Historical Society hosts annual ‘History Lives’ tribute and fund raiser at Villa

The Healdsburg Museum and Historical Society’s annual History Lives program, which honors a “history pioneer,” held last Saturday at the Vila Chanticleer featured a special focus on the community’s health care history by honoring retired doctor Ed Neal, the “dean of Healdsburg medicine.”

Pioneer honored

Pioneer honored — Dr. Ed Neal (at left) was honored as the 27th ‘History Pioneer’ by historical society president Eric Ziedrich during the organization’s annual tribute and fund raiser, held Saturday, Sept. 21 at the Villa Chanticleer.

Arriving to Healdsburg in 1964, fresh from his residency training program, Neal, now 88, fast became a leader of the local health care community, spearheading the construction of a new hospital in 1970, helping create a farmworker clinic that is now Alliance Health Center, and delivering more than 1,000 babies over four decades of family practice. With his wife, Marge, he also raised a family of three sons and a daughter — three of them following him into the health care profession.

Prideful, but humble, Dr. Neal on Saturday thanked the museum board and audience by acknowledging the many physicians in the room, his past patients and his family. Holly Hoods, curator for the museum, said it is figures like Neal who “have made Healdsburg what it is today and place full of both familiar faces and new folks, too.” Board president Eric Ziedrich said Neal was “a true pioneer, who helped create” the Healdsburg of today. The Pioneer award has been presented since 1999 and has been given to wine industry leaders, prominent attorneys, a newspaper publisher, educators, civic leaders and women and men business owners. Last year’s honorees were Jim and Meredith Dreisback, members of a pioneer family and active museum volunteers.

Fellow retired physician, Dr. Dave Anderson, led a toast and tribute to his friend.

“What would our town be like if Ed had never come here?” Anderson asked. “We got a new hospital, an Alliance Clinic, eight doctors coming here and 40 years of caring for the whole family.”

Dr. Doug Pile, one of many young doctors recruited by Neal to set up practice in Healdsburg, also offer his tributes on Saturday.

Neal is credited in his profession for leading a new discipline in California medicine where he developed a special focus on family inside of his General Practice offices.

“I provide comprehensive continuing care to my patients and their families. The patient in many cases is the family,” Neal wrote in a medical report during the middle of his career.

He was known to make home visits to a family a week or so after a baby delivery to check on the young family and often share a meal.

After his education at U.S. Berkeley and UCSF Medical School, Neal came to Sonoma County as part of a new residency program located at the county-owned Community Hospital in Santa Rosa. He joined the practice of Clyde Wellock and Nick Grace. The three doctors convinced Monsignor O’Hair of St. John’s Catholic Church to set up a weekly clinic, named Centro Medico Familiar. Patients were charged $1 or treated for free if money was an issue. Pile and Dr. Andy Andolson also volunteered at the clinic. Other doctors recruited to Healdsburg over the years by Neal have included Jim Carroll, Dan Rose, Mary Berg, Barbara Sinclair and Locke Wilson, not to mention his own son, Tom.

The first hospital in Healdsburg was established in 1908 as a five-room sanitarium. It is now the site of the Camellia Inn on North Street. In 1920, a larger hospital was opened at the corner of Lincoln and Johnson streets, led by Necilla and Charles Jones, who learned medicine during World War I. A fire destroyed the original building and a community campaign was put together to build a new institution on the same site and being christened Healdsburg General Hospital. It had 62 patient beds but was eventually outgrown by an expanding community.

In 1972, a ribbon cutting ceremony was held for the hospital complex that still stands at 1375 University St. Over 2,000 people attended the first-day ceremony. That day, Neal offered welcome remarks to the crowd, including, “this hospital is so good it’ almost worth getting sick to get in.”

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