Saratoga County

Parade to honor Bellevue Hospital founder

The Founder’s Day Parade on June 1 will be dedicated to Charlton nurses and, in particular, to Mary
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The Founder’s Day Parade on June 1 will be dedicated to Charlton nurses and, in particular, to Mary Grace Nordlung Jorgensen, who grew up in West Charlton and founded Bellevue Hospital in Schenectady.

The hospital Jorgensen founded as a 28-year-old nurse in 1931 is unique as a New York women’s and maternity hospital, and remained under the Jorgensen family’s ownership until 2001.

“Grace was determined to do something for women,” said Estella VanDerzee, curator of the Charlton Historical Society, which sponsors the parade.

The weekend of May 31 to June 1 will be the 40th annual Founder’s Day weekend. There will be 5K runs, museum and art exhibits and the Party in the Park at Elmer Smith Park on Saturday, and events and activities on Sunday will include the parade at 2 p.m., followed by a recognition ceremony.

Grand marshal of the parade will be Dr. Grace Jorgensen, daughter of the hospital founder and a former head of the hospital, where she practiced obstetrics and gynecology.

VanDerzee said the elder Jorgensen’s parents, Andrew and Theresa Nordlung, settled on a farm on Division Street in West Charlton when Grace was a teenager. She graduated from Galway High School in 1922, part of a class of 10, VanDerzee said.

From there, she moved to Amsterdam to attend St. Mary’s Hospital nursing school, where she graduated in 1926, VanDerzee said. She married Elmer Jorgensen and they had two children by the time she decided to found a birthing hospital in 1931.

At the time, more than half of births still occurred at home.

What was originally a six-bed maternity house in a former parsonage in the Bellevue section of Schenectady grew into the Bellevue of today, a medical complex on the Troy-Schenectady Road in Niskayuna. Though the senior Grace Jorgensen died in 1959, it remained in Jorgensen family ownership until becoming a nonprofit corporation in 2001.

Last year, the state’s Berger Commission report on health care ordered the hospital closed as part of a consolidation — a move the hospital strenuously fought. It eventually agreed to be taken over by Ellis Hospital, but continues operating as Bellevue Woman’s Health Care Center, with expectation the complex will eventually close.

Theresa Nordlung, Grace Jorgensen’s mother, remained on Division Street until 1947, VanDerzee said. Jorgensen’s father died in 1930.

VanDerzee is collecting memories and expressions of thanks from people who had a birthing experience at Bellevue during the Jorgensen years. Thousands of babies were born there during the 70 years of family operation. By its 70th anniversary in 2001, 100,000 babies had been delivered there, according to a Sunday Gazette article written at the time.

“It’s just so people can let them know that they appreciate what Bellevue did,” VanDerzee said.

Contributions of memories and thanks may be sent to Estella VanDerzee, 1203 Eastern Ave., Charlton, N.Y., 12019.

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