The Desert Mission has been helping Sunnyslope families address their health and social needs for more than nine decades. Now a part of the HonorHealth John C. Lincoln Medical Center, the Mission has been an invaluable resource, bringing stability, revitalization, jobs, economic development, and health care to this unique neighborhood.
In the early 1920s, the local Presbyterian Church sought to help individuals who arrived in Sunnyslope suffering from pulmonary and respiratory diseases, especially tuberculosis. Their hometown doctors had prescribed Arizona, with its sunshine and dry air, as the best hope for recovery. These individuals had few funds and lived in tents or shacks with dirt floors. The Mission volunteers brought them food and medicine to ease their burden. Such efforts were organized by Marguerite Colley, a nurse, and Elizabeth Beatty, a social worker, who were called the “Angels of the Desert.”
Thanks to a $750 donation from Philadelphia philanthropist Sarah McCahan, who gave to Presbyterian causes around the country, the Desert Mission opened in 1927. The Mission grew to nine buildings including a chapel, library, and community building.
The Mission gained new benefactors, John C. and Helen C. Lincoln from Cleveland after the latter found relief from her tuberculosis while visiting Sunnyslope in 1931. This positive outcome inspired the Lincolns to promote the Mission for other health seekers. In 1933, the couple donated $2,000 for the acquisition of 20 acres between Dunlap Avenue and Hatcher Road from Second to Third streets for the Mission’s potential growth. The Lincolns made many additional donations over the years.
The Mission emphasized medical care after World War II and opened a hospital. Lincoln gave in to family pressure and allowed it to be renamed the John C. Lincoln Hospital in 1954. Helen worked diligently for many years to grow and improve this medical center.
Lincoln died at the age of 92 in 1959 and was survived by Helen, two daughters, and three sons. Helen subsequently initiated a fundraising campaign for the expansion of his hospital. She died at the age of 102 in 1994, having surpassed her health challenges by decades. The Lincolns’ descendants have all been members of the John C. Lincoln Health Network Board of Directors.
Phoenix-based Edward L. Varney and Associates, A.I.A. (ELV) assisted with the master planning of a significant hospital addition starting in 1959. The firm, known as Varney Sexton Sydnor Architects (VSS) by 1965, designed a four-story and 81,000 sf. addition, which included 85 patient beds. This significantly added to the existing 50-bed facility.
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This article originally appeared in the Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, Sept/Oct 2019 issue, Vol. 8, No.5. The Arizona Contractor & Community magazine is a bi-monthly publication.