BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — Family and friends gathered at the old Mercy Hospital, now known as the Johnnie Ruth Clarke Center, a day before Mamie Chapman’s 100th birthday to celebrate the life of a loving mother, caring nurse and wonderful friend. Down from Kalamazoo, Mich., she came to enjoy herself and soak up the love in the room.
Born April 1, 1918, in Spartanburg, S. C., Mrs. Chapman moved to St. Pete with her mother and grandmother in the mid-1940s. The three settled in Jordan Park where she soon met the love of her life Angres Chapman.
Before landing in St. Pete, however, she graduated from Columbia School of Nursing, which allowed her to obtain employment at Mercy Hospital, the only medical facility black people could receive treatment from during the days of segregated St. Pete.
In the early part of the twentieth century, the black community in St. Petersburg had its own schools, churches, restaurants and retail stores. Everything a person needed, except a hospital.
Since African Americans were not accepted at the whites-only hospitals, care came from members of the community who had a little medical knowledge. In 1913, the all-white, five-room Good Samaritan Hospital was moved to the south side to service the black community. It was rechristened Mercy Hospital.
Unable to provide quality healthcare for St. Pete’s growing black population, it took 10 years for an adequate facility to be built. Separate but not equal, the new Mercy Hospital opened its doors in 1923 at 1344 22nd St. S. The additional jobs provided attracted an educated population to the area, and by 1926, the hospital got its first black doctor, James Maxie Ponder.
By 1942, 400-square-feet were added-on, but it was nowhere near enough space for the growing African-American community. In 1947 that add on was torn down to make way for a 15,000 square-foot-expansion.
Also in 1947, Mrs. Chapman got married and started a nine-year stint at the hospital. In 1948, she and Angres welcomed a baby boy named Terryence. They lived so close to Mercy that she walked to the hospital while in labor.
The small family moved to Detroit in 1956, where she continued working in the nursing field for the US Department of Veterans Affairs. She and her husband moved back to St. Petersburg and she officially retired here in the early 1990s. Mrs. Chapman once again moved back to Michigan after her husband died in 2012.
Members of both the Mercy Hospital Alumni Association and the RN/LPN Association were present to wish their friend a happy birthday.
Mary Nelson worked at Mercy Hospital right out of college. She met Mrs. Chapman when she joined the RN/LPN Association, founded by Marie Yopp.
“She helped me so much as a young nurse out of school,” said Nelson, adding that Mrs. Chapman and Mrs. Yopp kept her on the straight and narrow. “I contribute my success to them.”
Emma L. Tillman first met Mrs. Chapman when she started working at Mercy in 1949. The two worked together for a number of years and have kept in touch ever since.
“Whenever she visits St. Pete, she always comes to see me,” said the 92-year-old.
Mrs. Chapman makes her rounds when she’s in town. Another friend on her list of visits is Thelma Footman. Under the weather, she wasn’t able to make the party but sent her daughter instead.
“I’ve known her all my life,” said Pamela Footman, recalling that Mrs. Chapman would administer her vaccination shots. “She has been a true and faithful friend to my mom.”
Catherine Crumbs met Mrs. Chapman when she joined the RN/LPN Association. She said she was quite a lady when she first laid eyes on her.
“I wish her 100 more years,” stated Crumbs.
It was also revealed that Mrs. Chapman was quite an athlete. Mary Ellen King said a little over 10 years ago the two of them took an aqua exercise class together, which if you do the math, she was on the shady side of 90 years old.
“She put me to shame,” said King. “She couldn’t swim and she went to the Y to learn to swim and she beat me all the time.”
About Angres Chapman - Click Here
Angres Chapman opened up a highly successful tailoring shop in St. Petersburg back in 1947 on Central Avenue while segregation and racism were in full force. After 10 years of fighting against discrimination, he moved his family to Detroit. He returned 29 years later to Central Avenue and work picked back up like he never left.
Members of the Mercy Hospital Alumni Association and the RN/LPN Association never miss a chance to gather together with old friends and reminisce about their days in the trenches, especially when it’s time to celebrate the life of their oldest living member.