Statue unveiled to commemorate 75th anniversary of hospital fire

April 18, 2024 

HSHS St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital leaders and colleagues, Hospital Sisters of St. Francis, city officials, retired firefighters and community members joined together on April 14 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the St. Anthony Hospital fire with a special event. 

The ceremony included the unveiling of a statue of a nurse holding a baby commissioned by the Effingham Retired Volunteer Firefighters Association (ERVFA) to memorialize the victims of the fire, and honor those who bravely fought the fire as well as those who helped raise funds to rebuild the hospital afterwards. The statue’s home is near the hospital’s healing garden by the Prairie Heart Institute entrance on Maple Street. Following the unveiling ceremony, the statue was blessed by Father Adam Prichard, Hospital Chaplain.

HSHS St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital’s President and CEO Chad Markham shared how the hospital continues to honor those who lost their lives with the “Memorial” that is part of the hospital’s name. “It is never far from our hearts,” said Markham. “We are grateful for the brave first responders and firefighters who took action that day in 1949 as well as those who respond to emergency situations today.” 

Markham reflected on his opportunity to get to know the retired fire chiefs through the planning process for this event. “Their efforts to erect this statue demonstrate their commitment to recognizing those who served heroically at a difficult and tragic time for our community, he said. “The strength of the Effingham community has always been amazing, We, along with the Sisters, remain grateful for the community support that arose just hours after the fire. We still feel that bond today.”

Effingham Mayor Mike Schutzbach reflected on how the community together suffered, grieved and prayed during and after the fire. As he helped pay tribute to the memory of lives lost, lives saved, and families forever changed, he also shared how “endless acts of kindness, valor and faithfulness have led the way over the years for a legacy of unity and rebirth.” 

Representing the ERVFA were Nick Althoff, President, and Jim Wolters, Vice-President. In his remarks, Althoff shared about the history and development of the Effingham Fire Department, along with information about the ERVFA and the association’s purpose. 

Althoff also shared historical information about the St. Anthony’s Hospital fire. Wolters also reflected in his remarks on the changes that resulted from the tragic fire. He shared, “As a result of this incident the National Fire Protection Association investigated and changed many of the regulations and fire codes nationwide thus possibly saving numerous lives.” 

Wolters shared how the idea for the statue came about to recognize the 75th anniversary and the reasoning behind it. “The City of Effingham, HSHS St. Anthony’s and the ERVFA feels that all those who perished in the fire, those brave firefighters who fought the fire, the volunteers who helped in the search, the committee who organized the fund raising for the new hospital and all of those who donated, should not be forgotten. They can be remembered by the presence of this statue and the awesome structure behind us.” 

Both Althoff and Wolters thanked all of those who generously donated to make the statue possible. The not-for-profit ERVFA raised the funds for the statue through private donations and a $15,000 donation from the City of Effingham. 
 
Statue unveiled to commemorate 75th anniversary of hospital fire
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Vicki Macklin

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