Adirondack Daily Enterprise, August 15, 1987
Loneliness, depression and happiness at Will Rogers
By DORIS CAREY STEEL
In 1949 at 24, I spent from February to October at Will Rogers. It was a shock to learn that I had TB as I had always been as healthy as a horse. While I was waiting for a bed at a Veteran's Administration hospital (I was an ex-Wave) my employer asked if I would like to take a vacation in the Adirondacks. He was the president of Variety Clubs International, and I learned that the organization was planning to take over management of Will Rogers in June of 1949. In no time. I was on my way to a very different life than I had ever known!
When I arrived in Saranac Lake I was met by the hospital station wagon and whisked up the mountain. At that time, Will Rogers was very rundown and having a rough time staying open. However, the staff and the other patients were super, and I soon settled down to beat this thing that had hold of me.
I shared a bathroom and cure porch with Helen Peleckowicz while I was on the infirmary floor. She was very ill but was great fun, and I came to appreciate her determination and wry sense of humor. Compared to most of the patients, I was hardly sick at all and, after only about two months, I moved down to the first floor. My neighbor there was Dolly Gallagher. We have remained in touch and I look forward to her card and note at Christmas and my birthday.
By June of that year, I was really looking forward to the day when the Variety Club officials arrived. Most of the patients were from the East Coast and received visits from family and friends quite often. I, on the other hand, came from Indianapolis and did not expect to see anyone. When Mr. Marc Wolf and his fellow officers came, I was so happy to see a familiar face! For that day, I was a guide, and took people all over the hospital. After the Variety Club took over, things began to improve, and I am sorry that I was not there when the hospital had been redone and things were humming.
Sad and happy
The time I spent in Saranac Lake was lonely and depressing a lot of the time but, surprisingly, some of my happiest memories are of that period, also. I catalogued the library while I was there. And I discovered a whole wooden village that I talked some of the workers into painting and repairing. These houses, bridges, church, etc., went into a rock garden that I weeded and nursed back to health. As a farmer's daughter, digging and weeding made me very happy, and I loved that garden! I also was in charge of many of the birthday parties and got to run into town for cake, ice cream and gifts. No small perk!
Another fond memory is of special musical programs in the main room. Quite a few members of show business had spent time at Will Rogers, and some would return to entertain. The only one I can name is Carl Ballantine — The Amazing Mr Ballantine — of movies and TV. I remember a violinist and a pianist who were wonderful.
Those months at Saranac Lake were my first spent in the mountains. Later in my cure. I visited several beautiful places around and about the area including Lake Placid. Many of my friends there mentioned spending vacations in the Poconos -such an odd name! Little did I know that I would be living in the Poconos for a good part of my life!
About three years ago, we went back to the area to see what had happened to Will Rogers — and it was very depressing. We were told that it was for sale and, if that did not happen, it would likely be torn down. Seems a shame — I thought it was a lovely building. But it's good news that the sanitoriums are not needed anymore. And there is still the lake and the marvelous clean, clear air and fantastic scenery.