1940: The Year of “Greatest Crisis” for Mayo Clinic #ThrowbackThursday

This year's Heritage Film, "Dinner at Mayowood: Enduring Values in Changing Times," is set in 1940, which administrator Harry Harwick called "the year of greatest crisis" for Mayo Clinic.

The story imagines two journalists attending a dinner party at Mayowood, the home of Charles W. "Chuck" Mayo, M.D., and Alice Mayo. They expect to find Mayo Clinic in decline, following the recent deaths of the Mayo brothers and Sister Joseph Dempsey, longtime superintendent of Saint Marys Hospital. Instead, they discover the true strength of Mayo Clinic: teamwork in service to patients.

Take a look behind the scenes at themes and characters from Mayo Clinic history who are woven into the story.

Watch the film at history.mayoclinic.org.

Dr. Chuck and Alice Mayo

In this film, Dr. Chuck Mayo, the son of Charles H. Mayo, M.D., has just moved into Mayowood with his wife Alice Mayo and their children. He had inherited the house, but no individual would ever own Mayo Clinic. About 20 years earlier, Dr. Chuck Mayo's father and his uncle, William J. Mayo, M.D., had placed the clinic assets into a not-for-profit organization. "As a principal victim of this scheme," the actor says, in dialogue based on the real Dr. Chuck Mayo's memoir, "I'm in a good position to say how much I admire it. The clinic outlived my father. It will certainly outlive me. That gives greater meaning to all of us who work here and is a gift my father left me that is worth more than gold."

Actors Natalie Wass and Bill McCallum portray Alice Mayo and Dr. Chuck Mayo.

The Journalists

The characters of Maggie Sullivan and Billy Wheeler are fictional but based on many reporters who have covered "the clinic in the cornfield" over the years. The deaths of the Mayo brothers in 1939 attracted worldwide media attention. Many people wondered if Mayo Clinic could survive the loss of its eminent founders.

Ashley Rose Montondo and Paul Cram portray journalists Maggie Sullivan and Billy Wheeler, fictional characters based on many journalists who covered Mayo Clinic over the years.

Mother of the Year

As seen in the film, Edith Graham Mayo—widow of Dr. Charles H. Mayo and mother of Dr. Chuck Mayo—was named 1940 American Mother of the Year. She gave a national radio address and was introduced by Sara Delano Roosevelt, mother of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This film quotes one of the passages of her speech, in which she deflected attention from herself and called for aid to mothers overseas and at home "who are praying not for flowers, but for flour, not for candies, but for bread" to help their families.

Edith Graham Mayo, played by Cynthia Hayden, was named 1940 American Mother of the Year.

Sister Adele O'Neil, the Franciscan Treasurer

Sister Adele O'Neil helped save the Franciscan congregation from bankruptcy during the Great Depression. The sisters faced a perfect storm: hospital registration plunged, and charity cases increased; loans came due from construction projects; and the sisters' stockbroker disappeared—along with most of their funds.

In this crisis, O'Neil stepped forward to serve as the congregation's broker. "Lively and petite," as a biographer wrote, "Sister Adele possessed disarming financial expertise and dogged determination." For months, she and another sister took the night train to Chicago, attended morning Mass, and met with their bondholders, carefully renegotiating interest rates. "No one lost a dollar of principal," O'Neil recalled, "and we never missed our prayers."

Sister Domatilla Durocher, the New Hospital Administrator

Sister Domitilla Durocher modernized Saint Marys Hospital in the final days of the Great Depression. By monitoring world events, she knew that, if the U.S. entered the spreading conflict overseas, labor and construction materials would be almost impossible to find. Therefore, she pressed forward with completion of the Francis Building. It opened in the summer of 1941, a few months before the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into World War II.

Sister Adele O'Neil, left, and Sister Domitilla Durocher are played by Emily Zimmer and Michelle Barber.

Harry Harwick, Mayo Clinic Administrator

Harry Harwick served a 44-year career, pioneering the model of physician-administrator collaboration that remains a hallmark of Mayo Clinic. In the film, Harwick is portrayed by Bob Davis, whose ancestor was a Rochester business leader in the early 1900s who advised the Sisters of St. Francis.

Harry Harwick is portrayed by Bob Davis, whose ancestor was a Rochester business leader.

International Perspective

Nicolas Lopez, M.D., and his wife, Teresa, are fictional characters. They represent the strong global dimension of Mayo Clinic from its earliest days.

In the film, Dr. Lopez is a young physician from Argentina who comes to work in the laboratory of Edward Kendall, Ph.D. In 1950, a decade after the film takes place, Dr. Kendall and his colleague, Philip Hench, M.D., received the Nobel Prize for discovering cortisone. Teresa Lopez is a Mayo Clinic interpreter, one of a team of multilingual professionals who have served Mayo's international patients for almost 100 years.

Nicolas Lopez, M.D., and his wife, Teresa, are fictional characters portrayed by actors Ricardo Vazquez and Katie Hahn.

Aero-Medical Research

Lucy Cronin was a laboratory technician at Mayo Clinic and a native of rural Rochester. She worked in the Aero-Medical Unit, which developed the G suit, high-altitude oxygen mask, and other innovations that ultimately helped win World War II. Mayo's work helped launch military and commercial jet aviation, as well as the space program. For its top-secret wartime service, foreshadowed in this film, Mayo Clinic charged the U.S. government $1 per year.

Laboratory Technician Lucy Cronin is portrayed by Bonni Allen.

Duke Ellington Orchestra Members

The characters of Don and Evie Connor are fictional, but the Duke Ellington Orchestra did perform at Mayo Civic Auditorium in 1939. This fact allowed the film team some creative license in imagining a member of the orchestra coming to Mayo Clinic for medical care the following year, as well-known personalities have for generations. "Dinner at Mayowood" showcases the talent of singer Anthony Cook, who works in Patient Education and performs at many Mayo and community events.

Mayo Clinic staff member Anthony Cook plays Don Conner in the video. His wife Evie is played by Jerilyn Rogers.

A House Full of Children and Pets

Dr. Chuck Mayo and Alice Mayo raised a large family at Mayowood. They also took in the children of British friends, providing a safe haven from wartime Europe. The film captures the spirit of the Mayo family and shows how the children put on a circus to raise funds for the American Red Cross.

The Mayo children and those staying at Mayowood put on a circus to raise funds for the American Red Cross. From left to right are Betty (from Great Britain), portrayed by Ashley Calvert; Charlie Mayo, portrayed by Jack O’Neil; Joe Mayo, portrayed by Isaac McCullar; Ned Mayo, portrayed by John Colaiano; Mildred (Muff) Mayo, portrayed by Serenity McCullar; Edith Maria Mayo, portrayed by Sophie Colaiano; Alec (from England), portrayed by Miklos Baumann; Cathy (from England), portrayed by Eva Baumann; Patricia (from England), portrayed by Destiny Bohner.

Alyssa Frank

Alyssa Frank is a Marketing Segment Manager at Mayo Clinic Laboratories. She leads marketing strategies for product management and specialty testing. Alyssa has worked at Mayo Clinic since 2015.