Community gathering focuses on future of former hospital

George Copeland Jr. | 6/6/2024, 6 p.m.
Hazel R. Stamps, Viola Johnson, Hazel N. Robinson, Ida Ruth Robinson. These nurses and others were remembered during the third …
Community members return to the former Richmond Community Hospital for another “Community Church on the Lawn” meeting. The purpose of the meetings is to advocate for the preservation of the historic structure. Photo by Julianne Tripp Hillman

Hazel R. Stamps, Viola Johnson, Hazel N. Robinson, Ida Ruth Robinson.

These nurses and others were remembered during the third community gathering at the former Richmond Community Hospital on Sunday morning.

“We honor their efforts to alleviate suffering,” said Viola Baskerville, co-founder of the Save Community Hospital group. “We honor their dedication. We honor them.”

A dozen residents of various ages assembled on the building’s front lawn at 11 a.m.

The meetings are part of an effort to preserve the historic building amidst redevelopment plans by Virginia Union University.

The importance of recognizing and remembering these nurses and their accomplishments was a major part of the gathering. This was emphasized by a firsthand account from VUU alumna and former Richmond Community Hospital Foundation board member Mary DePillars on how the hospital’s nurses cared for her son after his tonsil surgery in 1973.

“Now, all these years later, a traumatic experience for a young mother and her little boy was capsulized by the lasting effect of ice cream and a little green airplane brought in by a caring and compassionate nurse in the middle of the night,” DePillars said “That kind of response created a turning point for my little boy.”

Attendees also participated in a restorative community-building circle led by Ashley Williams and Vanessa Cowles of the Well Collective, a group focused on community well-being. This activity emphasized reclaiming and restoring spaces, honoring ancestors and lineage and community engagement.

Sunday’s gathering was one of several focused on the building’s future. On Monday evening, Baskerville and her Save Community Hospital group co-founder Alan Schintzius appeared on The Work FM (93.9 WRWK) radio station as part of a new hourlong series discussing hidden parts of Richmond’s past.

The two discussed the hospital’s history and its many connections to Richmond’s development over the decades, with more conversation on neglected parts of the city’s history and culture planned. They also addressed the ongoing community interest in the hospital, particularly as VUU is planning discussions on their intention to redevelop the area near the campus as part of a housing project.

Baskerville and others are now preparing for an event celebrating the 90th anniversary of the hospital’s grand opening on Sunday, July 7.