Street Talk: Something about Mary


Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital is now the fifth-largest independent rehabilitation hospital in the United States.

Gov. Rick Snyder, Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, Sen. Peter MacGregor and Mary Free Bed Guild members, trustees, staff, patients and friends of the hospital gathered Oct. 13 to celebrate the reopening of the hospital and the unveiling of the Bernedine Keller & Barbara Hoffius Center (formerly the West Building).

The celebration marked the completion of the second phase of the hospital’s three-phase, $66.4-million expansion and renovation project. The third phase will be completed next year.

Carol Springer, president of Mary Free Bed Guild, spoke about the history of Mary Free Bed and the hospital’s very first fundraiser.

In 1891, a group of women began asking anyone named Mary or who knew someone named Mary to donate 10 cents; Mary was the most popular name at the time. The money raised founded a single bed, known as the Mary Free Bed, and that bed eventually grew into the Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary.

Springer said Mary Free Bed now treats patients from around the world for trauma, amputations, brain injuries, cancer, strokes and spinal cord injuries.

Kent Riddle, president and CEO, said Mary Free Bed gives “hope and freedom” to tens of thousands of patients each year.

“Patients from nearly every county in Michigan and as far away as Iraq and Abu Dhabi,” he said.

It also is becoming a substantial employer. The hospital has grown from 750 employees in 2011 to 1,250 today, and Riddle said there still are jobs available.

Riddle joked with Snyder during the presentation that Mary Free Bed is responsible for one-tenth of 1 percent of Michigan’s job growth during the governor’s time in office.

Riddle also presented an impressive list of the hospital’s accomplishments. Perhaps the most unusual is it has been the inspiration for not one, but two patients getting inked with Mary Free Bed tattoos in honor of the hospital’s important place in their lives.

“This is a facility designed to lift up and inspire,” Riddle said. “It is an institute for maximizing human ability.”

The Keller and Hoffius families also were in attendance for the dedication of the Bernedine Keller & Barbara Hoffius Center.

Bernedine Keller served as president of the Mary Free Bed Guild from 1970-73, and Barbara Hoffius was president of the Guild from 1973-77.

Keller was instrumental in raising the support and money for a new Mary Free Bed building, while Hoffius oversaw the groundbreaking and construction of the building, which opened at the Wealthy Street location in 1976.

Dirk Hoffius said of his mother, “If she heard she was going to be on that building, she’d be embarrassed, overwhelmed, humbled and excited.”

Fred Keller said his mother would be proud.

“What she worked so hard on those years ago, it’s really something important,” he said. “(It) came at a time when polio was about done, and there was a question of what the hospital should do. … They reinvented themselves completely, from actively managing to incorporating a fully professional board.”


Jeff Lobdell is expanding his restaurant empire.

The president of Restaurant Partners Inc. purchased Rockwell Republic, 45 S. Division Ave., last week from “close friends” David and Paul Reinert.

The Reinerts also own O’Toole’s Public House, 448 Bridge St. NW, and are working on Butcher’s Union, a restaurant concept opening in the location where they formerly operated Monte’s, 438 Bridge St. NW.

Lobdell said no changes are expected at Rockwell Republic, which offers an array of cocktails and American- and Asian-influenced menu items.

The transaction was just one of several last week, as both XO Asian Cuisine and Fat Johnny’s Cheesesteak Company, both on Monroe Center, were closed with notices posted on their doors they’ve been sold and will re-launch as new concepts.

Following renovations, XO will re-open as Soho Sushi and Bar. Fat Johnny’s was purchased by the group operating That Early Bird Café in Eastown and the plans are unknown.

Butterflies are free

In the past 20 years, the Monarch butterfly population has waned by nearly 80 percent — landing them on the short list for endangered species. The decline comes, in part, from non-native planting techniques that often remove milkweed, the Monarch’s host plant, from new landscapes. Conservationists are trying to reverse the decline, primarily through efforts to increase milkweed habitat.

Faced with this crisis, East Grand Rapids resident Janet Baxter knew there had to be something her neighborhood could do to develop a sanctuary for Monarchs and other pollinators.

The solution: returning native wildflowers to Schroeder Park — a 1.72-acre park at 2618 Reeds Lake Blvd. that originally was the site of the Willard and Barbara Schroeder family home. Schroeder discovered the property in 1952 during a walk and was instantly smitten with its natural beauty. When the family bequeathed the property to the city in 2010, they hoped it would forever be a natural environment for residents and visitors to enjoy. Before approaching the city about using the space, Baxter appealed to her neighbors for help with the project.

“The entire neighborhood was on board from the beginning — pledging time, effort and financial resources to make it work,” Baxter said.

Baxter enlisted the help of Amy Heilman, a master gardener with The Living Garden and River City Wild Ones; Dave Warners, a biology professor at Calvin College; and Deb Sears, a master gardener and co-owner of the Enchanted Gardener LLC.

Based on their input, Michèle James designed a garden plan that included milkweed and butterflyweed for the Monarchs, as well as New England asters, bee balm, black-eyed susans, columbine and purple coneflowers.

“It’s grassroots efforts like this that can provide the momentum for saving our pollinator populations, protecting our environment and beautifying our communities,” Baxter said. “I hope Mr. and Mrs. Schroeder would be pleased.”

Piling on

Sometimes, the marketing plans with the best intentions go awry. Just ask East Grand Rapidian Buzz Goebel, who runs the Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Ann Arbor.

Late in the afternoon Oct. 7, the eatery announced the “Score Big” promotion, in which patrons would get a certain percentage off their meals based on the point differential posted by the University of Michigan football team on the following day.

That was all well and good, until mighty Michigan pasted Rutgers 78-0. Oops.

Apparently, the fine print capped the promotion at a 50 percent discount, but still … it’s Ruth’s Chris!

According to the Detroit Free Press, Goebel and crew enjoyed quite the week with full seating reservations Sunday through Thursday, which constituted the length of the promotion. Even U-M coach Jim Harbaugh and his wife, Sarah, initially had difficulty getting a table, although a Twitter post mid-week showed them seated with Goebel and Harbaugh enjoying his signature glass of milk along with what he termed an “A++” steak.

The Wolverines were off this past weekend, but Goebel said he is game for continuing the promotion for the rest of the season. Next up? The Fighting Illini of Illinois, winners of one game this year heading into the weekend. Good luck, Buzz!

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