Very few of you will recall vividly President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's trip to Rochester almost 80 years ago.
Roosevelt came to honor doctors Will and Charlie Mayo for their humanitarian work with disabled World War I veterans. Eight days from now, on Aug. 8 is the 80th anniversary of that event, which happened at Soldiers Field before crowds estimated at 75,000 to 100,000. No, I wasn't there, approaching my third birthday later in August.
It was a stifling hot afternoon as Roosevelt praised "Doctah" Will and "Doctah" Charlie for their services to humanity. A speaker's tent had been erected and a large plaque was presented by the president and the American Legion. Also on the stand was Clarence (Clare) Fischer, commander of the Charles T. McCoy Post of the American Legion in Rochester, and Ed Hayes of Indianapolis, who presented the citation. Hayes was the American Legion national commander. Roosevelt spoke for approximately 8 minutes that day.
How did this come about anyway? The story was told to me in a Nov. 22, 1971, KROC Radio noon hour interview by Clare Fischer, a WWI vet and a proud American.
"In mid-March that year Greg Gentling, former Post-Bulletin newspaper man and I took the train to Washington D.C. to invite President Roosevelt to come to Rochester to honor the doctors Mayo. We managed to get an audience with Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt's advisor, who made no promises" Clare said. Hopkins advised them to go home and wait and "we'll see if we can work it into the president's schedule."
"We came back, not saying much to anybody, sort of holding our breath to see if it would happen," Clare said. "We knew the President was a friend of the American Legion and that Will and Charlie were also members. They had been commissioned brigadier generals in the Medical Reserve Corps of the U.S. Army in 1921 for their wartime efforts. Doctors Will and Charlie were honored with the Distinguished Service Medal of the United States in 1926."
Finally, in early June, the word came to Rochester that the president and Mrs. Roosevelt would be arriving in their private railroad car in early August for the occasion. There was very likely a lot of city "sprucing up" for the president's arrival, which included stops at both Charlie's Mayowood mansion and Will's home, the Foundation House, on Fourth Street Southwest. Clare went on to tell me, "I drove my 1934 Packard transporting the president and Mayo Brothers around our city, and again in 1938, when the Roosevelts returned to visit son James following stomach surgery at Saint Mary's Hospital. It's a famous picture in the Mayo archives of the president and Mayo brothers riding."
A photograph of the event at Soldiers Field includes two children standing beside the plaque honoring the Mayo brothers that day. I called Dr. Charles H. Mayo II, grandson of Dr. Charles Horace Mayo, to find out who they were.
"The small boy standing in front of the president is Waltman Walters, grandson of Dr. Will Mayo, and the little girl is Mildred "Muff' Mayo, granddaughter of Dr. Charlie Mayo," he told me.
I asked how the nickname "Muff" was chosen? "It was because as a little girl she got sunburned and Dr. Charlie said she looked like a little muffin, and the name "Muff" stayed with her through life," said Charles H. the second.
It's a year of milestones: the 150th for Mayo Clinic, the 80th anniversary of President Roosevelt's visit and the 75th observance of the deaths of Dr. Charlie (May 26, 1939) and Dr. Will (July 28, 1939).
To memorialize the president's visit, the History Center of Olmsted County 50 years ago established a large plaque just west of the Soldiers Field swimming pool, the exact location of the Aug. 8, 1934 visit. That year in 1964 the ceremony occurred Aug. 10 and I'm proud to say I conducted the KROC broadcast of that 10:30 a.m. event.
Next week: The 40th anniversary of Threshing Day at the history center by the Mechanical History Roundtable.