During the first half of the 20th century, Robert H. Smith M.D. was trying to find a cure for a disease that was running rampant in the city of Akron and across the nation. The disease had such a stigma about it though, that most all hospitals refused to accept patients that were suffering from it. Doctor Smith found one sympathetic person who was in charge of admissions at the newly built Saint Thomas Hospital. Sister Mary Ignatia was a small Irish-American who would start treatment of the stricken patients by admitting them with a diagnosis of “acute gastritis.” Smith never found a cure, but he and partner William Wilson, “Bill W.”, devised a treatment plan that would save lives, figuratively and literally, of hundreds of thousands of people. Today millions know “Dr. Bob” and the 12 step treatment program of Alcoholics Anonymous, not just in Akron but around the world.For many years alcoholism was thought to be a moral failing, thus the reason that alcoholics were refused treatment, even when they were suffering withdrawal and needed medical treatment the most. It would take the efforts of Sister Mary, Doctor Bob, and others at Saint Thomas to establish the disease for what it is and establish a treatment center specifically for dependency issues. Saint Thomas remains a leading treatment center for those suffering from dependence issues.
Charles Deering was to farm machinery, as Frank Seiberling was to rubber. Deering bought out Akron Works, a farm machinery company, and later incorporated it with the rest of his holdings, which in tern became the International Harvester Company. Though he didn’t live in Akron he wanted to see the city have a Catholic hospital. So in his will he left a bequest with the only stipulation that said hospital would have to be named for Thomas F. Mahar. Father Thomas had pastured the Saint Vincent Parish for 34 years. The bishop of the Akron area formed a committee to oversee the building project. Akron area parishes pledged $300,000, and in a 10 day campaign the good people of Akron raised an additional $525,000. Michael O’Neil (O’Neil’s Dept. Store,) head of the building committee, pledged an additional $100,000 and “the cornerstone” was laid in Sept. 24, 1927. Dedication was exactly, a year to the day later, and the first patient was admitted 6 days after that. The Sisters of Charity of Saint Augustine had operated Charity Hospital in Cleveland for many years and gladly began operations at St. Thomas. Though originally operated by the Catholic Church, its articles of incorporation made it a nondenominational and nonprofit general hospital. The hospital opened with a 164 bed capacity (449 today.)