On Jan. 8, 1950, Skaggs Community Hospital, now known as Cox Medical Center Branson, opened with 25-beds. Prior to that, when locals or visitors needed to go to the hospital, they had to make the long journey to Springfield. While the hospital’s name for its first 62 years honored the generosity of M.B. and Estella Skaggs, many other families have played important roles in its success.
Stan Barker fondly recalls growing up across from the hospital, playing on the grounds and flying a kite on the property. He also remembers his dad’s commitment to the hospital’s success.
“Growing up here, you took having (a hospital) for granted,” Stan said. “Growing up as a kid, I didn’t have the appreciation for it I should have, but as an adult, I know it’s a cornerstone of the community. You tend to take it for granted until you go someplace bigger than Branson and they don’t even have a hospital.”
Barker’s dad, Jim Barker, was a hospital trustee for a number of years starting in the early 60s.
“Dad was born and raised in Harrison, Ark.,” Stan said. “He learned to print working afterschool for Harrison Daily Times. During World War II, he worked in an arms plant in St. Louis.”
Stan’s mom, Mildred, better known as Millie, was also in St. Louis at the time.
“That is where my mom and dad met and then got married,” Stan said. “After the war, Dad went to work for a company called Universal Match, which they printed and made match books. My dad was head of the photo and printing department.”
His parents had just built a new brick home in Ferguson, a sprawling town just outside of St. Louis, when they began questioning where they wanted to raise their three kids. Flipping through the classifieds one day, Jim Barker came across an ad that read, “Have Motel in Branson for Sale. Will take a Home in St. Louis on Trade.”
The owners of the Lampliter Inn were looking to retire and Jim Barker was ready to move his family to the Ozarks.
“That was one of those little blessings,” Stan Barker said. “I didn’t have to grow up in St. Louis. I got to grow up in Branson.”
The Barker family made the move from their new four-bedroom brick home in Ferguson to the Lampliter Inn in Branson in 1959 when Stan was just a toddler.
“Growing up in a motel was kind of like growing up on a farm,” he said. “All of us had jobs and during the season, you worked your schedule around your guests. I look back on it and it was a great part of my life.”
Stan also loved the small town atmosphere.
Memories and Mayberry
“There was a time in Branson when I could have named you every motel here and told you who owned it and the music shows, the same way,” Stan said. “Branson was Mayberry when I was a kid. It was Main and Commercial streets.”
Before the police cars had radios, the city had its own way of notifying officers. A parking space outside Security Bank, next to Dick’s 5 & 10, was reserved for the police, Stan said. A wire from city hall ran to a nearby light pole that, with the flip of a switch at city hall, the light would come on signaling to the officer he was needed.
A dedication to community
The town was small, but it was growing and the hospital was a vital part of that growth. People like Jim Barker understood how imperative the hospital was to the community. Stan recalls a time while his dad was a trustee that the hospital was in dire straits.
“I know the hospital was pretty close to having to close the doors and all the trustees went to the bank and they did personal signature loans at the bank,” Stan said. “Each one of them guaranteed the loan to the hospital. That’s how close at one time the hospital came to closing its doors.”
Jim Barker’s commitment to Branson was also visible through his business. He worked for two years to convince Holiday Inn to allow a location to open in Branson. Jim, along with fellow Branson businessmen Ray Girard, Gene Keckler and Lou Schaefer were equal owners of that first Holiday Inn, which eventually lead to even bigger businesses coming.
Stan explained that his dad would go out early in the mornings to the Holiday Inn to see how things were going, have a cup of coffee and talk to the employees.
“So one morning Dad goes down there and he sees this guy out in front of the restaurant and notices him pacing back and forth,” Stan said.
After learning the man was waiting for the restaurant to open so he could get a cup of coffee, Jim invited him to follow him through the closed restaurant to have a cup.
“They are just sitting there talking and the guy said, ‘Well, you know your way around this place,’” Stan relayed. “‘Do you have someone who works here?’ and Dad said, ‘No, I’m one of the owners.’ The man said, ‘Your Holiday Inn is the reason I’m here.’ The guy said, ‘My name is Sam Walton and I believe if this little town can support a Holiday Inn it can support one of my Walmarts.’”
Stan has also made his mark on the Branson community. Stan, who married Gayla Dickens in 1975, recently retired from White River Valley Electric Cooperative after 40 years. He retired as the manager of safety and training and saw the company grow from a single bucket truck to serving five counties. Stan also served as a Branson alderman from 2001-2009.