Captain Wallace Greeley

Mary Greeley Medical Center opened in 1916 to honor the memory of the wife of Captain Wallace Greeley. Greeley, an officer in the Union Army during the Civil War, was a prominent banker, businessman and mayor of Ames during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

On Sept. 24, 1916, with more than 2,000 people in attendance, the captain's dream came true as the Mary Greeley Memorial Hospital was dedicated as a gift to the city of Ames (population 5,000). In his comments at the dedication, Captain Greeley eulogized his wife by saying, "It affords me great pleasure, more than words can express, that I contribute something towards the welfare of not only those now in need, but also for those who will be here long after we have passed away."

Mary Greeley

Mary Victoria Young was born in Villanova, N.Y., on Feb. 27, 1847. One of five children, she was the daughter of John and Nancy Young. Two of her brothers died while serving the Union Army.

Mary was a teacher, and it was at a teacher's institute in Ellicottville, N.Y., where she and Wallace Greeley met. He was a schoolmaster at the time.

On Nov. 8, 1866, Mary, 19, and Wallace, 27, were married. Two years later, they moved to a farm in Ames, Iowa, and had two children, both of whom passed away in infancy. Mary Greeley died in her home on Dec. 31, 1914, after many months of sickness and suffering.

Wallace Greeley

Wallace Greeley was born on a farm in Orleans County, on the south side of Lake Ontario, in New York, in 1838. He was a second cousin of the famous New York Times editor Horace Greeley. Wallace volunteered in the Union Army in 1861 during the Civil War. By the war's end, he had attained the rank of major, but preferred to be called captain.

In the spring of 1866, Captain Greeley arrived in Ames, then a village of 100 people. His capital was limited to his Union Army pay, which he had sent home to his father for safekeeping. With that $3,200, he purchased 200 acres of farmland in Section 16 of Washington Township. Today, the Gateway Center, the Green Hills Retirement complex, a number of condominiums and part of the Highway 30 interchange with Elwood Drive are on the land. Captain Greeley paid $10 an acre for the property.

In 1881, Greeley founded Ames' first corporate bank, originally the Union Bank. Today it is known as US Bank. From 1912 to 1916, he erected a building on the corner of Fifth Street and Douglas Avenue for the Tilden Manufacturing Company and the Times Printing Company. He was the mayor of Ames from 1881 to 1890. He served three terms in the Iowa Legislature. He also was on the Ames school board, and, with his wife, served on the Ames Public Library board.

At Home

In 1882, the Greeleys built their home, which is today the Adams Funeral Home, located at 502 Douglas Ave. Being one of the wealthiest couples in Ames, the Greeleys entertained and had public social gatherings in their home. Each year Mary gave a soiree, which was a prominent Ames event. Mary was a shy, private person, so these social events were not easy for her. Because Mary was only 4 feet 10 inches tall, all the doorknobs were two and one-half feet off the ground, compared to the three-foot standard.

Mary had a deep appreciation for the arts: literature, music and especially visual art. She was a self-taught painter, and many of her pieces adorned the walls in her home. She had the first grand piano in Ames. It was through this love of the arts that the Greeleys donated the original site for the Ames Public Library, which is now the Octagon Center.

Turning a Dream into Reality

After Mary's death, Wallace developed a dream for a memorial hospital, which he announced on July 29, 1915. In that year, there were 10 medical physicians and two osteopathic physicians in Ames. Captain Greeley consulted with these physicians about where to locate the new hospital and what to include in the building. He also brought in a medical specialist from Chicago who was nationally known as a consultant in design and construction of hospitals.

The Iowa Agricultural College, now Iowa State University, had a small hospital on campus that was open half days beginning in 1885. But prior to 1916, Ames had no hospital facilities for its citizens. The closest hospital was the sanitarium, operated by the Seventh Day Adventists in the nearby community of Nevada. The Ames physician group advised Captain Greeley to purchase the land between Eleventh and Twelfth streets on the east side of Douglas. Among the advantages of that site was that it would provide the opportunity for future expansion. On Dec. 29, 1915, construction began on the Mary Greeley Memorial Hospital building. The original cost of the Mary Greeley Memorial Hospital was $80,000, plus a $3,000 personal check from Captain Greeley to be used for equipment and furnishings.

Four months after the opening of Mary Greeley Memorial Hospital, Captain Greeley passed away in his home on Feb. 15, 1917, of a stroke. He is entombed with his wife and her parents in a mausoleum in the Ames Municipal Cemetery. Ironically, after all his work in creating a hospital for Ames, Captain Greeley never used the services of the hospital named in honor of his wife.

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