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Home . . About Rice. . History

Celebrating over 75 years of regional patient care

It all began with a gift. The philanthropic seed for a hospital belonged to one of Willmar's pioneer couples – Lieutenant Governor Albert Rice and his wife, Sophia. It is through the generosity of monetary and land gifts from the Rice family to the City of Willmar that Rice Memorial Hospital came to be.

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  • Our History
  • Rice Family

Rice Memorial Hospital, circa 1937In 1937, Rice Memorial Hospital was built with a trust from Colonel Cushman Rice in memory of his parents, Lieutenant Governor and Mrs. Albert Rice. During the next 75 years it grew to become the largest city-owned hospital in Minnesota. Rice is currently a Level 3 Trauma hospital and its service area encompasses 14 counties, providing healthcare coverage to a quarter of a million people.

The original 37-bed hospital cost less than $200,000. It began with 19 employees and eight medical staff. The first building addition occurred in 1943; the hospital expanded to 60 patient beds, 81 employees and 18 medical staff. A second addition took place in 1957 at a cost of $900,000. Patient beds increased to 102, medical staff to 25, and employee staff to 134. Rice was desginated as a regional hospital by the Minnesota Department of Health.

During the 1960s, Rice added dialysis, pathology, physical therapy, nuclear medicine and an intensive and coronary care unit to its expanding service line. A third edition went up in 1973 at a cost of $4.5 million, increasing patient beds to 159. Staff count reached 512 and medical staff grew to 49. Healthcare services added during the 1970s included occupational, speech and respiratory therapies, telemetry, mammography, ultrasound, mental health, chaplaincy, infection control and patient education.

Outpatient services increased in the 1980s, causing Rice to add a fourth addition and remodel to meet changing regional healthcare needs. The expansion cost $12 million. Rice was designated as a regional hospital emergency medical service center and regional trauma center for southwest Minnesota. A cancer center was added in 1986 at a cost of $1.7 million.

The most recent building expansion project, begun in 2001, cost more than $50 million and included a renovation of the entire hospital campus. It was designed to meet and exceed the expectations of its regional healthcare community.

Rice has developed into a state-of-the-art facility with a beautiful, healing environment that enhances quality clinical care. As a result of the remodel, there are now 100 private and spacious patient rooms, each with large windows and a foldout couch. Throughout the hospital, sights, sounds, colors and textures all come together to create comfortable and familiar surroundings that nourish the whole person - body, mind and spirit. It is a progressive way of envisioning healthcare delivery where the environment supports healing and reduces stress in the lives of patients and their families.

The Rice Health Foundation was created in 1986 by members of the hospital board and the community to provide expanded healthcare optioins to the hospital and community. Through philanthrophy, the foundation supports the vitality and quality of care of Rice Memorial Hospital.

Today, Rice employs more than 900 staff and provides dozens of specialty inpatient and outpatient services. Two hundred medical staff maintain active and affiliate privileges, representing 35 medical specialties.

As technology and services have expanded, Rice has continued to make those services accessible and affordable to other hospitals and clinics in its 14-county region. In addition to the Willmar area, Rice Hospice has seven satellite offices which serve the communities of Appleton, Benson, Dawson, Granite Falls, Montevideo, Ortonville/Graceville, and Paynesville. Laboratory outreach is provided in more than 30 hospitals and clinics, while mobile ultrasound and nuclear medicine continue to expand to meet outreach needs.

Its medical equipment business, Rice Home Medical, has expanded to include five retail locations: Willmar, Glenwood, Madison, Alexandria, and Redwood Falls. Rice worked with area physicians to build an ambulatory surgery facility, Willmar Surgery Center.

Rice remains committed to education and encourages and supports the pursuit of healthcare careers, especially in rural Minnesota. We support our local community college through active intern and job shadow programs. We offer clinical experiences for a number of healthcare professions, including medical, advanced practice nursing, physician assistants, pharmacy, laboratory, and therapy. As a leading referral hospital in our area, Rice partnered with the University of Minnesota to establish two important educational programs: The Southern Minnesota Area Health Education Center and the Rice Regional Dental Clinic.

Owned by the City of Willmar, the hospital is governed by a seven member hospital board appointed by the mayor. It is accredited by The Joint Commission and is a member of the American Hospital Association, Minnesota Hospital Association, Medi-sota, and VHA. Rice is truly positioned to continue its mission to restore and promote the health and well-being of residents and communities of west central and southwest Minnesota well into the future.

albert riceAlbert Rice

Albert E. Rice was born in Vinje, Norway, on September 24, 1845. He came to America alone at the age of 13 and settled in Cast Iron, Wisconsin. One year later, he enlisted in the Civil War as an errand boy. He entered active service at age 16. His left hand was wounded in the action at New Hope Church and he left service in April 1865.

After his discharge, Albert attended school in Wisconsin. He later moved to Minneapolis to take a job in a door factory.

When the western terminal of the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad was established in Willmar, Albert moved west. He met John Paulson and together they built the first store building on the south side of the new railroad in Willmar.

Albert became influential in Minnesota political circles. He became a member of the legislature in 1869. In 1876 and 1882, he was elected to the Minnesota State Senate. He became lieutenant governor under Governor Andrew McGill in 1886 and was re-elected in 1888 under William Merriam.

Albert acquired an interest in the Willmar Republic newspaper and later became its exclusive owner and editor. He also bought part interest in the O.B. Robbins lumber and machinery business and a partnership in the Hans Paulson's mercantile business, which was renamed Rice and Manning.

He became the first vice president at the Bank of Willmar and was later elected bank president. He continued to direct bank affairs until his death.

Appointed to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents in 1896, he served 24 years. Albert advocated for rural Minnesota, serving as a chair for the Regent's Agricultural Committee which managed the extension division and farm schools. He was also instrumental in developing the University of Minnesota--Morris.

September 11, 1921, Albert died following major surgery at the Mayo clinic. His body lay in state at the Masonic Temple in Willmar with the American Legion honor guard posted. Flags at the state capitol were lowered to half mast and Governor J.A.O. Preus spoke at the funeral.

 

sophia riceSophia Rice

Sophia Brattlund was born in Brattfors, Sweden, on January 31, 1854. Her family immigrated to America when she was ten, first to Illinois and then to Kandiyohi County to be near other settlers from their homeland.

As a teen, Sophia attended school in Winona for one year and returned to the Kandiyohi County area to teach. In 1874 she moved to Willmar to teach at the village school and later became school superintendent.

Sophia married Albert in 1877 and gave birth to their only child on March 15, 1878. They named their son Cushman Albert, after ex-Govenor Cushman Davis.

Sophia was well-respected and active in educational and cultural circles. She served on the Board of Examiners for Willmar Schools and was elected to the Willmar Board of Education in 1884.

She served as president of the Willmar Literary Society, secretary of the Woman's Improvement League, and treasurer of the local Red Cross Society. In 1903, she was appointed to the governing body of the new Willmar Public Library and continued as secretary of the Library Board.

Sophia was also her husband's confidante and counselor regarding his public life and political affairs until her death in 1914 at age 60.

 

cushman riceCushman Rice

At Albert's passing in 1921, the Rice Estate went to his son Cushman. As early residents, both of Cushman's parents had been instrumental in growing the Willmar community. The mayor had even decreed that Willmar businesses remain closed during each of their funerals.

Cushman Rice was born in Willmar. He graduated from Willmar High School and attended the University of Minnesota. In 1898, he enlisted in the Minnesota volunteers and served his Spanish War tour of duty in the Philippine Islands.

He participated in the Cuba skirmish and afterwards bought a 3,500-acre cattle ranch near Camaguey, Cuba.

When America entered World War I, Cushman enlisted in the Aero Corps. Commissioned as a major, Rice commanded the American Aviation units attached to British Expeditionary forces and was cited for distinguished service.

He fought at the Somme, the Nesle, Chaulnes, Villiers, Bretenaux, LaBasse, and Mt. Kennel. He suffered exposure to gassing near Amiens and was rushed to the hospital where he spent five months recuperating.

Cushman enjoyed hunting big game around the world, including China, Africa, Australia, and South America. He traveled extensively, always accompanied by his servant, Lem Foi. He spent summers at his home on Green Lake and winters on his ranch in Cuba.

Succeeding his father, Cushman managed the Rice estate and retained local interests. When three Willmar banks suffered in 1929, Cushman reorganized them into one using personal funds to avert a bank crisis.

Cushman's death at his Green Lake home on Sept. 4, 1932, shocked the community. He was only 54, but had been in ill health for several months. Pallbearers at his funeral were comrades from Willmar's soldier organizations. Honorary pallbearers included Gove. Floyd B. Olson, Earle Brown, Dr. William Mayo, and Otto Bremer.

Newspaper accounts from the time called him a "soldier of fortune" and a "globe trotter." Today, it's been suggested that the romantic war hero could have been the inspiration for the character, Jay Gasby, in F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, the Great Gasby.

Was he or wasn't he? We may never know, but the important things to recognize are that he served his country in two conflicts and that he served his home town during the depression. And, he once again became a local hero when he carried out his parents' wishes to build a local hospital.

In the Last Will and Testament of Cushman A. Rice, he bequeathed to the City of Willmar five lots at the corner of Becker and Third, along with the request to remodel the old Albert Rice home on said lots into a modern up-to-date hospital at an expense of not more than $50,000 or less than $49,000.

He also requested that the old Hans Rice house located on the lots be remodeled as a nurse's home for the hospital at an expense of not more than $7,000, or less than $6,000.

The will also reads: "This hospital shall for all time be known as the Rice Memorial Hospital in honor of my mother and father Albert and Sophia L. Rice."

The provision was made that the hospital be open to persons of all creeds or sects, colors and conditions, and that all doctors licensed to practice by the state of Minnesota be allowed to practice there.

 

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