At 104 years old, Sylvia Molstre had accumulated a few stories. And a few scars. And a few stories about scars. Like the tiny scar that marks the spot where she had her appendix removed one Sunday afternoon by "Dr. Chuck," also known as Charles William Mayo, M.D., son of Dr. Charlie Mayo.
The story dates back a few years—about 84, give or take—to when Sylvia was a junior college student. It was a Sunday, and friends had come to join her family for lunch after church. But Sylvia couldn't enjoy their company. "I had terrible pain on my right side," she tells us. "I went to lie down." That's when Sylvia's mother called Dr. Chuck, whom she knew from her work as a part-time seamstress for his wife, Alice. "Mother was brave to call him on a Sunday afternoon," says Sylvia. But the needs of the patient come first (even before golf). And Sylvia's mother was told to bring Sylvia to Saint Marys Hospital, where Dr. Chuck met them and removed the offending appendix. "He made just a little two-inch incision," says Sylvia. "He said he scared it out."
Like her mother, Sylvia also did some part-time work for Dr. Chuck's family, helping the family's nanny and their cook on a number of occasions. She enjoys sharing those memories. "The children needed to be in play clothes in the morning, nicer clothes in the afternoon," Sylvia recalls. And dinners were a formal affair. "I learned to serve from left to right," Sylvia says. She also worked for Mayo Clinic proper, starting out "up on the top floor of the clinic where they hired doctors and nurses." She spent a few weeks checking references on potential hires, then moved to the purchasing department, before landing in the business office, where she worked under Gilbert Utz, Mayo's first comptroller. And since "it was right when Social Security went into effect," that meant working to ensure all of Mayo's employees—then totaling around 400, as she recalls—got their Social Security numbers. She also "had to keep track of the loans Mayo made to the doctors, and then we'd have to take some out of their checks each month until the loans were paid back."
Sylvia worked at Mayo for more than three years before leaving in 1939 after marrying a seminary student she'd met at a friend's wedding. His first pastoral call took the young couple to Washington State, where parishioners sometimes called Sylvia for medical advice—until her husband explained his wife's job at Mayo Clinic had been on the business side of the operation.
Eventually, the couple would make their way back to the Midwest, and even back to Mayo Clinic. After one of their sons developed a brain tumor, they brought him to Rochester because, Sylvia says, "we had confidence in Mayo." Though they didn't find a cure for their son, they did find comfort from the doctor who cared for him. He'd been a classmate of Sylvia's husband's at St. Olaf College, and he told the Molstres, "I'll treat this just like I would if it was my own son." That's the same sort of compassion Sylvia says she had experienced from another Mayo doctor many years before. "Dr. Chuck was always kind," Sylvia says. "He took time with you."