SPH’s 100th baby turns 60, hospital’s family-focus hasn’t changed

SPH’s 100th baby turns 60, hospital’s family-focus hasn’t changed

It isn’t just the first baby born in a new year that local businesses, community members and South Peninsula Hospital welcome with gifts. Born June 13, 1959, to Chet and Briar Walker of Ninilchik, David Kenai Walker also was celebrated recently. Turns out, Walker was the 100th baby born at the Homer hospital.

“There was a savings bond from the governor for $50 that Mom gave to me and there were other gifts from Homer merchants,” Walker said in an email interview from his home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “Apparently they were anticipating the 100th baby. Bingo!”

While the gifts and the savings bond from Gov. William A. Egan are long gone, there is one item that has traveled with Walker for six decades, a plaque presented by the Homer Women’s Club that identifies Walker as the hospital’s 100th baby.

“Mom showed it to me when I was four or five years old,” Walker said. “It’s a small thing in the world but it’s big when you’re a kid to have that notoriety.”

A year earlier, the Walker family — Chet, Briar and their six children — left their home in Ohio and headed to Alaska. Traveling with another family, they made an impressive caravan: four adults, 12 children, and four vehicles. A few days after arriving, the other family decided Alaska wasn’t their cup of tea and headed back to Ohio, but the Walkers settled in the Happy Valley area.

When Briar Walker went into labor on June 13, 1959, Chet Walker was working away from home. Putting 12-year-old son Bill in charge of the home front until a neighbor arrived to take over and with the signs of labor increasing, Briar began driving the 40 miles to Homer. Construction was underway on the Sterling Highway and somewhere between Anchor Point and Homer, Briar’s vehicle got stuck. Thanks to a tow from a grader, she was able to make it to Homer in time to have her new son delivered by Dr. John Fenger, Homer’s only in-residence doctor from 1956-1965.

“There were no phones or anything and I don’t even know who came and told us he’d been born,” said Amy Garroutte of Ninilchik, who was 8-years-old when her brother David Kenai was born.

It was a week before mother and son finally came home. It was six weeks before Chet got time off to meet his son.

Homer’s hospital opened its doors in 1956. Todd Hiner was the first baby born there, arriving Aug. 22 of that year. When Dr. Paul Eneboe began practicing in Homer in 1968, the small hospital only had two two-patient rooms, another room with two obstetrics beds, and “a kind of delivery-operating room,” said Eneboe. When Barbara Peterson joined the hospital nursing staff in 1969, the importance she placed on family-centered births brought a new dimension to the hospital’s family care.

“At that time, having family in the delivery room or having kids in the labor room was unheard of. That was sacrilegious,” said Eneboe. “Barbara ‘bullied’ me into trying it. … And then we ended up, Barbara and me, going to Anchorage and Palmer and talking to the medical staff up there about our experience and how the world didn’t end.”

After Larry Reynolds set up a medical practice in Seldovia in 1974, he flew patients needing hospital care to Homer, the southern Kenai Peninsula’s only hospital.

“It was mostly OB patients and in the middle of the night,” Reynolds said. One of those patients was his wife, Cheryl, who made the trip to Homer and slept in the hospital waiting room until labor began.

Some practices in caring for new moms and infants have changed over the years. Babies used to be put in bassinets so mothers could rest, but now rarely leave mothers’ sides. Infants used to be put on their stomachs to sleep, but now it is known that putting a baby on its back is best.

What has continued to grow over the years is the emphasis on family-centered births as Derotha Ferraro, the hospital’s director of public relations and marketing, was told by two long-time Homer nurses, Sue Brooks and Bonnie Betley.

“We did, and still do everything to accommodate the delivering mother’s wishes. One mom invited 23 people into the delivery room for her fifth and last birth. For decades we have worked to create a family-focused birthing center experience,” Brooks and Betley said.

That emphasis is something Garroutte appreciates.

“When my oldest granddaughter was born, I was in the room and it was a whole different experience,” she said of the comparison between then and now.

When her baby brother was born, however, the only family members present were Briar Walker and her new son. While David Kenai Walker doesn’t recall the specifics of that day, he has a plaque as evidence of the hospital and the community’s family focus.

“It used to have brass strips that held the plaque squarely in place, and I know of one time at least that it fell off the wall, but I’m 60 years old and that plaque has certainly been around with me,” he said.

McKibben Jackinsky is a freelance writer who lives in Homer. She can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@gmail.com.

SPH’s 100th baby turns 60, hospital’s family-focus hasn’t changed
SPH’s 100th baby turns 60, hospital’s family-focus hasn’t changed
SPH’s 100th baby turns 60, hospital’s family-focus hasn’t changed

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