Oaklawn and Albion ties link communities

For many reasons, a bond between Albion and Marshall – two small towns a dozen miles apart – has grown stronger in recent years, Richard C. Lindsey believes.

The bond is exemplified by the people who share a common link and are working to make that link tighter than over, said Lindsey, who is Oaklawn’s executive director of legal and community affairs.

The subject is on Lindsey’s mind because of a partnership between Marshall-based Oaklawn and Albion College, to launch a new primary and express care clinic in Albion that’s intended to improve access to medical services for residents and local college students. The grand opening of that facility, called Oaklawn Express Care – Albion, will take place Monday, Feb. 11.

“This is a big event for all of us because so many of us at Oaklawn have histories where both towns played a part,” he said. “We can’t escape it – and of course we don’t want to. It brings us all together.”

As proof of the bond between the health-care organization and the nationally recognized college, Lindsey notes that several Oaklawn physicians – including Catherine Burtrum, D.O., William J. Comai, D.O., Jackalyn M. Govier, D.O., and Teleah Phillips, D.O. – are graduates of that school.

In 2018 and again in 2019, Phillips, an osteopathic physician, was the keynote speaker for the annual Day of Dialogue and Service at Washington Gardner School.

“Over the course of my time in Albion, my love for the campus has evolved into a deep love for what is now my home and community,” Phillips said. “I have been blessed to find communion with faculty and staff whom I now consider friends, and with neighbors and parishioners who now have become family. I have been blessed to commune with co-workers and patients that give my calling to the ministry of medicine meaning.”

For her part, Burtrum said she chose to come to Albion after feeling like “a number in a class” at the University of Michigan.

“It was the best choice I could have made,” Burtrum said. “The professors were all amazing. I could actually contact my professors when I needed help. My professors actually knew my name! I know without a doubt if I hadn’t transferred to Albion, I never would’ve made it into medical school and wouldn’t be a surgeon today.”

One of Oaklawn’s recent past leaders, Heather Luciani, former chair of the health-care organization’s board of directors, met her husband Dan while attending Albion College, and both are graduates.

“I continue to work closely with the Gerstacker Institute at Albion College through their first-year program, networking events with students, and mock interview programs,” Luciani said.

Many Oaklawn nurses, aides, therapists, physician assistants and managers count themselves among those with ties to Albion College. They include Jessica DeWaters, who manages Ella’s Café on Oaklawn’s main campus and gained experience when she ran a bakery on the Albion campus.

“I took the EMT class at Albion’s ambulance service during my freshman year and volunteered at the service while I was a student,” said Melissa “Lisa” Wooden (Class of 1985), now a physician assistant at Marshall Internal & Family Medicine, part of the Oaklawn Medical Group.

Shirley Martinez, a master’s level psychologist with Oaklawn Psychiatric/Psychological Services, said one of her favorite professors, Barbara Keyes, Ph.D. – who still works in Albion Colege’s psychology department – today is her colleague at Oaklawn’s Bear Creek campus near Marshall.

“She was my link to an internship on the psychiatric unit at Oaklawn,” Martinez said, “and 20 years later I am still at Oaklawn! Albion was an amazing experience and led me to an amazing job that I love.”

Lindsey himself, who graduated from Albion College in 1991, considers himself a product of both Marshall and Albion. He even owes his existence to an incident in Albion.

Lindsey’s maternal grandmother was Winifred Ellery, an Albion College student in the late 1930s. She had a part-time job as a ticket-taker at the Bohm Theatre in downtown Albion.

One day a young man stopped in at the theater and struck up a conversation with Winifred. Arman Hartung was known for playing baseball when he wasn’t working on the family farm.

The two were married in 1940. Winie Hartung would go on to work many years for Vernon Bobbitt in Albion College’s visual arts department. Winie and Arman had a daughter, Helen, who married Richard C. Lindsey Sr., and the Lindseys raised their son in Marengo. In the 1980s, the family farm was developed into a grain elevator by Arman Hartung Jr., also an Albion College graduate, and is now the home of Albion’s ethanol plant.

The younger Lindsey graduated from Mar Lee School and Marshall High School and earned his degree at Albion before going into legal practice and serving several years as Calhoun County’s legal counsel.

Lindsey swears he doesn’t purposefully populate the Oaklawn development office with other Albion graduates – people such as Development Coordinator Sara Jeffery (Class of 2014) and Development Manager Amy Reimann (Class of 2000). It just turned out that way.

“It’s been interesting to see the number of people who pop up with Albion College degrees,” he said. “The college turns out smart and talented graduates. A number of them hold positions throughout the Marshall and Battle Creek area, too. They all just happen to have attended the same college I attended.”

Reimann and her husband, a professor of mathematics and computer science at the college, have lived in Albion since 1996. Their oldest daughter graduated from there in 2010.

Jeffery grew up in Marshall and is the daughter of Marshall’s most recent past mayor, Jack Reed. She has been active in both communities, most recently in assisting with plans for Oaklawn’s new express-care clinic that will open in Albion in February.

Part of Lindsey’s department is the public-relations work of Marshall resident John C. Sherwood (Class of 1972), a former Albion College Pleiad managing editor who went on to a 40-year journalism career with Gannett Co. newspapers. Many members of his mother’s Heidenreich family lived in Albion for decades. (Full disclosure: Sherwood wrote this report.)

Does some gravitational force compel people from this region to foster relationships between Marshall and Albion, and keep them in mutual accord to foster and maintain local talent – no matter how challenging that might be? Can that force be nurtured and kept positive?

“I’ve had a lot of discussions with various people about that,” Lindsey said. “We have a lot of attractions in this area – the small-town feel, access to the arts, exemplary education at the high school level, our college and of course Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek. All these are things that can keep people here. It is a challenge for small towns like Albion and Marshall and colleges like Albion to figure out how people can be encouraged to stay in the community.”

Lindsey believes the kind of mutual support shown by so many Albion-Marshall connections serves as a model for the future.

“Our schools and many different individuals in both communities have done a great deal to shape opportunities for people, to create more diverse opportunities,” he said. “The development of the Youngish Professionals Committee and the Albion-Marshall Resilient Communities – and what they’ve done in community-building – proves that a lot of volunteers are interested in how they can make their communities better.

“All this shows that even a small group of people can make a difference, and we see this repeatedly. There are a lot of opportunities – and it’s very exciting.”