$5 Million Gift From Kennedy Family Puts Erlanger Over The Top For 1st Phase Of New Children's Hospital

Friday, August 10, 2018
Steam train heads for new home at Children's Hospital
Steam train heads for new home at Children's Hospital

A $5 million gift from the Jim Kennedy family has put Erlanger Health Systems over the top for the first phase of its new Children's Hospital.

Officials said it is the largest single gift in Erlanger's history. 

The Kennedy family said Children's Hospital is especially dear to them since Molly Kennedy was born there as a premature baby. She told the group that her parents did not get to see her for the first three months as she was being treated. She said the facility saved her life.

Over 6,000 donors helped raise the $42 million needed for the new outpatient center on 3rd Street across from the main campus. 

The new facility where children will be treated is set to open in four months. 

Kevin Spiegel, Erlanger president and CEO, noted that he had a vision upon his arrival here five years ago for a new world-class hospital for children, replacing the present outmoded one. "People thought I was crazy," he said.

Grady Williams noted that he and Tom Edd Wilson took on the challenge of raising the $42 million. He said Mr. Wilson was present for the groundbreaking on June 6 of last year, but he died of a heart attack a few days later. "We were together every day the week before talking about raising the money," he said.

He said the first big boost for the drive was when Olan and Butch Mills donated $1 million. They were among those present for the dedication. 

Bruce Komiske, who helped oversee the project, also took part in the event. He also designed and built Erlanger's new facility at Gunbarrel Road in East Brainerd. 

At the same ceremony a steam locomotive on loan from the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum was to be lifted by crane next to the hospital. 

Crowds lined Third Street as a police escort led a heavy flatbed truck with the engine aboard. The driver somehow made the tight curve at the new facility, then the process began of getting it lifted onto a waiting track. Another rail car had already been put into place.

There will be a roof over the train display and it will be lit at night and outfitted with train sounds. 

Don Mueller, Children's Hospital CEO, said the newly painted train is designed to "try to decrease the anxiety of children as they arrive at the hospital. It will bring joy to kids for many years."

Engine 349 was built in 1891 - the same year Erlanger was founded with a $5,000 gift from railroad executive Baron Erlanger. 

Tim Andrews of the TVRM said the engine at one time was in the back yard of a Macon physician, and his children played on it. When the doctor began looking around for someone to take the historic engine, he turned to the Chattanooga train museum.

It has been on display for many years at the TVRM headquarters. Mr. Andrews said it would have been too expensive to bring it up to standard for again hauling trains.

He said it ran for many years on the Central of Georgia Railroad and may have operated in Chattanooga, though it mainly ran in the South Georgia section of that once venerable line.

More to follow...

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