It was March 22, 1922 when Mrs. Alf Ringling, widow of one of the famous Ringling Circus brothers, offered Father O’Reilly of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church her 25-bedroom mansion on Oak Street as a home for boys. Father O’Reilly had a different idea. He wanted to create a hospital for Baraboo. Mrs. Ringling agreed and after six different orders of nuns were contacted, the Franciscan Sisters of St. Mary agreed to the challenge, even though they had opened SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital - Madison (50 miles down the road) just 10 years earlier.
Father O’Reilly and Baraboo mayor Andolph Andor promised the sisters that the local community would take care of all remodeling. In a two-day period, they raised $18,000 of the $24,000 needed to transform the grand home into a working hospital. It opened as St. Mary’s Ringling Hospital in 1922.
Through the years the hospital grew to become an integral part of the Baraboo area as well as the main hospital for Sauk County. By the early 1960s however, the Wisconsin Board of Health determined it was no longer feasible to continually remodel or add on to the turn-of-the-century Ringling home.
In June of 1963, SSM Health St. Clare was built on land donated by Mr. & Mrs. Frank Adamske, and St. Mary’s Ringling Hospital then became a skilled nursing home, later evolving into the northern retirement home for the sisters. Since its opening day on June 25, 1963, SSM Health St. Clare has continually developed and provided services in response to the health care needs of residents in the Baraboo, Lake Delton, and Wisconsin Dells area, and the more than 1.5 million annual visitors to the area.
Today, SSM Health St. Clare offers acute care services as well as chemical dependency treatment, occupational health, home health and hospice care, ambulatory care services including day surgery and hemodialysis, and a radiation oncology center. The hospital has the busiest emergency department outside of Madison, Wis. and offers urgent care services in the Baraboo, Lake Delton and Wisconsin Dells communities.
SSM Health St. Clare was one of the initial organizers of the Sauk County Collaboration for Health, a Wisconsin Healthy People 2000 initiative.
SSM Health St. Clare is a member of SSM Health, a St. Louis-based health care system, which is among the largest Catholic health care systems in the United States. Local management authority is vested with an Administrative Council, led by hospital president Laura Jelle. Community leadership is provided to the hospital by a local Advisory Board and members of the SSM Health St. Clare Foundation - Baraboo.
SSM Health in Wisconsin
A nonprofit corporation called SSM Health in Wisconsin encompasses SSM Health holdings in southern Wisconsin. This includes SSM Health St. Clare Hospital - Baraboo, SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital - Madison, SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital - Janesville and two nursing homes, SSM Health St. Clare Meadows Care Center and SSM Health St. Mary’s Care Center.
SSM Health in Wisconsin is a single unified focus for all SSM Health ministries in Wisconsin. This arrangement allows work to be accomplished more efficiently and effectively to achieve program and service integration that provides even better care at a lower cost. It also helps the health care facilities to better fulfill their commitment of truly representing the local communities they serve while maintaining the significant advantages of being part of a larger health care system.
Baraboo: The area and its history
In 1884, Baraboo became the famous home of the Ringling Brothers Circus. The circus dominated Baraboo’s economy as the Ringlings not only employed hundreds of local citizens, but gave business to farmers, carpenters, painters, blacksmiths, seamstresses and merchants.
Since those early days, Baraboo has continued to grow, but has preserved its architectural heritage in the Downtown and Southside Baraboo Historic Districts.
The population of this scenic community, settled near the popular Devil’s Lake, a glacial lake surrounded by grand bluffs, is approximately 10,000. The city is located in Sauk County, which has a population of about 50,000. Baraboo has an elementary, middle and senior high school, as well as two private schools.