Selfless work has gone on for centuries
There is a long tradition of selfless work for others in Garland County. Here are a few examples:
When Dr. William H. Barry came to Hot Springs in 1875, he found a community with primitive or nonexistent services. He did something about that. In 1876, when the city was incorporated, he wrote many of its first ordinances, and he served on the city council for two terms. He was the president of the Board of Health for many terms, starting what were then revolutionary sanitary procedures. In 1890, he became the first City Health Officer, ably handling a major challenge in 1895 when an outbreak of smallpox terrified the community.
He was the first county superintendent of schools and started Hot Springs’ public school system. He helped found First Presbyterian Church and was president of the Hot Springs Medical Society. But Dr. Barry wanted to do more, especially for the poor.
He created a charity hospital for indigents, a 10-bed hospital in a building just off Whittington Avenue. One grateful patient insisted on making a will, telling Dr. Barry he was going to leave him $2,000. Dr. Barry didn’t think the man had a penny to his name, but the patient did indeed leave the money to Dr. Barry. With this money, Dr. Barry bought a house on West Grand Avenue and turned it into a charity hospital with 25 beds. Called “a haven for the poor and afflicted,” the Barry Hospital was symbolic of Dr. Barry’s selfless work.
The aptly named Catherine Charity Birnbaum was determined to do something for orphans. One of the many people she told about our need for an orphan’s home was Otto Neubert. A German immigrant who had no family, Neubert lived quietly above his furniture store. He died in 1910, leaving an astounding $100,000 to help the Barry Hospital and The Sunshine Home for the Elderly and to found an orphan’s home. A grateful city gave him the first public funeral service in Hot Springs, complete with a large funeral procession from the Business Men’s League Hall, where his body had lain in state, to Hollywood Cemetery.
Catherine’s encouragement had led to the bequest that gave birth to the Interstate Orphan’s Home (later Hot Springs Children’s Home and Ouachita Children’s Center). She worked tirelessly for the home for the next 30 years, serving as a director until her death in 1937. She spent at least one day every week at the home, sewing on buttons, mending clothes, talking with children, and wrapping Christmas gifts for as many as 50 children each year.
She dedicated a room in her home to her work with the Needlework Guild, which provided clothes for the needy. When people came to be outfitted, she took the time to make sure the clothes fit properly. “We don’t want them to be ashamed of the way they look,” she told her daughter. It is no wonder that townspeople called her “Mother” Birnbaum.
Today, Garland County is blessed by men and women who follow in the footsteps of Dr. Barry, Otto Neubert, and Catherine Birnbaum, generously giving to improve the lives of others.