A Special Childhood Friend

Marcia Page had a different childhood experience than most of us. Instead of playgrounds and parks, Marcia and her family lived on the grounds of state mental hospitals. Her father, Curtis “Duke” Page, was a psychologist who worked at a variety of state institutions in the Midwest.

Marcia told her daughter, Sabrina, about her most memorable childhood home at the Fergus Falls State Hospital in Fergus Falls, MN. In 1954, when Marcia was 5 years old, her father was hired as the chief clinical psychologist and housing at the hospital was provided with the job.

Fergus Falls State Hospital
Fergus Falls State Hospital (courtesy KirkbrideBuildings.com)

Playdates at the hospital were infrequent because Marcia’s friends’ parents “weren’t too keen on having their kids come up and play.” So instead of other children, Marcia made friends and played with patients who lived at the hospital.

Evelyn was one of Marcia’s best friends at the hospital. She was in her 20s and they played together almost everyday. Marcia remembered: “I asked my dad why [she was] there and he would talk to me like an adult. My dad told me Evelyn was a paranoid schizophrenic.”

Marcia’s father was Evelyn’s therapist, and he told Marcia that she “probably did more therapy with her than he did. We walked and we played. She was just Evelyn….I knew that they were patients at the hospital and they couldn’t take care of themselves somewhere else, but they were just people and that was a pretty profound experience to have.”

Marcia Page and Sabrina Bender
Marcia Page and her daughter, Sabrina Bender

Even though stigma surrounded these institutions, Marcia’s memories are positive. She said the patients who lived at the hospital “had pride in taking care of their hospital and their community….The really positive thing was that they were living their lives and being productive, while being cared for. ”

Marcia and Sabrina’s interview was recorded in partnership with the San Luis Obispo County SELPA.



7 Responses to “A Special Childhood Friend”

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  • Marcia, I had the pleasure to tour the Fergus Falls State Hospital recently. So awesome! But also sad to see the deterioration already. Would love to know about the history and your life if you’d care to share.

    Comment from Laurie on September 19, 2009 at 9:01 am - Reply to this Comment
  • To David Vaughan: No David, your name is not ringing any immediate bells, but of course now I am curious to know why you ask.
    To all: The same day that Matt posted this blog story, lightening struck the main tower at the hospital, ignighting a fire and causing some minor damage. I was so relieved to learn that it wasn’t serious, but the confluence of energies was pretty interesting for me! Recording with StoryCorps has really renewed my interest in the hospital at Fergus Falls and I have learned that the buildings are at risk of being torn down…..there have been some creative interventions to save other Kirkbride hospital buildings. One is in Traverse City, Michigan. I hope that Fergus Falls can be saved too!

    Comment from Marcia on August 25, 2009 at 11:11 pm - Reply to this Comment
  • Marcia wondering if by some outside chance my last name rings a bell?

    Comment from David Vaughan on August 6, 2009 at 4:42 pm - Reply to this Comment
  • I loved this story and the photo. Marcia Page learned a great lesson that should be available to all! Good writing, too.

    Comment from Ruth Mason on June 22, 2009 at 7:08 am - Reply to this Comment
  • What a wonderful lesson can be learned here about compassion and understanding. It’s a lovely story.

    Comment from Karen Kasulke on June 18, 2009 at 8:20 pm - Reply to this Comment
  • It was a fascinating childhood. We lived on the third floor in the front of the main building you see in the picture! I treasure the memories and the lessons I learned while having these unique experiences. Thank you Evelyn, and to my Mom and Dad for helping me understand that each person is unique and that the labels our society places on people aren’t really very important!

    Comment from Marcia on June 15, 2009 at 10:03 pm - Reply to this Comment
  • What a fascinating childhood! This story makes my imagination run wild.

    Comment from Whitney on June 15, 2009 at 2:21 pm - Reply to this Comment

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