Now the hospital's outgoing chief executive officer, Wente brought the story full circle at Thursday's annual Southeast Missouri Hospital Association dinner meeting attended by more than 800 people at the Show Me Center. He will retire later this year; no successor has been named.
Wente recognized dear friends in Thursday's crowd, recalled influential mentors and praised his administrative assistant, Roxie Davis, for her competency.
Jim Wente was speechless on learning the hospital's active and honorary trustees will endow a $15,000 scholarship to the College of Nursing and Health Sciences in his name.
The association's theme, "Transitions," remained clear throughout the evening.
Outgoing board chairman Jim Rust handed his duties off to incoming chairman Jim Limbaugh, who announced 10 incumbents were re-elected to the board.
Special Service awards were given to Missouri Hospital Association president Marc Smith and surgeon Robert S. Hunt. Dr. Hunt's achievements in 37 years include establishing the hospital's breast care and diagnostic center, which is named for him, and advocating surgical advances.
Smith is retiring from his job but will work as a transplant services chaplain. Smith used his time at the podium to call for unilateral "unimpeded access to comprehensive health care" and said the hospital business, on its best days, was "a ministry of miracles."
The evening included a memorial of two late doctors, allergist and honorary trustee Jean Chapman and cardiologist Charles DeFelice.
After his speech, Smith praised Wente's integrity as well as his taste in fashion -- Wente wore a pair of black-and-white spectator-style shoes to the dinner.
"I covet them!" Smith said, laughing.
Hospitals remain a strong point in today's complex economy, Smith said, because they offer employment and are expanding critical services.
Larry Rofkahr, Theresa Rainwater, Kimberly Fuller, Vickie Westrich, Wanda Matthews and Ben McClard each received a O.D. Niswonger Spirit of Southeast Award. Betty Heuring and Helen Farrar were recognized for 40 years of hospital service.
The Jackson High School Jazz Band provided entertainment and Eagle Scout Graham Ritter gave the invocation. Vietnam veterans Eddie Farrow and Mike Renner, both American Legion Post 63 color guard members, praised the food, as did many others.
"I tried a little dab of everything," Farrow said, grinning.
Nancy Nussbaum Robinson, who grew up near the hospital after being born there, said she "joined the association because the hospital is part of my community."
The evening included four national awards: two from HealthGrades, an independent health ratings company, for patient safety excellence Award and outstanding patient experience; the Blue Distinction Center for Cardiac Care from Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in St. Louis; and a Magnet Award for nursing excellence.
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