Ghosts of Main Street: Keeping Us Safe

March 14, 2019

By Julie Traynor

On March 26, 1953, researcher Dr. Jonas Salk announced that he had successfully created a vaccine against the dreaded killer and crippler of children and young adults, poliomyelitis. Near epidemic outbreaks of polio in the late 1940’s and the early ‘50’s set researchers on a frantic search for a way to stop this age-old scourge. Salk was the first to find a successful vaccine. His announcement sent in motion a massive production of the vaccine and plans for a country wide program to inoculate everyone.
Marion, like every other place declared war on poliomyelitis. It was brought to the forefront when President Franklin D. Roosevelt contracted the disease in 1939, and locally each time a new area resident was stricken. The growing number of debilitating yearly cases solidified this country to the cause of beating polio.

No one was immune to the chances of being stricken with poliomyelitis. At its height, 58,000 new cases and 3,000 deaths were anticipated each year. Thousands were left paralyzed and disabled. These were primarily children and young adults, although everyone was susceptible. And so was born the March of Dimes, a.k.a. the Mother’s March against Polio, to help in the fight.

A ‘poke in the arm’ doesn’t seem to phase Terry Wooten as Dr. Youngman prepares to inoculate him in this well known 1956 photo. Maxine Marsh Jenema Cariano, RN, was his well remembered and long time helper at these inoculation events. 

A ‘poke in the arm’ doesn’t seem to phase Terry Wooten as Dr. Youngman prepares to inoculate him in this well known 1956 photo. Maxine Marsh Jenema Cariano, RN, was his well remembered and long time helper at these inoculation events.

In February 1956, the local chairman of the March of Dimes was Earl Rawson, Marion’s postmaster. He announced a goal of $600 was set for the year’s drive. The school’s Mother’s Club, assisted by local Girl Scouts would oversee the door to door solicitations of the Mother’s March. Rawson reminded Marion that “Polio is still not licked and a tremendous sum is needed to conduct this fight.” Marion knew the costs all too well.

Fueled by the pledge that no more children should die or be crippled by polio, mother’s marched door to door collecting donations; donations of change. Hundreds of thousands of dimes were collected toward the prevention of polio. School kids everywhere donated their dimes.

Marion’s 1956 Fifth Grade class collected so many dimes that the coins when placed on cards and strung together, stretched completely around the classroom, out the door and part way up the stairs. This was a tidy boost to the Village’s March of Dime’s goal. It was also a creative money raising challenge to other classes and groups at the Marion Public School.

The local restaurants, bakery and the drug store soda fountain held a specific and popular fundraiser known as ‘Coffee or Coke Days’. All proceeds from coffee and cola sales on these designated days were donated to the March of Dimes. Various organizations and local clubs participated. Donations were received from the Kiwanis, Lions, Chamber of Commerce, church groups, all Scouting troops and local businesses. The members of Riverside Electric’s UAW-CIO Union contributed $50. The joint efforts of the Coffee and Coke Day drinkers brought in a combined and whopping $94.65; this at a time when a cup of coffee was 15 cents and a Coke was as little as a dime.

Marion, Michigan was no different than any other place in America when it came to the occurrence of polio. People were stricken here just as they were everywhere around the globe. Our own Dr. Youngman was stricken and recovered to serve our community for 28 years. The young daughter of the John and Veda Hohn, who owned the Middle Branch Grocery, was gravely ill and the entire community pulled for her. Dr. Youngman promised her the doll of her choice. Fern Gillmore, the mother of Village President Don Gillmore, recovered but used a crutch to assist her for the rest of her long life. The late Phyllis Johnson Weaver was also a polio survivor.

The folks in the Village of Marion rallied around 10 year old Barbara Outman who was stricken with polio in the early 1950’s, before any vaccines. The ladies of the West Marion Home Extension Club mounted a campaign to purchase a 17” screen television for Barb when WWTV became a reality.

The first polio vaccination clinic was held in Marion on April 26, 1955 when 128 children were inoculated at a free clinic at the school gymnasium. Parents were urged to bring their children for the second shot in the series of three on August 24, 1955. The polio inoculations were given to all children ages 1-14 years.

Within a short time the immunization clinics held by the Health Department included a growing range of vaccinations and immunizations. Marion’s children, through one or a series of inoculations, became protected from measles, mumps, chicken pox, small pox, the dreaded whooping cough and of course, polio. Because we have been so diligent in protecting our children, small pox has been declared dead and we are no longer immunized against it. Because of immunization, the global occurrence of polio went from 350,000 cases world wide in 1988 to just 22 in 2017.

In the summer of 1956 Marion’s children would be introduced to fluoride treatments. And that procedure, in the scheme of things, was an entirely different adventure.

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