dr. John Campiche summed it up perfectly: “She was the soul of the hospital,” he said.