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Our Lady of the Angels (OLA) School Fire, December 1, 1958

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Remembrances of St. Anne's Hospital Staff Secretary

By Elizabeth Albright

My name is Elizabeth Albright. I am now [August 2013] 103 years old and at the time of the fire I was Staff Secretary at St. Anne’s Hospital. Two of my brothers-in-law, Bill Dvonch and Jim Segraves, were doctors at St. Anne’s and both were intimately involved in the care of the children.

My first recollection of the events of the day was when I was in the lobby of the hospital in mid-afternoon. The Admitting Desk was in the lobby. A man came into the entrance of the hospital with a very worried look on his face and asked “Where is the Emergency Room?” The lobby was empty at the time, just me and two telephone operators. I went down to the Emergency Room to make sure that people were there and ready. Satisfied, I went back to my office and the lobby was crowded with many people and the people were directed to a meeting area. The people were mostly family members. It was at this time that I first learned of a fire at a parochial school and my first reaction was that my children were at a parochial school. I later found out that the school was Our Lady of the Angels and my kids were at another school.

I then saw two young boys, in school uniforms, both with bewildered looks on their faces: they were looking for their sister. The hospital had become very crowded with family members - people were crying everywhere. The sounds of sirens from police cars and ambulances were very loud.

In the Emergency Room, it was not noisy but there was a sensation of being stunned. People were looking for their children, not knowing that many were already in the morgue. While the doctors and nurses in the Emergency Room were performing their duties, we were trying to get the people organized into one area.

Throughout the day there was a great deal of traffic on Division Street, cars, trucks and pedestrians. Most of the pedestrians were running. Constantly you would see drivers open up their car or truck doors to give the pedestrians a speedier arrival at St. Anne’s. The charity of outreaching was remarkable.

By the next day, everything was very orderly – all of the facilities were operating as usual. The nuns saw to that. There was never any reference to costs – it was all about the patients.

A few weeks later it was Christmas. My brother-in-law was Dr. Bill Dvonch and he treated many of the kids. Bill had a large family and we were there for Christmas dinner. Bill was a surgeon and he carved the turkey perfectly. As soon as the carving was done, Bill left for St. Anne’s – he never ate the dinner. He was taking care of a little boy with serious burns. Bill told the boy that he was going to get better and they would play golf together and Bill would buy him a set of clubs. The little boy [Billy Edington] died the following August.

My other brother in law, Jim Segraves, was an orthopedic surgeon at St. Anne’s. Due to his background, Jim was deeply interested in and involved in disaster programs. Jim was very dedicated to the medical care of the kids and it made such an emotional impact on him that he was never comfortable talking about the fire. Jim was there every minute of every day and he was terrific and a very kind man.

Elizabeth Albright
August 2013