Retro Riley: Baxter family’s contributions to Riley Hospital

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Baxter family Retro Riley

The Baxter family name is one to be remembered when recounting the history of Riley Hospital for Children. Arthur Reyburn Baxter (1876-1957) dominated Indianapolis industrial and civic life for more than 50 years. An early leader of the Riley Memorial Association (now the Riley Children’s Foundation), he served on the Joint Executive Committee, the Association Board, and was named the first Life Governor of the association. Among the many businesses that Baxter owned was the Keyless Lock Co. that he bought from his uncle, Arthur Jordan. Baxter gave of his time and leadership before and after he retired in 1942.

In early 1926, he was invited to serve on the Riley Memorial Association’s Joint Executive Committee to take the place of William Conrad Bobbs, an Incorporator for the association, after Bobbs passed away a few months earlier. Baxter’s love for children and Riley Hospital from its very early years would become a lifelong commitment that would carry on through his family. He headed the Rotary Club fund for erection of the Rotary Building as a convalescent wing of the hospital and served as chairman of the finance committee of the association.

Baxter Family Retro Riley

The Arthur Baxter YMCA on Shelby Street in Indianapolis is named in his honor; a gift from the Baxter Foundation helped pay off the loan for the building. But one timely gift from the Baxter Foundation to Riley Hospital for Children was transformative. Frances Doyle Baxter was still the matriarch of the Baxter family when only months before she died in 1964, the Baxter Foundation announced a $500,000 gift to the association to construct a “mother’s pavilion” to allow mothers to stay at the hospital to provide care for their children. The Baxter Foundation would go on to make grants during the 1960s totaling $1.5 million for the construction of a new five-story hospital addition, the Frances D. Baxter Memorial Wing, which opened in 1971.

Baxter Family Retro Riley

Before the Baxter Parent Care Pavilion opened, children who were admitted to Riley Hospital had special visitation hours for parents twice a day. The 12-room pavilion helped families adjust and hospital physicians to see the worth of having patients go there before going home. “Riley Hospital’s Parent Care Unit was one of the first such units in the country and probably one of the most widely known,” said Karen Jennings Radar, RN, the unit’s first director. “It served as a model to other hospitals in the United States and Canada.”

Baxter Family Retro Riley

“The Baxter Parent Care Pavilion represented the cornerstone to Riley Hospital’s commitment to the practice of family-centered care,” said Bob Baxter, grandson of Arthur and Frances Baxter, who carried on the Baxter family legacy of leadership by serving as a member of the Riley Association’s board (1971-1991) and as executive director and president of the association from 1991-1996. During his time in leadership, he was responsible for developing more than 20 endowed chairs, professorships and educational endowments for Riley Hospital. Like his grandfather, Bob Baxter was named a Life Governor of the Riley Children’s Foundation for his longtime service and contributions. Soon after he joined the association, he enlisted the services of builders able to help upgrade and expand the Camp Riley facilities. After retiring in 1996, he signed up to be a Riley Hospital volunteer and went to work building his Magic Castle Cart for Riley Hospital patients and families. The Magic Castle Cart, a mobile toy cart, has flourished for over 25 years.

--Compiled by the Riley Hospital Historic Preservation Society; photos provided by IUPUI University Library Special Collections and Archives, Riley social media and the Baxter family