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Hillcrest celebrates 100 years of service

October 27, 2014

Dubuque Telegraph Herald
October 26th, 2014

Hillcrest Family Services celebrates this month the 100-year-old work of two Dubuque women.

Anna Blanche Cook and Anna B. Lawther created the Hillcrest Deaconess Home and Baby Fold in October 1914 — relaunching a service organization founded by Dr. Nancy Hill in 1896. The relaunch also solidified the faith-based foundation of the organization, now known as Hillcrest Family Services.

“These two ladies had an unmet need they wanted to meet and took over this facility that had been operated by Dr. Hill,” said Gary Gansemer, Hillcrest’s president and CEO.

Hill, the city’s first female physician and a distinguished Civil War nurse, had become concerned with the plight of Dubuque’s unmarried mothers and their babies. At Hill’s urging, a group of women established the Women’s Rescue Society of Dubuque on Feb. 26, 1896. The group secured four acres with a 12-room house on Asbury Road and created the Industrial Training School. Lack of funds and Hill’s advancing age forced the closure of the home in 1909.

Cook was a deaconess at Dubuque’s St. Luke’s United Methodist Church. “She was determined that every child needs a chance,” said Ruth Clark, 89, a lifelong member of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church who began volunteering for Hillcrest in 1940.

Lawther was involved in civic improvement, making her mark in the women’s suffrage movement and with the American Red Cross. Lawther also holds the distinction as the first Iowa woman to serve as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

“Those were three remarkable women in an era when many women didn’t even have a college education,” Clark said. Lawther used her connections to marshal support for renewing local efforts to care for unwed women and their babies. “She used her influence, her affluence and her passion to get everybody together,” Gansemer said.

Cook and Lawther’s work resulted in a facility that provided institutional care for preschool children, placed children in foster and adoptive homes and provided counseling for unmarried mothers. The name of the home was changed to the Hillcrest Baby Fold in honor of the late Dr. Hill in 1924. Now named Hillcrest Family Services, the organization’s programs address adoption, counseling, education, health, homelessness, mental health treatment, residential foster group care and youth mentoring.

Gansemer said faith remains part of the organization’s foundation and approach to care.

“We believe that working with people who have experienced trauma, we need to help connect them with a higher power. We’re not trying to turn people into Christians. We’re trying to introduce them to a spiritual connection,” he said.