Legacy of Ralph Hauenstein Photo Gallery

January 11, 2016 3:49 pm

Ralph Hauenstein had a passion for giving to his country and his community.

Former President and CEO of Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, Phil McCorkle became aware of that trait some years ago when he stopped by Mr. Hauenstein’s patient room, where he was undergoing treatment for chronic bronchitis. When McCorkle asked if he needed anything, Mr. Hauenstein turned the tables. “Is there anything I can do for you?” he asked.

It’s not a question McCorkle normally heard from a patient, but it was the beginning of a close relationship that would vastly improve the care for West Michigan patients undergoing treatment for a variety of neurological disorders.

In 2009, the Hauenstein Center opened, housing multi-specialty neuroscience programs, a first-rate critical care unit and a state-of-the-art emergency and trauma department.

“Ralph not only gave his money, but he convinced others to support Saint Mary’s,” McCorkle said. “We wouldn’t have this nationally acclaimed neuroscience program without Ralph’s support. It was Ralph’s style, it was his sensitivity, it was his respect in this community that made it happen.”

When McCorkle and Hauenstein had that initial conversation, Saint Mary’s already was planning to expand its neuroscience programs. Mr. Hauenstein was interested in improving the care of Parkinson’s patients, since his father and his close friend, Amway co-founder Jay Van Andel, had died of the disease.

With Mr. Hauenstein’s support, Saint Mary’s opened a Parkinson’s clinic in 2003. When Hauenstein first toured the clinic, McCorkle was surprised by his reaction: “Phil, this thing is way too small.”

That’s when planning began for the Hauenstein Center, the area’s only dedicated neuroscience hospital. It includes an interdisciplinary team of specialists, such as neurosurgeons, neurologists, therapists, nurses, psychologists and others to treat Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, stroke, headache, spinal injuries, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, sleep disorders and other neurological diseases.

McCorkle called the Hauenstein Center “a great asset for our community,” noting that patients no longer needed to travel to Chicago or across the state to receive treatment for neurological disorders.

Mr. Hauenstein, a colonel in the U.S. Army during World War II and chief of intelligence for its European Theater of Operations, was a successful businessman and generous philanthropist. He often said the neuroscience center bearing his name was his proudest philanthropic cause.

“I wanted to share the fruits of what my country had given me,” he once said. “I’m extremely pleased with it.”

Mr. Hauenstein gave a generous donation for the new center and helped raise $15 million toward the $60 million project. Most winters, he hosted gatherings of West Michigan leaders at his Florida condominium, encouraging them to support Saint Mary’s.

“When I think of Ralph and his family’s overall contributions to Saint Mary’s, it goes beyond their personal gifts,” said Michelle Rabideau, President of the Saint Mary’s Foundation. “It’s not necessarily about him. It’s about helping others. It’s about encouraging others to support Saint Mary’s. It’s about partnerships.”

Mr. Hauenstein, a founding trustee of the Van Andel Institute, encouraged CEO David Van Andel to expand the institute’s research into Parkinson’s and other neurological disorders in partnership with Saint Mary’s.

“I don’t think we’d be seeing the national acclaim for the neuroscience program and the connections with the Van Andel Institute and the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine without Ralph’s influence,” Rabideau said.

Current President of Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, Bill Manns met with Mr. Hauenstein as soon after he came to Grand Rapids. “Mr. Hauenstein instantly welcomed me and offered his personal support in helping me feel part of this community. He challenged me to ‘stick to the vision’ and I promised to not let him or his legacy down.”

Part of his devotion to Saint Mary’s came from his wife, Grace, who died of Alzheimer’s in 2007. She always called Saint Mary’s “my hospital,” because her aunt had served Saint Mary’s as an administrator.

Mr. Hauenstein made it a priority to make rounds on the staff at the neuroscience center that bears his name.

“People loved to see him,” Rabideau said. “I think he was so proud, but he also simply loved walking through and thanking people. It was very personal for him. He wanted to get to know the physicians and nurses and staff members at Saint Mary’s. He wanted to inspire them to greatness. Who better to do that than Ralph Hauenstein?”

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