Birthing A Community

“Munroe” hospital has had several names and continues to be the “portal” through which many Ocalans begin life, with more than 2,400 babies delivered each year.

In 1898, the impetus for building a hospital in Ocala was a man being run over by a horse and wagon on a downtown street. Historical notes indicate that Ben Rheinauer, the owner of a dry goods store, was one of the first people to come to the aid of the injured man, along with Dr. E. Van Hood and Dr. La Foss. The man was treated at Dr. Van Hood’s office but Rheinauer expressed the opinion that Ocala needed a hospital.

Rheinauer, Van Hood, Dr. S.P. Eagleton, Dr. A.L. Izlar, C.H. Campbell and C.L. Bittinger, editor of the Ocala Evening Star newspaper, joined forces in planning for such a venue.

The Rev. J.C. Porter, publisher of the newspaper, owned a three-story building at the corner of Fort King and Osceola. He offered the empty top floor for use as a temporary home for Marion General Hospital, at no charge.

In 1901, the hospital moved to a three-story building at Adams and Orange streets, now Northwest Second Street and First Avenue, the notes explain.

A third move was made in 1915, to a new building on South Orange Street and, in 1927, a 73-bed hospital was built and was named Munroe Memorial Hospital in honor of T.T. Munroe, an Ocala banker who led the effort to expand the hospital near its current site on Southwest 1st Avenue. 

Through these incarnations, the hospital became a fixture of the community, notably as a place where expectant mothers could deliver their babies.

In 1965, the Florida Legislature created the Marion County Hospital District (MCHD) as a governmental agency to oversee healthcare for the residents of Marion County. The MCHD is governed by a seven-member board of trustees appointed by the Marion County Board of County Commissioners. The MCHD owned Munroe Memorial as a public hospital. 

In 1980, it was renamed Munroe Regional Medical Center (MRMC) to reflect its wider service area. In 2014, the district ceased operating MRMC and Community Health Systems (CHS) took over operations. CHS later sold the lease to Adventist Health System. In 2019, the facility name became AdventHealth Ocala. The MCHD remains responsible for investing the lease proceeds on behalf of the citizens of Marion County and uses a portion of the earnings to fund public health projects. 

The AdventHealth Ocala campus is a sprawling complex that offers a wide range of healthcare programs, including mother and baby care. It remains the only local hospital where expectant moms deliver their babies, as many as 2,400 a year.

And that is where we come to recognize that this venerable institution of healthcare has, in fact, served as a proverbial portal of entry for thousands and thousands of local residents over its nearly 125 years. 

Among those are Amy, Katherine and Caroline Schlenker. Amy’s parents, Edsel and Betty Jane Rowan, moved to Ocala in 1955. 

“My dad was the Marion County Agricultural Extension agent for decades and my mom was a schoolteacher who taught generations of Ocalans,” Amy notes. “I am the youngest of three. My sister Pam was born in Tallahassee and my brother Russell was born at Munroe in the late 1950s. I was born at Munroe in 1967.”

After Amy married fellow Forest High School student Dave Schlenker, who became a noted local journalist and still writes in the pages of this magazine, they welcomed two daughters—both born at MRMC, even though the couple did not even live in Ocala for the second birth. 

“Katherine ‘Katie’ was born in 1999 at MRMC. Caroline was born there in 2003,” Amy explains. “We were living in Gainesville in 2003 but we wanted to stay with our Ocala doctor, who delivered Katie, and, certainly, have Caroline born in the same hospital where Katie and I were born. It was important to us. My family has a deep history in Ocala and that includes Munroe. I love telling people our daughters were born in the same hospital as me. I still have a hard time calling it Advent because it will always be Munroe to me.”

As for whether their daughters might become mothers in the same hospital, Amy offers, “I don’t know.”

“One has left Florida and the other is heading to college and not looking back,” she adds. “But many Ocalans were the same way, including my husband. We did not have that connection, either, at that age, but we love raising a family in a town that has so much of our family history. Some of our daughters’ best friends are the daughters of our school friends growing up in Ocala. That is special to us and may be special to them one day.”

When asked how an inanimate object—a building—can remain connected to so many personal histories of people in Ocala, Amy notes, “Many of our life events were at Munroe, be they happy or sad. Munroe means a lot to our family.”

April Copeland shares similar sentiments.

“I was born at Munroe in 1967 and then each of our children were born there, Drew in 1994, Ansley in 1998, Tucker in 2001 and Ashton and Payton in 2002,” she says. “I always found it special to have our kids in the same hospital where I was born.”

She says her husband, Andy, has lived in Ocala since he was 2 years old. 

“So, even though he wasn’t born here, Ocala was where we both called home and we wanted our kids to grow up in the same way we did,” she explains. “Munroe was very much the hometown hospital.”

The family/hospital connections for Steffany Gladdin go even further back. 

“My dad, Jack Harward, was born at Munroe in May 1944. My brother Scott Harward was born there in July 1966. I was born there in July 1969,” she shares. “My husband, Joey Gladdin, was born there in July 1968 and I believe his sister, Cheryl Gladdin Knight, was also born there, I believe in 1965.” 

And, in May 2000, Steffany and Joey’s daughter Ryleigh was born there.

“I love the fact that my family has multiple generations who were born in the same hospital,” Steffany offers. “It is such an important part of our established roots in this community.  We all grew up here and still live in the area today. Ocala has grown and changed tremendously in our lifetime. But these institutions that have been here for generations help us keep that ‘small town’ feel.”

These Ocalans have treasured memories of “their” community hospital. And no doubt all the new generations being born here will develop those as well. 

George Waren Clayton, first baby born at AdventHealth Ocala in 2022.

In a far cry, literally, from the old-timey “father’s labor room,” next to the delivery room, where an intercom system allowed new dads to hear their baby’s first cry and to learn the gender, receiving maternity care at AdventHealth Ocala now is truly state-of-the-art. That includes services ranging from pregnancy education and support classes to labor and delivery to postpartum support. There is even a Birth Day Experience, which includes a Birth Designer, to assist mom through her journey and special touches to create a “one-of-a-kind celebration.”

But going all the way back over its many years as our community hospital, wasn’t it always a special celebration when a new Ocalan entered the world. OS

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