It's hard to imagine how 6-year-old Neil Burch felt when his mother dropped him off at Primary Children's Hospital in April of 1938. Hundreds of miles from home, he was left alone with strangers while dealing with a crippling leg affliction.
He doesn't deny that his 14-month stay in the hospital was a difficult time for him. However, looking back six decades later, sweet memories were what led him to suggest to the Church that a plaque be placed near the site of the original facility to remind people of the good done there.
His suggestion led to the Church, in conjunction with the current Primary Children's Medical Center, placing a plaque on the Conference Center block prior to the 80th anniversary of the dedication of Primary Children's Hospital.
The plaque is installed on a large granite stone near the corner of North Temple and West Temple streets. The hospital — dedicated on May 11, 1922, in the former home of the Orson Hyde family — was located mid-block on the north side of North Temple where the Conference Center now stands.
The bronze plaque includes an etched image of the hospital and information including its founding by Primary President Sarah Louisa Bouton Felt and her counselor, May Anderson. It also recounts how most of the hospital's operating funds came from birthday pennies donated by Primary children and from the annual Primary Penny Parade fund raiser.
A new Primary Children's Hospital was opened on 12th Avenue in 1952, and the Church transferred ownership to an independent, non-profit corporation in 1975. The plaque acknowledges that the spirit of dedication for the care of children continues in the newest location of Primary Children's Medical Center on the University of Utah campus.
Brother Burch, then living in Roseville, Calif., with his family, was 5 when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the bone, crippling his left knee. By the following spring it was decided he could get the best care at Primary Children's Hospital.
His early days there were hard because he was quarantined, kept alone for several days. He still remembers the strict discipline of head nurse Anna "Mamma Rose" Rosenkilde, the months of wearing a cast which left his leg itchy and sore, and of being away from his family. He was luckier than some of his fellow patients. His father, Phil, worked for the railroad, so his mother, Virginia, was able to get a pass to ride the train to Salt Lake to visit him almost monthly. But, he remembers, it was almost unbearably heartbreaking when it came time for tearful good-byes.
Now decades later, the dominating memories are pleasant. He said Mama Rose was loving despite the discipline. In fact, he says all the hospital staff was kind and thoughtful. And he made friends of many of his fellow patients. They participated regularly in fun activities and parties together. He finished first grade while in the hospital and said he did well academically.
Some of his fondest memories are of attending Church. After he got sick, he wasn't able to go to Church at home, so being able to go while in the hospital was a blessing that he credits for putting him on a path of spiritual growth. Also, he loved the view from the hospital porch of the Salt Lake Temple across the street.
Although he continued to walk with a limp, his treatment in the hospital enabled him to return home and lead a relatively normal life. He served a mission to Finland and then had a career in social work with the Church. Retired from Church employment, he still works independently with adoptions. And he recently finally received a knee replacement that almost eliminated his limp.
Standing near the plaque, he said when he looks past it he sees the new Conference Center that he loves so much. But he said in his mind's eye, he can still see Primary Children's Hospital. "I can see it as clear as anything."