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Celebrating 60 Years of Caring and Leadership - June 2000

Historian Mrs. Robert (Kae) Sanderson shares with us the story of how the Rehabilitation Center for Children and Adults began sixty years ago. A friend named Margaret Pope Hovey received Sister Kenny treatment for her polio diagnosis while she lived in Chicago. Her physician directed her to winter in the warm, soothing Florida climate. Unfortunately, no one locally was familiar with this specialized treatment.

Kae Sanderson and a group of friends underwrote Mrs. Audrey Lester's (a nurse from Lake Worth) Harvard University training and hired her as the administrator. The facility's name was the Crippled Children's Society and its first address was within the Health Department building on Fifth Street in West Palm Beach; it included a room with a massage table and heat lamp.

Word about the specialized treatments quickly spread, and the room was outgrown. Next the Society rented a few ground floor rooms in a hotel on the corner of Datura and Dixie. Soon this space was outgrown and a move was made to a donated large garage on the corner of Hibiscus and Royal Palm Way in Palm Beach. After fixing up the building, this space soon crowded with lots of little children with polio.

At this time, the children also received educational training in preparation for integration into the first grade. Further growth and crowding prompted Kae Sanderson's husband, Robert, as chairman of the Town of Palm Beach's Playground Commission, to apply for a barracks building the military was deserting at the inlet's Camp Murphy.

At first, the building was moved to the Town's Recreation Department to house an arts program. The Town decided the building would be even more beneficial for helping children in need of treatment. Therefore, the commission decided to move the building across the street to its present address at 300 Royal Palm Way. Every licensed plumber, electrician and carpenter in Palm Beach donated all the necessary services to get the building in prime readiness for the children.

A former Palm Beach Public School teacher, Mrs. William (Miss Maudie) Phoebus was hired and became a most popular preschool teacher. Administrator Audrey's door was always open for each child to visit after treatment, to select a cracker-jack-gift off the metal tree standing on her desk. The family-friendly environment, effective treatment and popular teacher continued to expand the patient population. Mrs. Wiley Reynolds, Sr., (wife of the bank president) was affectionately known as "Mother Reynolds"; she donated the Society's lot of land in addition to some funding to build a solid first floor foundation. She, too, dearly loved the children and sought excuses to attend every event despite having to disguise an occasional tear.

In 1966, as the population and interest grew, Mrs. Samuel (Goldie) Paley, like Mother Reynolds, who was soft hearted and loved to bounce the children on her knee, elected to build a living Samuel Paley Pavilion memorial for her husband. She commanded matching grants, which allowed for a 3-story building including an indoor, heated pool and preschool on the first floor, speech therapy on the second floor and Dr. George Cunningham, the Society's first Medical Director, on the third floor. Mrs. Frances Hufty was the main force behind attaining the matching grant in Washington, and then continued her support in every way from folding towels and stuffing envelopes to becoming Board President.

Over the years, as the Society expanded and addressed the needs of children and adults, members realized a more proper name was in order. The facility's name changed to Rehabilitation Center for Children and Adults which better describes the Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapy provided to all ages. People are more knowledgeable regarding telling their physician where they prefer to receive therapy rather than their physician making that decision. Thanks to the many friends, volunteers and the patients who support the continuing mission: to improve the physical function, communication and independence of people with disabilities. Mrs. Sanderson added her confirmation and compliments the therapy staff for her good care received here after spraining her ankle.


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