What could be Grand Rapids’ first fund-raiser was a bright idea a small group of women called the Union Benevolent Association came up with in 1891 to pay the ten cents a day it cost for one bed in the UBA hospital, forerunner of Blodgett. Since Mary was then the most common woman’s name, these visionary marketers asked the community for dime donations to honor someone named Mary. The newspaper quoted their request, Any man, woman or child who has now, or has ever had, a dear one with that name is asked to give. The dimes rolled in. From then on, there was always one free hospital bed available for someone sick, but too poor to pay.
Fast forward twenty years when these pioneering women realized how important their little fundraiser had become. In 1911 they formed themselves into an official entity and stuck to their origins by naming themselves the Mary Free Bed Guild. How proud these early activists would be knowing their mission of caring for the sick had been carried on for over a century by strong, independent women like themselves who continue to govern the hospital as the Mary Free Bed Guild.
The culmination of that early ten-cent campaign is now a $42 million, six-story addition that will add 190,000 square feet to the existing 115,000 square-foot building all named for that first fund drive. Mary Free Bed Hospital is now the fifth largest rehabilitation hospital in the nation. With the feel of a luxury hotel, the large, colorful private rooms bring the outdoors in with wall murals of Michigan, feature a flat-screen TV, and have sleeper couches that turn into double beds for family members.
Eight gymnasiums. Computerized prosthetic limbs. Walkable hallways using ceiling mounted harnesses. A rooftop terrace, chapel, solarium with a two-sided fireplace. And, most important, Mary Free Bed’s highly skilled staff, specialists in rehabilitating injured bodies and brains, are devoted to returning patients to functioning lives as fast and as happily as possible. All this started by asking for a dime.