HAS staff recently got a chance to sit down with Edgar Stoesz, long-time volunteer and visitor to HAS, to learn more about his connection with the hospital. Mr. Stoesz, who served as chairman on the International Board for Habitat for Humanity as well as the Grant Foundation Board from 1975 to 2000, has a rare longitudinal understanding of the evolution of HAS from its inception to the present day.
Volunteering through Mennonite Central Committee
Mr. Stoesz’s HAS journey began in the fall of 1957 when he visited Haiti as the Secretary of Latin American Programs on behalf of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), an organization he staffed for more than 30 years. HAS, newly founded, was facing a great many challenges at the time including delays on building one of the hospital wings and difficulty finding employees who shared a purpose and ethic with Dr. and Mrs. Mellon. Soon after Mr. Stoesz arrived, however, he became a friend and advisor to the Mellons, assisting with the irrigation work Dr. Mellon had just begun – what would one day become HAS’s community health initiatives.
The relationship between MCC and HAS continued from 1957 until 1995, an unusually long one for MCC whose service workers extend across the world. MCC sent over 100 nurses and other medical and community workers for two year assignments over their tenure at HAS. Even after the official end of the volunteer relationship, Mr. Stoesz remained close to HAS: visiting the hospital, and staying up to date on the administrative and medical changes afoot. His connection to HAS over the years was not limited to the professional, as he “considers both Larry and Gwen to have been among [his] dearest friends.” Mr. Stoesz remembers the Mellons fondly, sharing an image of Mrs. Mellon which will be familiar to others who knew her:
I can still see her. She always had her glasses propped on the top of her head and she was always at the reception… She wanted to be where the action was, and that was where the action was – at the admission! And she was there from early morning to make sure the clinics were organized for the day.
HAS: A Pioneer in Public Health
From Mrs. Mellon’s daily running of the hospital, to Dr. Mellon’s big-picture infrastructural concepts, Mr. Stoesz was a trusted advisor and correspondent. In thinking about the overall impact of the hospital, he credits Dr. Mellon with considering the importance of public health to a population before it was a widely-studied discipline.
When you think about the actual value of Hospital Albert Schweitzer, it was not only what was done in Deschapelles, it was how Deschapelles introduced new ways of thinking and caring that were copied throughout Haiti and internationally. [Additionally] the opportunity to serve in the multi-cultural setting of HAS with all the facilities and amenities available, and inspired by the Schweitzer ethic of Reverence for Life, has been a life-changing and enriching experience for the hundreds who have served there over the years.
Friends Before Volunteers
Involvement with the hospital became a family affair, which included Mr. Stoesz’s wife Gladys and his children Randall, Dean, and Kristine. Dean was the head pharmacist at HAS for two and a half years while his wife, Marcia, worked as an OR assistant. Kristine served as Gwen Grant Mellon’s assistant, helping with her correspondence as well as assisting Mrs. Mellon with writing her book My Road to Deschapelles.
HAS’s innovative community health integration makes it the excellent hospital it is today. Without Dr. Mellon’s innate understanding of holistic health and relationship building, HAS might never have survived the many years of political turmoil and funding difficulties. Instead, HAS has faced every obstacle head-on: grounded in the image of Reverence for Life and built on the foundation of community-centered health. We are grateful to have such dedicated volunteers as the Stoesz family, who have been with HAS throughout its history and continue to donate their time and energy to its cause.