The Dr. Susan LaFlesche Picotte Center Restoration Project in Walthill has been awarded a $589,675 Rural Business Development grant by the USDA. The plan is to use the funds to complete the second phase of the landmark's restoration project, which primarily involves refurbishing the exterior of Dr. Picotte's former hospital. Established by Dr. Susan LaFlesche Picotte in 1913, the building served as a hospital and community center through 1940. As the first Native American in this country to receive a medical license, Dr. Picotte dedicated her professional life to serving her Omaha people and those residing in northeast Nebraska.
The building, which was the first non-federally funded hospital that was established on an Indian reservation, was Dr. Picotte's final undertaking. She died in 1915. It stands as a monument to her legacy of care and compassion. In 1996, it was designated a National Historic Landmark, one of only 21 sites in the State of Nebraska. Unfortunately, the center has fallen into a state of disrepair. In 2018, it was placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's List of 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in the U.S. A recently completed building restoration Master Plan, also funded by the USDA, focuses on securing the structural integrity of the building.
A $50,000 gift from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community was used to repalce the hospital roof, which was a huge step toward protecting the building's interior from the weather. Restoring the hospital exterior is essential before the third phase of the Master Plan can commence, that being in the interior restoration and adaptation for new uses. The exterior restoration is expected to be completed by Fall 2020. A major fundraising campaign is to begin later this year to raise the funds needed for the interior and site restoration. The goal for the project is to establish a facility that has a local and national prescence. The Center will include a museum dedicated to Dr. Picotte's life and work, a gallery displaying Native American artifacts and artwork, educational spaces, a medical component and meeting rooms.
Once completed, the Dr. Susan LaFlesche Picotte Center will not only preserve this landmark building, but it will also serve to enhance Dr. Susan's legacy, and will provide an economic boost to Walthill and the Omaha Nation.
Pender Times Newspaper, Thursday 10-17-19