Meet Mr. St. Luke’s — Frank Stolpe

Frank Stolpe with student nurses from St. Luke's Hospital, 1943. From left: Marian Wasser, Big Bay; Beverly Viant, Zion, Ill.; Jane Violetta, Negaunee; Pearl Warren, Laurium; Frank Stolpe, Marquette; Betty Wicklund, Ironwood; Corrine Olsen, Franklin, Wis.

One cannot study the history of Marquette’s St. Luke’s Hospital without noticing numerous references to a man named Frank Stolpe. In the Women’s Edition of the Marquette Mining Journal in January 1897, the recently formed Marquette City Hospital, soon after to be renamed St. Luke’s, was highlighted. There was a full-time medical staff of four doctors. The article stated, “The hospital is under the immediate direction of this staff, with Mr. Frank Stolpe in charge as superintendent, who, in addition to English, is able to speak the Finnish and Swedish languages, which furnishes these nationalities with an interpreter, so that they may be cared for in the best possible manner.” Frank Stolpe was on his way to becoming one of the most respected members of St. Luke’s Hospital community. Over a period of 45 years he would serve as an orderly, nurse, anesthetist, unofficial support system for student nurses and, most importantly, friend and advocate of patients.

Born in Finland, Frank Stolpe immigrated to the United States in 1887 at the age of 18 to work as a miner in the Copper Country. Within a month he moved to a mine in Champion. Soon after, an injury placed him in the Champion Mine Hospital. While recuperating, he took it upon himself to aid a fellow patient with a broken back. This gentleman upon discharge highly recommended Frank for a job at the hospital as a night orderly. Although he could not yet speak English, he was encouraged to accept the position by an attending physician and at the age of 19 began his career in the medical field. While in Champion he met and married his wife Anna Elizabeth, with whom he had four sons.

When the Champion Mine Hospital closed, Frank worked as a private duty nurse in several western U.P. communities and then in Marquette. Upon being hired at Marquette City Hospital he took it upon himself to make patients, whether local dignitaries or laborers, feel as comfortable as possible during their recovery. Although he had many duties, it was the one-on-one contact with patients that made him a staple at the hospital.

Frank was a bundle of energy. Patients always knew he was on his way when they heard his unique walk — described as something between a jog-trot and a run. With no elevators at the multilevel St. Luke’s Hospital on West Ridge Street, Frank carried patients up the stairs on his back. In addition to acting as an interpreter, as noted earlier, he smiled, told entertaining stories, laughed enthusiastically at humorous tales, and along with his knowledge of medicine, bolstered the morale of the seriously ill and dying.

As an anesthetist, former patients who had undergone surgery as children would pass on the story of how Frank eased their anxiety by paying them a penny for every number they reached before they fell asleep. This and other acts of kindheartedness endeared him to the community and led to an unlimited number of partners when he participated in his favorite hobby, dancing. One dance partner, a little girl, told him her mother was right. When Frank asked what she meant, she told him her mother said he was the best dancer ever.

In 1938 Frank was humbled when he was voted “most valuable citizen” by the Business and Professional Women’s Club. The same year the Marquette Economy Advertiser chose him as the first subject for a feature entitled “Those Whom We’d Miss Most,” which outlined why a selected individual would be the citizen most missed in the city. Upon his retirement around 1940, numerous articles shared anecdotes about why this man was beloved by hundreds of former patients and their families. His wish upon retirement was for him and Anna to visit their sons who were scattered across the county.

An article written by Manthei Howe at the time of Frank’s retirement summed up the important role he and other hospital workers play in the care of patients. “Other folk, like Frank Stolpe, engage in work which is of vital service to others, brings them comfort, lends them courage, bolsters morale when needed. Folk, who do such work, make for themselves a place in the memory of the recipients that time cannot destroy. Mr. Stolpe, to an unusual degree holds such a position in the thoughts of his fellow workers, the doctors, and the hundreds of men and women and children who have had occasion to enter St. Luke’s, who have been frightened or discouraged, and clung frantically to Frank’s confidence- inspiring presence.”

Frank passed away on March 6, 1946, and his story is preserved at the Marquette Regional History Center. To learn more about other men and women, like Frank E. Stolpe, who held a special place in the lives of their patients, visit our special exhibit, The Changing Face of Medicine: A History of UP Healthcare, which is open until Dec. 30.