Category Archives: Family History

Lake Julia Tuberculosis Sanatorium

This is the place to share your memories or knowledge of the former patients and employees…and especially the dedicated Dr. Mary Chapman Ghostley… of the Lake Julia Tuberculosis Sanatorium in northern Minnesota.

As a young child, I lived on the San Dairy, the farm that supplied the sanatorium with milk for the patients. My dad ran the farm, located right on the sanatorium grounds, with my mother’s help.

The doctor’s son, Jim Ghostley, remembered how clean my dad kept the barn. Dad knew the importance of providing safe, nutritious food for the patients. He had been the San janitor, a part of this community made up of  tuberculosis patients and employees. My parents met at the San when Dad was a janitor and Mom worked in the kitchen. Many couples met there and were married, including my Uncle Louis who did some haying for the San. He married a lady named Inga, a nurse who had formerly been a patient. Inga’s sister Tressa, now nearly 100, worked at both the Lake Julia and Nopeming sanatoriums as a nurse after she had TB, and one of Inga and Tressa’s sisters died while a patient at the San. My uncle Norman, who also occasionally worked for the San, met his wife there when she worked in the laundry. My uncle Reuben was the gardener.

Work on my two books about the amazing patients and employees of the Lake Julia Tuberculosis Sanatorium has taken me from my home in Washington State back to my first home of Minnesota where I’ve interviewed patients and employees and their family members. I hope to make another research trip this year to tie up some loose ends in my rough drafts.

This website is a place to share your stories. I know there are many wonderful stories about Dr. Mary and others. Please share your stories here, and please check back often to read what others have added. All I ask is that you state your connection to the San (example: daughter of nurse; grandson of Dr. Mary; former patient; nurse at another nearby San) and that you include your name. By posting on this site, you give me permission to use your postings in published material. If you do not wish to post your name or information online, please email.

You may email me at Photos are encouraged.

Please post often.

See my other website:

                                              Pat Nelson


Filed under Family History, Family Memories, Minnesota, TB sanatorium, Tuberculosis

Century-old love letters go home for Valentine’s Day

Learn more about this love story tonight on KATU Channel 2 News! KATU read my story in The Daily News and came to my home where they interviewed me to find out more about the special story of Miss Millie and J. D. Wright’s romance. Here’s a link to the news segment:

If you enjoy this story or would like to suggest other “heartwarming or emotion-evoking true stories” for me to write, please comment on this blog. Happy Valentine’s Day!

                     Pat Nelson

Thursday, February 14, 2008

By Pat Nelson / For the Daily News, reprinted with permission

Four years ago, my husband and I took a trip to Newport, Ore. with Woodland residents Mary Ann and Ted St. Mars. We visited an antique store where I saw an Old Spice box, browned with age, but in good shape. I held it up to read the lightly- penciled note on its side: “Mama and Papa’s Love Letters. Millie Pirtle and J. D. Wright.”Once I knew the box contained love letters, I couldn’t resist. I called Mary Ann over, opened the box, and carefully removed one of the many little square white envelopes. The cursive handwriting looked like art. The postmark was Aug. 10, 1904. I could picture a lady’s slender hand dipping a fountain pen into an inkwell to fill it before drawing the beautifully curved lines.Mary Ann and I thought it would be fun to read the old letters. “How much are they?” I asked the clerk, holding up the unmarked box.“I don’t know. How about $5?”We each placed $2.50 on the counter and left with our prize.The three of us were caretakers of those love letters for four years, knowing that the $5 we paid didn’t really make them ours. Through those letters, we got to know the correspondents, Millie Pirtle of Salona, Texas, and her beau, James D. Wright of Bowie, Texas, and we believed they wanted their letters to go home.Our job was to find out where “home” was.Millie, a proper lady, began each letter formally with “Mr. Wright.”He began his to her with “Miss Millie.”

It was easy to follow the progression of their romance just by the way Mr. Wright closed his letters. In August of 1904, he signed “as ever your friend,“ but by November, he signed, “I close with all my love for you!”

When the two first started corresponding, Millie shared her uneasiness with her newfound feelings when she wrote: “I hardly know how to answer your letter as I fear I hardly know the sentiment of my own mind and you have asked for my mind exactly.”

Mr. Wright knew just how to win Miss Millie’s heart: “It is your true soul which I admire, your mind of pure thoughts.”

At one point in September, Mr. Wright seemed to question where he stood by signing the letter “I remain your true friend…? & lover.”

But soon, he knew he was gaining Miss Millie’s love when she wrote “Mr. Wright, my heart is wholly my own except what of it is yours. You have stolen a part of it. Can’t say when.”

He didn’t have to wait long for Millie to get in touch with her true feelings. Later in September she wrote: “Tonight I have a feeling towards you I have never felt for anyone else, a feeling I have never felt before, a feeling all so new, so strange, all so quick, so unexpected, and yet so sweet, so calm, I do not care to part with it. Is this the beginning of love?”

When Mr. Wright wasn’t writing flowery love notes, he also had a sense of humor. In one letter, he wrote about a lady who was keeping her eye on them: “If you had looked around some you would have known we were being watched for I could see her large eyes roll around like that of a cow when she hears the hay rattle.”

Once the two had agreed to marry, Mr. Wright relaxed his writing style a bit and added this post script that was less flowery than some of his writing and gave Miss Millie a peek at his evening routine: “I was so interested in this letter that I forgot to take my tobacco so I must sit up awhile longer and read the news.”

Millie may have thought at one point that Mr. Wright was getting a bit too comfortable with their relationship, and in her letter of Oct. 10, she wrote, “The reason I took my hand from you was not that it hurt me or that I was afraid of it for I am not afraid of it at all. I do not know just why I did, only I felt you had no right to try it and that you should not.”

All was forgiven by Halloween, though, when Millie wrote, “I am proud that I love you and that you love me. I am proud ‘twas you that won my love for I feel that the love you return is as pure and true as my own.”

With their marriage only two weeks away, Miss Millie wrote, “Mr. Wright, it is with a strange sweetness that I reflect on the time when we shall be as one.”

Miss Millie and Mr. Wright kept the love letters as a keepsake throughout their lives. Ted and Mary Ann St. Mars and I knew what we had to do.

Ted photocopied all of the letters, and stored the originals in a safe place. Then, we started searching the Internet for their family.

We finally located Jymie Carol Inmon, who had researched the family for 30 years. In January, the 1904 love letters left Woodland and traveled back to Texas where they will spend Valentine’s Day 2008 with Jymie Carol and her four children… second cousins four times removed to James David Wright.


The Daily News reporter Leila Summers added this sidebar:

Jymie Carol Hawley couldn’t believe her luck.

The long-lost love letters sent from Woodland last month provided Hawley, a Texas resident and family genealogist, with rare insight to lives of her distant ancestors J. D. Wright and Millie Pirtle.

“It was very exciting,” she said. “I just think it’s history, and it’s a (love) story.”

How these letters landed on the Oregon Coast remains a mystery, said Hawley, 50, in a phone interview. If Jim’s and Millie’s descendants moved to Oregon, the region could be a new place to search for other lines of the Wright family, she said.

“That’s one reason I’m trying to find the whereabouts of (their) children and grandchildren,” Hawley said. “Maybe the family moved to the West coast.”

Though Hawley herself is a distant relative to J. D. Wright, the Texas resident hopes the letters will someday rest with closer descendants of the couple, who’s eloquent writing whe’s grown to cherish.

“I plan to keep them forever unless I find a member of the family who’s in closer relation and they want them,” she said.

J. D. Wright (who went by “Jim”) is the fourth cousin, four-times removed from Hawley’s late husband.

Just before Pat Nelson contacted Hawley last fall, the Texas resident’s own research recovered a century-old family Bible…a great treasure in itself. Hearing from Nelson nearly put Hawley through the roof, she said.

“I was just thrilled,” she said.

Hawley hasn’t yet read all of Jim and Miss Millie’s letters, but she’s read many of them aloud to her grown children, many of whom are married.

“They’re all young and in love,” she said. They’ve enjoyed hearing the way “true feelings and thoughts” were put into romantic exchanges of yesteryear.

Some of the comments about this article:My Opinion wrote on Feb 14, 2008 6:31 AM:

” This is a great article for Valentine’s Day.A true story of finding “Mr. Wright”.Thanks for running it TDN. “

momof4 wrote on Feb 14, 2008 9:32 AM:

” What a great article. I love to read positive, uplifting things. I am so glad they found the family, what great keepsakes. “

paul wrote on Feb 14, 2008 9:45 AM:

” Incredible story! I love it!! “

Louie wrote on Feb 14, 2008 9:55 AM:

” A perfect story for this Valentine’s Day. I have the letters my father sent my mother when he was stationed off Attu on a minesweeper during WW2. I treasure them. Unfortunately the letters mom sent to dad had to be ‘deep sixed’ due to lack of storage space. A heartfelt loss to our family. I can just imagine these relatives jubilation at receiving these beautifully written pieces for their family’s history. Nice going you sleuths in Woodland. “

Mrs. M wrote on Feb 14, 2008 10:41 AM:

” Sweet “

Michele wrote on Feb 14, 2008 10:47 AM:

” As always you have put a smile on my face with your story. I love reading your articles as they are full of life and sparkle.”

my2cents wrote on Feb 14, 2008 11:13 AM:

” This was a lovely piece! Thanks so much for sharing a sweet story

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Filed under Family History, love letters, Texas, Valentine's Day, Woodland, writing

Crafting Your Own Life Story is ‘Like Therapy’

Life StoryNovember 14, 2007
by Pat Nelson for

©South County News/The Daily News, reprinted with permission

Write Your Life Story students learn from each other, and I was on hand November 7 in Woodland when Lower Columbia College English students learned from them as well. Carmen Webb leads the group of 19 writing students, who meet from 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesdays in the basement of the Presbyterian Church. Webb, a part of the group since 1998, has been its leader four years.

I was a member of this enjoyable writing class a couple years ago, and I recognized many familiar faces. Before the college students arrived, the class progressed as usual, starting promptly at 1:00. After deciding who would bring snacks to the next two gatherings, Carmen Webb asked classmates to read their work. Students had been prompted to write memories of stores and shopping, or a subject of their choice. Each, in turn, read one or two poems or essays. Margaret Hepola, age 90, read about learning to face the public by working in a store. “I was bashful when I was young,” she said. Living eight miles from Woodland in the country, she said she was too far from school to participate in extracurricular activities. When she started working, she worked at the bulb farm. “At age 19,” she said, “I worked at a Finnish store located where Classy Hair is today.”

She described how her shyness made it difficult to communicate with Finnish customers who spoke little English. Her workday was from 7:30 AM to 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. most days, but she worked from 7:30 a.m. to 11 PM on Saturdays. When she started work, she made $30 a month, and when she left, she made $120. Hepola told of not having much money, and living on potato soup, which she still likes today. Customer service was important in those days, and she told of sometimes working with a customer one or two hours.

When Margaret Hepola married a Finnish man who owned a thriving country store, he joked that he married her because she knew how to run a store.

Sherri Schievelbein told the class she keeps paper and a light-up pen by her bed to record writing ideas that come to her during the night. “I hate the computer,” said Schievelbein.

Jewell Ellila, a long-time class member, commented that a story runs around in her head five or six days and then it just flows out.

Maxine Rodman, another longtime member of the group, read an earlier writing about the mercantile where  she shopped as a child, and the ice man who would leave ice at her house and who would give the children slivers of ice on hot days.

Maxine Lester read a humorous piece about family sayings. She remembers that when someone would ask her dad, “How do you feel?” he would reply, “With my fingers.” Several people nodded and grinned, recognizing the familiar sayings.

One man read about his memories of the old Red & White Store in Battle Ground, Wash.

 “I always wondered how they got the big stalk of bananas to hang from the ceiling,” he read. He remarked in his story that during the Depression, clothing was purchased for durability, not style.

Dolly Bottemiller’s story was about remembrances of shopping in the 1940s for loafers, saddle shoes, anklets, pleated skirts, and dark red lipstick and nail polish. “Later”, she said, “I worked at Meier and Frank, where elevators were run by women who called out the floor numbers and told what was located on each floor.”

Asked what they get out of the Write Your Life story class, Molly Cowlisajaw replied “friendship and inspiration,” and  Sherry Schievelbein said it keeps her writing; Jewel Ellila jokingly said she’s there for the snacks.

 Maxine Rodman likes hearing about the varied life experiences from different age groups. For Margaret Hepola, “it’s like therapy. You can put your thoughts and problems on paper.”

When Maxine Lester lost her husband, she said it gave her a way to write away her grief. Sherri Schievelbein, who moved here from Wisconsin, said the class helps her learn the area’s history, to which Margaret Hepola replied, “today is history.”

At about 2:45, the Lower Columbia College students arrived. Aralie Niemi and Elias Warndahl interviewed Maxine Rodman about the flood of 1996. Rodman remembered President Clinton’s visit to the area, and remembered how sad she felt for people whose homes were affected.

Kahli Gillis interviewed Jewel Ellila about the possibility of a Wal-Mart in Woodland, and another college student asked about Harry Truman, remembered for refusing to leave his Spirit Lake Lodge when Mt. St. Helens erupted.

Tia Simpson asked Maxine Lester about forms of entertainment in the area from 1930 to 1970. Lester said most of the entertainment was dancing, and that some of the popular dances were the polka, schottische, waltz, and square dances.

Senior Danielle Rusk interviewed Carmen Webb and Dolly Bottemiller regarding the FFA Nursery Landscape program through the high school. The women were unfamiliar with the program, but learned that it is a contest between schools. Students identify plants, draw a landscape, answer questions, do a team activity, and brainstorm as part of the competition. The program runs November to May. Rusk was proud to say Woodland went to nationals in October, 2006.

Write Your Life Story students and young college students learned from each other during the interviews, just as the writing students learn from each other each week. For more information on the Write Your Life Story Class, phone Lower Columbia College/Woodland Center at (360) 225-4768.


Filed under education, Family History, Family Memories, South County News, Woodland, writing

Montanans Swap Nostalgia at Horseshoe Park

©South County News/The Daily News

Montanans, some in cowboy hats, served up nostalgia at their August 25 picnic in Horseshoe Lake Park.  As I neared the event, Amazing Grace was being played on the bagpipes and various other performances filled the park with music throughout the day.

Things didn’t exactly go “without a hitch,” but that didn’t stop guests from having a good time. Woodland resident Kathy Davis, an organizer of the event, told about the first obstacle she encountered. “We furnish the pop and chicken,” she said. “I pre-paid for 80 pieces of chicken and sent Tom Anderson to pick it up. The store gave him an 8-piece order, not an 80-piece order, so the chicken had to be delivered to us.”

The next snafu happened as I interviewed guests. Someone suggested I take a photo of the cake, and just then my camera crashed to the floor. It took a hard hit, bounced, and slammed again onto the concrete. I could instantly see that it was damaged, and although it appeared to take pictures, I couldn’t be sure because I was no longer able to review them.

As a guest served a piece of the chocolate cake, I snapped a picture and stepped back. Just then, the sheet cake fell to the floor. Luckily, it stayed upright on its tray, and only one big blob of whipped chocolate frosting made a mound on the floor. The excitement continued when a gentleman kindly offered his assistance in picking up the cake. When he bent over and reached for the tray, his cell phone fell out of his pocket and became a cake ornament. His phone was coated with sugary frosting. I heard Lee Coyne of Salem say, “He’s a sweet talker.”

It wasn’t surprising that Lee Coyne came up with a clever phrase to describe the incident. He’s a former journalist who has written for many newspapers , covering political news in Washington DC. He reminisced about his days of writing about Mike Mansfield , the longest-serving Majority Leader of the US Senate, who served from 1961 to 1977.

Guests soon lost interest in the comedy of errors created by the crashing camera and the falling cake, and they shifted their attention to an accordion player. “A band will play later,” I was told.

Kathy Davis pointed out raffle items, lined up along the counter of the picnic shelter. “The raffle helps us raise money for these items,” she said.  “I have friends in Billings who send things for the raffle, and I put together gift baskets.”

Another organizer, Tom Anderson of Longview, said “we’ve been holding this event right at twenty years. We’ve held it at Merwin and Trojan, but this is the best place. It’s more centrally located.” Anderson is from the Roundup area, near Billings, Montana.

About seventy people attended the potluck. Nostalgia was swapped at tables marked with Montana city names like Roundup, Kalispell, Kremlin, Conrad, Whitefish, Shelby, and Glasgow.  Kathy Davis and Tom Anderson talked about the mining disasters of the Roundup and Billings area that are a part of their family  history. Kathy said, “Dad went to the site of a mining disaster at Bearcreek, Montana and there were 125 dead miners. He said it was the worst thing he ever had to do. When they were all done closing the mine, all the rescue workers were told to drink a shot of whiskey to calm their emotions.”

Most of the memories shared, though, were good ones, as folks looked through photo albums and scrapbooks. The group will dust off cowboy hats again next year to gather here and swap stories, renew friendships, and remember their roots.


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Filed under Family History, Family Memories, Horseshoe Lake, South County News, Woodland

Unchained Doors…The Story of a Daughter Getting to Know Her Parents

A friend asked me a few years ago, “Pat, why don’t you write that book you’ve always talked about?”

“I already wrote a book,” I replied, “the one for credit union members.”

“No,” she responded, “I mean a book about the tuberculosis sanatorium where your parents met. You’re so passionate about that story when you tell it. I don’t mean to just write any book, Pat! I mean you should write about the lifelong friendships and relationships that were built because of that place.”

I understood what she meant. The Lake Julia Tuberculosis Sanatorium really had become a community. All my life, I had heard my parents and my two older brothers talk about the San and Dr. Mary. As a child, I had grown tired of hearing about those times when we lived back in northern Minnesota, before we moved to Washington. What did those times in the past have to do with my life, I wondered. Dr. Mary this, Dr. Mary that. I often thought, what was she, some kind of a saint?

When I finally visited The San with my mother, my aunt Bernice, and two of my cousins in 1980, nearly thirty years after our family moved away, I finally understood. The doors were chained shut, so Mom walked along slowly outside the abandoned building, peering into basement windows. She stopped at one, wiped the crusted dirt away with her bare hand, and pressed her face close to the glass. “There’s Daddy’s little bed,” she said. A small metal bed frame, bricks from the nearby furnace room strewn around its legs, sat in the center of the room.

“That was Daddy’s bed?” I asked, in awe. Dad had died only a year before, and I missed him.

“That’s right,” Mom replied. “Daddy was janitor and when we met, he lived right down there in that room. I worked in the kitchen and lived over there,” she said, pointing to a two-story house nearby.

“You lived in that house?” I asked, thinking the house looked much too new to have been there in 1930.

“No,” my mother replied. The nurses’ home sat on that same site. All that is left of it now is those front steps where we used to sit and visit. The nurses slept on the upper floors, and the kitchen crew, laundry help, and maids slept in the basement.”

I started imagining my parents as young adults, meeting at this place. I’d always before thought of them as old. This was the perfect setting to fall in love, on the shores of sparkling Lake Julia, thought by some to be the source of the Mississippi River. It was too bad, I thought, that the patients were not able to get out and enjoy swimming, boating, and fishing.

As we stood outside the San, my aunt Bernice approached with tears in her eyes. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“There’s Lovers Lane,” she replied, pointing to the driveway leading from the steps that had once belonged to the nurses’ home. “Norman and I used to take walks there.”

Norman was Mom’s younger brother. He didn’t work at the San full time, but he helped with the haying. Mom introduced him to her friend Bernice Bakke, who worked downstairs in the laundry, and they fell in love. Mom’s brother Reuben was groundskeeper at the San for many years; her brother Louis married Inga Lomen, a patient who later became a nurse at the San. I hadn’t thought before about the many family connections to the place.

I glanced up at the high windows of the wards and sun porches where patients had lived, sometimes for many years, while “taking the cure”. I recalled a picture in Dad’s album of a beautiful young lady. On it, she had written, “Elida. Lest you forget me.” Mom said Elida died shortly after that picture was taken. My father kept the photo, and Elida was not forgotten.

That day, I finally understood why my parents talked so much about the San and Dr. Mary. I had been bored because I didn’t understand, because I had never tried to understand. Now I “got it.” This wasn’t just a place to work; it wasn’t just a place to recover or to die; it was a community.

Selfishly concentrating only on my young life, I had closed my ears to hearing about the community where my parents met and fell in love, where they married and had their first child, then their second, where they struggled through my father’s illnesses and his efforts to make a living, where they lived through The Great Depression, and, finally, where I was born.

After our visit, I knew I had missed something important by not acknowledging that time in their lives. I treasured that trip with my mother, my aunt, and my cousins and I hoped to one day return.

That didn’t happen for another seventeen years, shortly after my mother passed away. My husband and I attended a family reunion in White, South Dakota where my aunt Bernice and her three children live. My husband Bob, my cousin Paul, and I decided to drive to Puposky, Minnesota so Bob could see where my family had lived. Nostalgia was tugging at me, telling me to return.

While there, we visited Dr. Jim Ghostley, a retired dentist and son of Dr. Mary Ghostley, the superintendent of the Sanatorium. He had grown up in a log house behind the San along with his sister Cathy, both adopted by Dr. Mary Ghostley. He told loving and remarkable stories of his mother, some that I had heard before, but many that I had not. I learned that she was called a witch for studying medicine, that she campaigned for women’s right to vote, and that she delivered more than 2000 babies, usually receiving only a chicken, a quart of cream, or a promise in payment.

I said to Jim Ghostley, “Someone should write a book about your mother.” Already, I was thinking that someone could be me.

“People always say that,” said Jim Ghostley, but no one ever does it.”

Five years later, we returned again. This time, the sanatorium door was not chained shut. We went in and toured the building, imagining what it must have been like when the facility was open, with its huge windows and high doorways, its terrazzo floors, and the large fireplace in the entry.

I visited Jim Ghostley again, and this time I said I would like to be the one to write the book.

Little did I know when I started the project that my mother would still be telling me about Dr. Mary and the San even after her death. One day while gathering information, I decided to look through my mother’s genealogy papers, a collection of many boxes full of notebooks and photo albums. In those papers, my mother told me all about her job at the San, even how high she washed the walls when she first went to work there as a maid, as well as her later duties as dishwasher. Her notes were rich with detail.

This time I listened.


Filed under Family History, Tuberculosis, writing

Love Letters

Today, I found love!

Well, let me clarify that. A couple of friends and I bought a box of old love letters at an antique store four years ago. The letters, written in the early 1900’s, had been carefully saved in an Old Spice box for over 100 years. Since we bought them, we have been searching the Internet to find relatives of that loving couple who would cherish those old letters. Today, after much persistence, we finally made contact with a lady who is part of the family of those two long-ago lovers.

If you want to leave something special for future generations, write. It doesn’t cost any more than ink, paper, and time, and it might bring great joy to someone 100 or more years from now! 

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Filed under Family History, Family Memories, writing