Fort Smith’s first hospital, St. John’s, was founded by the Reverend George F. Degen, who in 1887, collected $500 from local merchants along Garrison Ave to rent a building as a place to care for an injured man found at the railroad yard.
Judge Isaac Parker, who brought law and order to Fort Smith, was the hospital’s first board president. “Countless ladies volunteered everything from cooking hospital meals in the early years to staging shows for fundraising to selling rodeo programs – all to help make the hospital a better place.” (1) It was this spirit of helping and caring that helped to grow little St. John’s hospital into what is now known as Sparks Regional Medical Center (SRMC).
As medical practices and costs radically and rapidly changed through the years, the SRMC Board of Trustees realized it was necessary to make financial changes in order for the hospital to survive. Hence, the assets of Sparks Regional Medical Center were sold to Health Management Associates (HMA) in November 2009. The assets of The Sparks Foundation, originally used to financially assist the hospital, were excluded from the sale and The Degen Foundation was born.
(1) Excerpted from Sparks Regional Medical Center 100 Years of Service by Ellen Sue Blakely