Members of Mary L. Bair Post 44 in Holton gathered this morning to commemorate the 133rd birthday of the post’s namesake.
Post Commander Pat Fontaine gave some remarks, noting the contributions Mary made caring for soldiers at Fort Riley before succumbing to the Spanish influenza that was sweeping the world. Given that influenza deaths among Kansas servicemembers (1,285) outnumbered Kansas combat losses (784), it was widely held that those who died of influenza would be accorded the same distinction of having died in the service of their country. This included Mary.
Miss Bair was born in Holton on Sept. 28, 1889, and after completing a course of nursing she practiced it until her death. She nursed in Dr. J.C. Shaw’s hospital in Holton for a period of 10 years, during which her work was considered "unusually efficient and faithful in her ministrations to the sick and suffering."
When she learned of the urgent need of trained nurses in the training camps owing to the prevailing epidemic, she volunteered her services and was promptly accepted. She reported for duty at the base hospital at Fort Riley on Oct. 8 and was on duty only three days when she was stricken with influenza. While the disease was rather severe from the first, she seemed to get along all right, and even after pneumonia attacked her right lung the medical attendants had no very serious apprehensions, but when presently the left lung became involved it was apparent that her end was approaching. Her family was notified, and her sister Sadie hurried to her side and was with her for several hours before she died. She was perfectly conscious and clear in mind, and calm in spirit until the last. She knew that death was approaching and she faced the future unafraid. A short time before the end she said to her sister, “The way one has lived makes all the difference in the world at a time like this. I am thankful that I have nothing on my conscience.”
Mary Bair died less than a month after her 29th birthday. During the hour for her funeral service, the stores in Holton were closed to show the same respect for Miss Bair’s sacrifice of her life in her country’s service as for that of the men who had died in the Army.
Pat concluded his remarks with thanks to Miss Bair for setting the standard for the post.