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May 25, 2013

Dr. Davis learns more every day about Bassett

By Joe Mahoney
The Daily Star

---- — When Dr. John Davis first arrived at what is now called Bassett Medical Center, a first-class postage stamp cost three cents, President Dwight Eisenhower occupied the White House and a young woman named Norma Jean Mortenson had just changed her name to Marilyn Monroe.

The year was 1956.

Other than a few years serving in the U.S. Army Medical Corps — 1958 to 1961 — followed by a three-year stint at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, Davis would spend his entire medical career at Bassett. Before retiring in 1995, he would spend more than a decade as the hospital’s director of medical education. Earlier, he had served as Bassett’s first gastroenterologist, a specialty he had acquired at Strong.

While officially retired, Davis has never really left Bassett. He has been a fixture at medical seminars and other events. In recent years, by his count, he has given some 50 talks to community groups on the history of Bassett.

And so it came to pass that when Dr. William Streck, Bassett’s chief executive officer, decided it was time to have a comprehensive history of the hospital chronicled, he asked Davis if he would conduct the research and stitch together the story.

That was a couple of years ago, and Davis said he’s still at it, spending at least a couple of hours each day at his keypad, sifting through boxes of old documents and photographs and checking in with local historians for assistance when he needs it. He has also spent considerable time at the New York State Historical Association, going through the Bassett archives that are kept in a climate-controlled storage area.

“It’s turned into something I am working on almost constantly,” said Davis, a native of the Buffalo suburb of Orchard Park, a picturesque small town that reminds him of Cooperstown. “It’s my legacy at this point for Bassett. Whether they pay me any money or not I don’t care.”

Davis said Streck suggested that a larger volume with many illustrations — a coffee table book — would be a compelling way to present the story of Bassett. He figures he will complete the project in another year.

The story of Bassett, he said, is actually a tale of three families — the Bassetts, the Coopers and the Clarks. The hospital is named for Dr. Mary Imogene Bassett, the granddaughter of English immigrants. Practicing medicine in Cooperstown, she expressed a need for a new laboratory. One of her wealthy patients, Edward Severin Clark, the grandson of Edwark Clark, a founder of the Singer Sewing Machine Co., opened his checkbook and bankrolled the construction of a 100-bed field stone hospital. Soon after it opened in 1922, Dr. Bassett died of a stroke.

The hospital, however, had trouble staying out of the red. In 1925, awash in debt, Bassett closed. But soon after, Dr. Henry S.F. Cooper, a descendant of James Fenimore Cooper and then a young resident at Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, learned of the closing and reached out to Stephen Clark, the brother of Edward Severin Clark, for help. Together, they worked to get the then empty hospital to reopen in 1927.

The story of its subsequent expansion, leadership and medical pioneering in a number of fields is a tale we will leave in the capable hands of Dr. Davis. Godspeed to him.

•••

It was in March 2012 that The Daily Star broke the story about how Chobani, the Greek yogurt giant based in Chenango County, was paying some farmers $300 every time they accepted shipment of 6,000 gallons of whey, the byproduct of yogurt manufacturing.

We learned of this practice at about the same time we learned of a reported mussel kill in the Unadilla River, which runs near the Chobani plant in the town of Columbus. One of the farmers who was getting the Chobani whey was spreading it on a field close to the river, and a State University College at Oneonta professor who detected the mussel kill, Paul Lord, said the stench he smelled from the river made him wonder if it was caused by whey.

This week, the publication Modern Farmer ran a lengthy story examining the growth of the yogurt industry — along with the byproduct, acid whey. The publication interviewed one upstate dairy farmer, Neil Rejman, whose farm is two hours west of the Chobani plant. He said he was getting two 8,000 gallon shipments of whey each day from Chobani, deliveries that began a few years ago when a Chobani representative called him out of the blue.

Rejman told the magazine he has found a variety of uses for the whey, including mixing it with silage for livestock feed, combining it with manure for fertilizer and converting some of it to biogas.

The article closes with a Chobani spokeswoman, Lindsay Kos, stating: “We are currently exploring other options for our whey, but nothing we are ready to discuss at this time.

JOE MAHONEY is a staff writer for The Daily Star. Contact him at jmahoney@thedailystar.com