Jeanette Weiden, of Loutit District Library’s history and genealogy department, spoke with North Ottawa Community Health System employees about Kitchel’s impact in the community. The presentation was held in recognition of Women’s History Month and the health system’s 100 years serving the community.
Kitchel’s dad and aunt, who were both physicians, were influential in her life and decision to become a doctor, Weiden said.
Kitchel graduated from a teacher’s college in 1933, where she met her husband. After having two of her six children, Kitchel attended medical school and graduated in 1939. Weiden noted that Kitchel was one of nine women in her graduating class.
When the Kitchel family looked for a place to live in Michigan, Grand Haven’s new hospital and a cool breeze coming off the lake and river on a hot summer day caught their attention.
Kitchel and her husband opened their medical practice in Grand Haven in 1941. At the time, most infant deliveries happened in homes or maternity homes. The Kitchels announced that they would only deliver babies at the hospital because they were busy, as most of the male doctors were serving in World War II, Weiden said.
After the war, when the male doctors returned, they also decided they would deliver babies at the hospital. With an increase in hospital births and the baby boom, the hospital added an obstetrics wing in 1953, Weiden said.
“This is just one way that the Kitchels influenced the practice of medicine at the hospital,” she said.
Kitchel also had an interest in and pursued an anesthesiology specialty.
Weiden noted that doctors at the time had to purchase all of their own equipment and surgical tools.
Kitchel retired from her practice in 1980. She became the medical director at North Ottawa Care Center in 1983, a position she held for 13 years. Kitchel also served at Glenwood Christian Nursing Home in a similar position until 1991, and was a state nursing home inspector in Ottawa and Muskegon counties.
Weiden, who met Kitchel through the Tri-Cities Historical Museum, said she also loved history. Kitchel wrote a book called “Spring Lake Community Centennial.”
Weiden noted that Kitchel was “instrumental” in obtaining the old train depot for the museum’s first permanent home in 1971. She was the local historical society board’s director from 1968-72 and was named the museum’s first Historian of the Year in 1990.
Over the years, Kitchel made donations of signs and other artifacts to preserve the area’s history.
“She just loved history, and she wanted to document it and save it,” Weiden said.
Kitchel died in 2002 at the age of 90.
Weiden noted that some of Kitchel’s interviews are on digital recordings, available on Loutit District Library’s website.
Joyce Martyn, who attended the presentation, said she met Kitchel through their work together in hospice. She said Kitchel was compassionate and didn’t look to have the spotlight on her.
“She did a lot of things that people will never know about,” Martyn said.