The founding 50 years ago of the Medical College of Ohio was celebrated Saturday at an event that felt like a big family or college reunion.
Former classmates greeted each other, and retired and current professors spoke fondly of their MCO time as about 350 guests feted the institution at the Radisson Hotel at the University of Toledo Health Science Campus.
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During the last decades, the medical college grew from an idea nurtured by early supporters to a gleaming university and hospital campus, described by some as magical, that merged with the University of Toledo in 2006.
“Some fairy godmother has sprinkled pixie dust on the campus. It is one of the most beautiful medical college campuses in the country,” said Dr. Peter White of Perrysburg, professor emeritus, who arrived in Toledo for a job about a week before the first students in 1969.
Among the medical college’s earliest and most influential backers was Paul Block, Jr., the late co-publisher of The Blade, who held a doctorate in organic chemistry. Mr. Block served as the first board of trustees chairman and has been credited by many then and now as a key leader in its formation.
“I know of no man more willing to work for the good of the community,” Gov. James Rhodes said of Mr. Block at a 1969 college dedication ceremony.
That sentiment was echoed Saturday by guests and speakers — including UT President Lloyd Jacobs and Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins, who called Paul Block, Jr., “a titan” and “a visionary.”
“Because of his science, because of his extreme knowledge and concerns about the human condition he brought this and made this possible,” Mayor Collins said.
Legislation signed on Dec. 18, 1964, by Governor Rhodes created the medical college, which supporters said would help train more physicians to address doctor shortages and strengthen the quality of medical care in the community.
John Robinson Block, current publisher and editor-in-chief of The Blade, said the medical college exists because of a promise kept by Governor Rhodes to his late father, Paul Block, Jr.
Decades ago it seemed improbable that Toledo would have a medical college.
“MCO can never stop being a dream. We must all, all of us in this room continue the dream. We must dream big dreams for this institution’s future,” he said.
Paul Block, Jr.’s son Allan Block said he hopes at the 100th anniversary, the university is among the top in the country and the nation’s leading urban university.
“I remember when there was nothing here, nothing at this campus,” said Allan Block, chairman of Block Communications Inc., parent company of The Blade. “I’ve seen this great campus arise. I’ve seen the merger with the University of Toledo, and here we are 49 and a half years later and what a great thing has been accomplished.”
Allan Block and John Robinson Block served as honorary co-chairmen of the 50th anniversary committee. Dr. Mary R. Smith provided a keynote address in which she highlighted her MCO memories, including moving into the new “spectacular” hospital in 1979, and her work as a professor.
Before the program started, guests examined displays and photographs illustrating MCO’s history. One picture showed the class of 1972, which was the first to graduate.
“The class had no idea what we were doing because we had no upperclassmen,” said Dr. Donna Woodson of Maumee, who was among those pioneer pupils.
But she recalled the innovative teaching approach that combined bookwork with meeting patients and said she’s struck by how, in the years since, the campus off Arlington Avenue in South Toledo transformed from a cornfield to a place with “world-class” facilities such as its simulation center.
Among the guests who received the warmest welcome was Annabelle Isaacs of Bowling Green, who when hired in 1965 became MCO’s first employee.
Among her many responsibilities, she assisted Paul Block, Jr., and helped to hire the first secretaries, who called themselves “Annabelle’s Girls.” She retired 20 years later as college registrar.
Miss Isaacs marveled over the history of the last 50 years and of the medical university that has now emerged.
“I just think it’s marvelous, just marvelous,” she said.
A Toledo Stories documentary, MCO: A History of Healing and Teaching, airs at 8 p.m. Thursday on WGTE-TV.