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PUZZLES SAVE THE HOSPITAL, IF NOT THE DAY
The board had to find one million dollars' worth of "industrial and individual support" in a hurry in order to secure the Hill-Burton funds in 1952. It seemed more likely that a Northwest hospital would garner such support than a Community hospital, and, accordingly, the name was changed to Northwest Memorial Hospital on January 4, 1952.
Still, raising $1 million was considerably more challenging than raising $33,000, even though the project was soon to be endorsed by the State Department of Health, the State and City departments of civil defense, and the King County Medical Association. It would take more than quiet conversations with friends. The situation was more urgent than it was in 1949, too: not only did the association now have 33 acres of land purchased with other people's money (other people who were sometimes impatiently waiting for a hospital to be built), but $828,000 to start building it was also at stake.
Torchy Torrance thought he had an idea that might raise a lot of money quickly. He had seen it work for the Puget Sound Naval Memorial Hospital in Bremerton and the American Legion in Seattle. It might work for Northwest Memorial, too.
His idea? Puzzles.
The word and number puzzles that appeared in local and national newspapers and magazines were the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes of their day. Contestants sent in a few dollars with each entry in hopes of winning prizes of several thousands of dollars. The games involved some skill, and contestants had to solve more than one or two to win the big prize: those solving the first puzzle were eligible to try to solve the second, those who solved the second could try the third, and so on.
The board was not universally enthusiastic. It was a tontine scheme. It was gambling. It was vaguely phoney.
But Mr. Torrance had worked with puzzle promoter Gordon Gemeroy of Seattle on the Bremerton project and others and vouched for his integrity. The numbers were persuasive, and, after all, perfectly legitimate, upstanding organizations had used puzzles to raise funds. The board secured a $25,000 loan against the property to pay for advertising, and the contest was underway.
It netted a mere $5,000 to the hospital when it was over on October 2, 1952.
Undaunted, Gordon Gemeroy suggested that instead of giving up, Northwest Memorial Hospital should try again, this time with a larger advertising budget to reach more people. (At the time, Mr. Torrance recalled, a full-page ad in the National Review was $7,500. Today, a full-page ad in a major national magazine such as Life would cost closer to $50,000.) The board agreed; the second contest closed on May 10, 1954, netting $50,000 for the hospital.
By now the board was convinced that puzzles were a good idea. A third contest, with an even bigger budget for ads in Colliers, Look, Puck's Comic Weekly, See Magazine, Woman's Home Companion, Chicago News, Denver Post, New York Mirror comics, Pittsburgh Press, American Weekly, Parade, and the True Story group, ran soon after the second and brought in $70,000. And in April 1955, the fourth contest was completed. It earned the hospital $700,000.
All together, the puzzles contributed $825,000 to the association's treasury. None of this came in soon enough to save the first Hill-Burton allocation, which was lost, but Congress had renewed the enabling legislation, so the hospital could reapply for funds. With more than $800,000 in the bank and the likelihood of Hill-Burton funds, it looked like the Northwest Memorial Hospital would be built after all, and soon.
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