“Whenever you enter a sickroom, always enter with a prayer on your lips.”
Kate Pelham was supposed to grow up to be a proper young lady in Boston, not serve as the only doctor in the wilderness of northern Wisconsin in the early 20th century. But despite her father’s wishes, she was determined to be doctor. However, after medical school, her husband’s health brought them to northern Wisconsin. Soon she knew every back road and cabin as she served as the only doctor in the area. She visited patients by car, by snowmobile, by canoe, and by snowshoe—whatever it took. She never sent a bill. Instead she was paid in firewood and vegetables.But what she dreamed of more than anything for her patients was a hospital. And that’s when the kids of the community got involved. They set out to collect a million pennies—$10,000—to help Dr. Kate build a hospital. What they didn’t know was that their local efforts would set off a worldwide campaign. As the news spread, coins poured in from countries across the world. Student carted bushels of pennies. Dr. Kate read thousands of letters. She starred on national television and her story was told in a national bestseller. And in 1954, she became the Lakeland Memorial Hospital’s first Chief of Staff.
Read an Excerpt
In the fall of 1953, something happened that really got the hospital construction moving. Arbor Vitae-Woodruff geometry teacher Otto Burich asked his class to imagine a million of something. They counted the holes in the ceiling tiles and estimated how many square feet it would take to reach a million. But that wasn’t very exciting. Then they talked about collecting a million of something, just so they could see the pile. Acorns. Or maybe stones. Then a girl said she’d like to see a million pennies all together. The rest of the class liked the idea. A million pennies. Imagine. $10,000! But what would they do with it? And that’s when the class thought of Dr. Kate’s hospital just up the road, whose building had stalled because of lack of funds. What if they gave the pennies to the hospital? (Keep reading…)
Honors and Awards
- A 2010 Read On Wisconsin Book Club pick
- 2009 Finalist in the Juvenile Non-fiction Category from ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award
- 2010 Finalist in the Children’s Non-Fiction Category from National Indie Excellence Awards
- 2010 Finalist in the Children’s Non-Fiction Category from USA National Best Book Awards
Why I Wrote THIS Story
Although I’ve never been a doctor in the northwoods, there’s a lot of me in this book. First of all, I grew up in the woods of Wisconsin. Secondly, there’s something that has always fascinated me about local history. I love to imagine events that occurred in the past right where I’m standing. Finally, I admire Dr. Kate as a woman who pursued her dream of becoming a doctor in a time when most women didn’t have careers outside the home. And I am wowed by her toughness and tenacity as a rural doctor. That’s what drew me to jot down the idea of writing about Dr. Kate when I first heard about her on the Wisconsin Public Television show Wisconsin Stories. But it wasn’t until a few years later when I was working in a Wisconsin university library that I had the resources at my fingertips to pull together her story in a book for kids.
Since that time, my Dr. Kate story has been used as a fundraiser for my own public library. And, shortly after the book came out, a retired professor from Florida contacted me. She used to live in northern Wisconsin and had an autographed copy of Dr. Kate’s first biography that she wanted to give away. Would I like it? Oh my, yes.