The description which follows is not an in-depth study of the Kent County Medical Society. Rather, it is a sketch prepared from available information and records in the Society office. Substantial material has been drawn from the manuscript of Mrs. William W. Jack that was researched for the “Story of Grand Rapids” and from Dr. William R. Vis’ “History of Medicine in Western Michigan.” The balance is taken from meeting minutes, Society Bulletins, and a collection of files and records. Special thanks to those listed above and Mr. William (Bill) G. McClimans, Sr., Executive Secretary of the Kent County Medical Society from 1958 to 1988.
The Kent County Medical Society began in 1889. The first meeting was held at the Morton House on November 22, 1889, and Dr. S.R. Wooster was elected as its president. Plans were made to incorporate under the laws of the State of Michigan, and the membership was opened to “all regular practitioners who were graduates of colleges recognized by the American Medical Association.” The organization was not successful and thirteen years were to pass before the Society, as we know it, was established.
Reports indicate that a total of ten medical groups were organized during Grand Rapids’ first century. One of these groups, the Grand River Valley Medical Society, was organized in June, 1852, and included areas outside of Grand Rapids and Kent County. There is also mention of a Kent County Medical Society being organized in 1855, but we find no further references made to that group.
Another group, the Grand Rapids Medical and Surgical Society, was founded in 1856 and became the Grand Rapids Medical Society. This group’s activities were suspended during the Civil War when many of its members volunteered for military service. They resumed activities in 1864, but its membership began to wane in 1884 in favor of the Grand Rapids Academy of Medicine, which was organized in October of that year. Weekly meetings of the Academy were held in the office of the secretary, and dues were fixed at $3.00 per year. Absence from meetings for more than four months without good reason was considered sufficient to cancel one’s membership.
This organization passed an official resolution in 1889 at a “supper meeting” at the home of Dr. Joseph B. Griswold to open its membership to women physicians. Included in an 1890 roster were three women, Doctors Bessie Earle, Emma Nichols Wanty, and Frances A. Rutherford. More than a century passed however, before the first woman, Rose Ramirez, M.D., was elected as president of the KCMS in 2000. Doctors Alison Dark, Judy Hiemenga, and Anita R. Avery followed in her footsteps.
The Medical and Surgical Society of Grand Rapids was founded March 1, 1897 at the Morton House. A newspaper account of the occasion states that it was organized as a rival to the Grand Rapids Academy of Medicine. Dr. James A. De Vore was elected president after Dr. Schuyler C. Graves later to become the second president of the Kent County Medical Society declined the honor.
Dr. Joseph B. Whinery, among others, was active in rehabilitating the Kent County Medical Society, and in 1902 a plan was proposed which would entitle each county in the State to organize a constituent county medical society in affiliation with the Michigan State Medical Society. Accordingly, on November 14, 1902, the Kent County Medical Society was reorganized with 43 charter members, each presumably “residing and practicing in Kent County… a legally registered practitioner of medicine… who is of good moral and professional standing.” Dr. R. H. Spencer was elected as its first president. A list of all the presidents appears elsewhere on this site.
After the turn of the century, the attendance and membership in the Grand Rapids Academy of Medicine began to show a gradual decline. Older members remained loyal, but the reorganized Kent County Medical Society began to enlist the younger members. There appeared to be considerable rivalry between the old Academy and the young Kent County Medical Society. Of the first eight Kent County Medical Society presidents, only two had been members of the Academy. The Academy ceased to exist in 1914.
Meetings of the newly organized Kent County Medical Society were frequent and held in the Farmers’ Club room of the county building. The meeting was changed in January, 1903, to rooms at the Ladies’ Literary Club, which offered the space, including heat, lights, and janitorial service. for two evenings a month for an annual fee of $50.00. Minutes of meetings at this time indicate the average attendance to be 25-30 members with annual dues of $4.00. Early in 1904, the Society moved its meetings to the Board of Trade rooms, and there is some indication this move may have resulted from the Ladies’ Literary Club refusing to grant a $12.50 reduction in the fee for the use of its rooms.
At the Annual Meeting on December 11, 1907, the secretary reported a total of 108 members in good standing. The secretary also reported that some of the Society’s greatest accomplishments that year were the acquisition of new members, increase in the number of case presentations, and more with “a total of 18 regular meetings were held during the year, 19 papers were read, 33 cases exhibited before the Society, and $292.00 was paid into the treasury.” Meetings of the Society were semi-monthly in the 1920’s and for a time were held at the Women’s City Club and Sunshine Sanatorium. Then the meetings alternated between Butterworth (now Spectrum Health) Hospital and the Pantlind (now Amway Grand Plaza) Hotel. Customarily, two or three papers were presented at each meeting, and, by the early 1930’s, the average attendance at regular meetings was 68.
The Society moved its meetings to its rented Library and Club Rooms in the Medical Arts Building in February, 1932. Records indicate that 200 members attended the first meeting. Meetings continued on a semi-monthly basis in these facilities through 1939 with some dinner meetings being held at the Pantlind and Rowe Hotels. Membership had reached 245 in 1937, and five delegates in the Michigan State Medical Society House of Delegates represented the Society.
The 1930’s were important years for other significant developments in the history of the Society. A resolution in 1932 resulted in the organization of the Woman’s Auxiliary with an initial membership of 90 spouses. This organization is currently known as the Kent County Medical Society Alliance. Its membership, both male and female spouses of physicians, currently totals 158 members. The KCMS Alliance sponsors many projects in the community on behalf of physician families. The annual Charity Ball for Children raises funds for local, non-profit organizations assisting children. To date, the Alliance has gifted approximately one million dollars to local charities, raised through this annual event.
A decision was made in 1940 to hold monthly meetings (instead of semi-monthly), and these meetings were dinner meetings at the Pantlind Hotel. A report of the Board of Directors in December 1941, indicated activities of the Society as a whole had declined to an all-time low. Perhaps times and conditions had its effect as World War II was occurring. The Board, however, felt the decline was partly due to the change in the frequency of meetings.
Many members answered the call of military service and the Society’s Bulletin soon contained correspondence from all corners of the world. Those who remained at home found themselves working long hours caring for the added patient load. A resolution was presented at a Society Meeting early in 1942 suggesting that the public be educated to place calls for house visits early in the day, so that physicians could arrange their visitation routes without retracing their steps, thus conserving gasoline, rubber, and wear and tear on their aging automobiles.
Beginning in January, 1943, meetings were held at the Browning Hotel, the former Ferguson Hospital. By fall of the same year meetings returned to the Pantlind Hotel. From May, 1949, through November, 1961, meetings were held at the Peninsular Club with some Annual Meetings held at local country clubs. Having outgrown the facilities at the Peninsular Club, the Society returned to the Pantlind Hotel where, except for a few meetings, it remained until September, 1979, when the hotel was closed for renovation. Meetings have been held at various locations since that time. Membership has increased from 244 members in 1940 to 1055 members in 2009. The Society currently operates with the assistance of seven Board Members, and several standing committees, and 20 representative delegates and alternate delegates at the Michigan State Medical Society House of Delegates.
The Society records and office address followed the elected secretary-treasurer after leaving the Club Rooms at the Medical Arts Building until January, 1955, when the Society entered into an agreement with the Merchants Service Bureau to provide clerical assistance to the secretary-treasurer. The KCMS office was located at 190 Monroe Avenue N.W., Grand Rapids until December, 1979. The KCMS office has relocated several times in the community, and currently rents office space in the Masonic Temple Association building on the corner of Fulton Street and Lafayette Street.
Members have been active in medical affairs at the state and national levels through the years. Fifteen physicians from Kent County have been elected to serve as president of the Michigan State Medical Society.
- 1868 William H. DeCamp, M.D.
- 1879 George K. Johnson, M.D.
- 1886 Charles Shepard, M.D.
- 1893 Eugene Boise, M.D.
- 1897 Joseph B. Griswold, M.D.
- 1911 D. Emmet Welsh, M.D.
- 1929 J.D. Brook, M.D.
- 1934 R.R. Smith, M.D.
- 1939 Burton R. Corbus, M.D.
- 1945 V.M. Moore, M.D. (Died before taking office)
- 1946 William A. Hyland, M.D.
- 1966 C. Allen Payne, M.D.
- 1991 Robert D. Burton, M.D.
- 2004 John M. MacKeigan, M.D.
- 2006 Paul O. Farr, M.D.
- 2015 Rose M. Ramirez, M.D.
- 2016 David M. Krhovsky, M.D.
Another Kent County physician was speaker of the American Medical Association House of Delegates; and other Kent County physicians, too numerous to mention, have been leaders in local, state, and national medical and allied health organizations. The Society was one of the first medical societies in the country to establish a 24-hour emergency call service. This was launched in December, 1948, with all male members under 50 years of age, regardless of specialty, taking emergency calls on a rotating basis for anyone who had no doctor or whose doctor was unavailable. This service continued through January, 1975.
There is also considerable evidence of Society influence at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. One of the museum committees had significant input in developing the doctor’s office in the Gaslight Village exhibit. A permanent health exhibit opened in February, 1970 featuring the Wonder of Life display and the Transparent Anatomical Manikin. KCMS sponsored a Health Fair held at the Civic Auditorium in 1963. Almost every member in the Society played an important role in this spectacular educational effort.
There are, many other programs and accomplishments of the Society that deserve to be mentioned, such as its participation in the adoption of Blue Shield in 1939, and the Owens Forms on various medical problems held in the middle 1950’s. In 1961, the Kent County Medical Society, along with a charitable trust, created the Kent Medical Foundation. This foundation was created exclusively for charitable, scientific, and educational purposes. It was incorporated in 1966 and is supported primarily by the medical profession. The Foundation’s impressive record through 2008 includes providing 700 tuition grants to 612 students pursuing careers in medicine or allied health fields at four local colleges and three hospital schools of nursing. In addition, it has issued loans to 300 medical students, totaling $760,000. The local community benefits from the Foundation’s efforts as some recipients of this aid later return as practicing physicians and other health professionals.
In early 2009, the Kent Medical Foundation Board of Trustees conducted a strategic planning session and changed its mission to embark upon new initiatives in three major areas: community service projects, educational loans for medical school, and research projects (all based upon economic conditions and fund availability). One project that has been made possible with the partnership of retired physicians is the NicoTeam program. Retired physicians and dentists educate local school children on the health hazards associated with tobacco use. Michigan State University–College of Human Medicine students work with local families on healthy cooking options to care for any chronic illness and to prevent future illness. In addition, in partnership with West Michigan United Way, MSU-CHM students work with local families to encourage more physically active lifestyles, a program called Fit Kids 360.
In 2003, the KCMS partnered with the Kent County Osteopathic Association (KCOA) in offering a pharmaceutical discount card called the Physician’s Rx Care card. This card allows local residents who do not have pharmaceutical insurance to receive discounted medications at participating pharmacies.
Project Access, a physician volunteer program linking volunteer physicians to medically uninsured patients, was developed in 2004 through the cooperative effort of both the KCMS and the KCOA. In its nine years of operation, Project Access has coordinated more than $6.5 million dollars in donated health care through volunteer physicians and hospital charity care programs.
Many institutional changes have affected Project Access, including the Affordable Care Act (passed in 2010, with planned implementation in 2014). These changes have caused physicians and hospital systems to change how they provide charity care which has in turn challenged Project Access’ continued existence. Currently the non-profit program is reviewing options as it continues to provide community health resource navigation assistance to residents of West Michigan.
You can learn more about current activities by visiting the following websites:
The Kent County Medical Society Board of Directors works diligently to maintain a valuable, professional association, uniting the physicians of Kent County in a mutual organization which serves to preserve and promote the health of local citizens, the physician/patient relationship, the medical profession, and the interests of physicians.
KCMS Presidents’ Council
- R.H. Spencer, M.D. 1902
- Schuyler C. Graves, M.D. 1903
- Earl Bigham, M.D. 1904
- E.G. Edwards, M.D. 1905
- Thomas C. Irwin, M.D. 1906
- S.L. Rozema, M.D. 1907
- George L. McBride, M.D. 1908
- Collins H. Johnston, M.D. 1909
- Richard R. Smith, M.D. 1910
- D. Emmett Welsh, M.D. 1911
- Burton R. Corbus, M.D. 1912
- Eugene Boise, M.D. 1913
- Alex M. Campbell, M.D. 1914
- Frederick C. Warnshuis, M.D. 1915
- Jacob D. Brook, M.D. 1916
- Francis J. Lee, M.D. 1917
- Ralph H. Spencer, M.D. 1918
- Henry J. Vanden Berg, M.D. 1919
- Aaron V. Wenger, M.D. 1920
- James S. Brotherhood, M.D. 1921
- Alden H. Williams, M.D. 1922
- R.J. Hutchinson, M.D. 1923
- William Northrup, M.D. 1924
- F. Dunbar Robertson, M.D. 1925
- John R. Rogers, M.D. 1926
- Vernor M. Moore, M.D. 1927
- Harrison S. Collisi, M.D. 1928
- Thomas R. Gordon, M.D. 1929
- William A. Hyland, M.D. 1930
- Horace J. Beel, M.D. 1931
- Robert H. Denham, M.D. 1932
- Henry Pyle, M.D. 1933
- Carl F. Snapp, M.D. 1934
- Joseph B. Whinery, M.D. 1935
- John W. Rigterink, M.D. 1936
- A.B. Smith, M.D. 1937
- Abel J. Baker, M.D. 1938
- William R. Torgerson, M.D. 1939
- Paul W. Willits, M.D. 1940
- Pious L. Thompson, M.D. 1941
- Leon Sevey, M.D. 1942
- W.B. Mitchell, M.D. 1943
- Willis L. Dixon, M.D. 1944
- William J. Butler, M.D. 1945
- William R. Vis, M.D. 1946
- Milner S. Ballard, M.D. 1947
- Elmer W. Schnoor, M.D. 1948
- Joseph F. Whinery, M.D. 1949
- Frank L. Doran, M.D. 1950
- L. Paul Ralph, M.D. 1951
- J. Duane Miller, M.D. 1952
- W. Clarence Beets, M.D. 1953
- John R. Pedden, M.D. 1954
- C. Allen Payne, M.D. 1955
- Stanley L. Moleski, M.D. 1956
- David B. Hagerman, M.D. 1957
- Howard G. Benjamin, M.D. 1958
- James W. Logie, M.D. 1959
- Joseph R. Lentini, M.D. 1960
- Jack Hoogerhyde, M.D. 1961
- Kenneth E. Fellows, M.D. 1962
- Carl B. Beeman, M.D. 1963
- J. Russell Brink, M.D. 1964
- William Haeck, M.D. 1965
- Dale L. Kessler, M.D. 1966
- James A. Ferguson, M.D. 1967
- Charles E. Farber, M.D. 1968
- John R. Wilson, M.D. 1969
- Richard A. Rasmussen, M.D. 1970
- James P. Muldoon, M.D. 1971
- Reinard P. Nanzig, M.D. 1972
- Carl H. Moberg, M.D. 1973
- Perry W. Greene, Jr., M.D. 1974
- Harold E. Bowman, M.D. 1975
- Jack G. Lukens, M.D. 1976
- Robert D. Burton, M.D. 1977
- Albert E. Posthuma, M.D. 1978
- R. Jack Chase, M.D. 1979
- Timothy M. Talbott, M.D. 1980
- Steven C. Bauserman, M.D. 1981
- Ralph W. Ortwig, M.D. 1982
- Joseph D. Mann, M.D. 1983
- Bernard P. Kool, M.D. 1984
- Willard S. Stawski, M.D. 1985
- Albert R. Dugan, M.D. 1986
- Peter D. Van Vliet, M.D. 1987
- Joseph A. Sentkeresty, M.D. 1988
- James K. Watkins, M.D. 1989
- Paul O. Farr, M.D. 1990
- James R. Irwin, M.D. 1991
- Charles R. Henry, M.D. 1992
- James A. Surrell, M.D. 1993
- Douglas A. Edema, M.D. 1994
- John H. Beernink, M.D. 1995
- John P. Papp, M.D. 1996
- David M. Krhovsky, M.D. 1997
- R. Paul Clodfelder, M.D. 1998
- John R. Maurer, M.D. 1999
- Rose M. Ramirez, M.D. 2000
- Brian A. Roelof, M.D. 2001
- Alison Scrimgeour Dark, M.D. 2002
- Wayne Creelman, M.D. 2003
- Bruce C. Springer, M.D. 2004
- Robert C. Richard, M.D. 2005
- Jay P. LaBine, M.D. 2006
- Judith A. Hiemenga, M.D. 2007
- Thomas H. Peterson, M.D. 2008
- Anita R. Avery, M.D. 2009
- Patrick J. Droste, M.D. 2010
- Gregory J. Forzley, M.D. 2011
- David W. Whalen, M.D. 2012
- Phillip G. Wise, M.D. 2013
- Donald P. Condit, M.D., M.B.A. 2014
- David E. Hammond, M.D. 2015
- Jayne E. Courts, M.D. 2016
- Herman C. Sullivan, M.D. 2017
Approximately 1000 local physicians are members of the Kent County Medical Society. Annually, programs associated with the KCMS and its physician members provide valuable information on community health resource navigation, continuing medical education, legislative recommendations to improve the practice of medicine, and more often through time and talent voluntarily gifted by physicians. All of these efforts contribute to a healthy and vital community.