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Bothwell Trust nears 100 years of health care support

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There are three physical symbols of John H. Bothwell’s legacy in Sedalia — Bothwell Lodge State Historic Site, Hotel Bothwell and Bothwell Regional Health Center. Before his namesakes were complete or even conceived, John Bothwell began planning for the future of Sedalia with a largely unseen gift that has lasted 95 years.

On April 10, 1926, one year before Hotel Bothwell was built, two years before Bothwell’s home north of Sedalia was completed and four years before John H. Bothwell Memorial Hospital opened, Sedalia’s earliest benefactor established the John H. Bothwell Hospital Trust, an irrevocable legal document established for charitable purposes. 

John Bothwell acted as the trust’s “advisory trustee” and the first three administrators were John Lee, a St. Louis attorney; Charles E. Yeater, Bothwell’s friend; and Conrad H. Bothwell. Current trustees are John Swearingen, James P. Buckley and Paul Beykirch.

Bothwell, who lived from 1848 to 1929, established the charitable trust to create a venture with the city and/or county to build a hospital in Sedalia. 

Beykirch said while the original intent of Bothwell’s trust was to use the funds to construct and maintain a hospital in Sedalia, for the education of nurses and “dissemination of knowledge of proper rules of sanitation and health,” the gift came with some strings attached. 

“A condition of the trust was that citizens of Sedalia and others needed to invest in building a modern hotel if John Bothwell was going to pledge to build a hospital,” Beykirch said. “Bothwell had the foresight to know that if people were in the hospital, their families and friends would need a place to stay.”

Sedalians came through and pledged their support. The trust was started with $50,000 in cash and pledges and $100,000 of Bothwell’s investments in Liberty loan bonds, which were U.S. government bonds issued to fund World War I. The initial investment of $150,000 is about $2.3 million in today’s dollars. 

Hotel Bothwell was dedicated in 1927 and still sits at Fourth Street and Ohio Avenue in downtown Sedalia. Attention then turned to a public vote to pass bonds to construct a hospital, which was approved by the community. 

Advisory trustee positions were added to assist in locating the hospital’s building site, hiring architects, and overseeing construction and management. After it was built, the hospital became managed by the city, and the advisory trustee positions were transferred to the hospital and were no longer trustees of the John H. Bothwell Hospital Trust. 

Buckley, an attorney with Buckley & Buckley, said charitable trusts are a win-win for donors who can take advantage of tax breaks and make sure their wishes are carried out over many years and for the charities that receive the funding.

“Sedalia, from its establishment, has been and continues to be blessed with individuals and families who have made it their mission to create a better quality of life by improving the general well-being and overall enjoyment of life for those in the community,” Buckley said. “John Homer Bothwell is one of Sedalia’s earliest benefactors, and his charitable giving and mission has endured for almost 100 years and will hopefully continue for centuries to come. John Bothwell continues to serve as an example to the rest of us that this form of philanthropy can and should be done.”

Today, the John H. Bothwell Hospital Trust retains three trustees, who appoint successor trustees as needed. Through investment practices, the trust earns revenue that continues to support health care in Sedalia. Each year, trustees pay out the trust’s annual interest income to Bothwell Regional Health Center. In December, trustees presented a check for $36,333.12 to hospital leaders.

“To the best of my knowledge, earnings from the trust have always gone to the hospital,” Beykirch said. “Patient and prudent investment practices of the original $150,000 over almost a century has meant several million dollars has been given to help improve our community’s health.”

Bothwell Chief Financial Officer Steve Davis said private donations given to the Bothwell Foundation or through the foresight of planned giving such as the Bothwell Trust are critical to the organization.

“As health care bottom lines continue to decline and in some cases disappear, any gifts from benefactors are used toward buying equipment that otherwise would be put off so we can pay for operating expenses,” Davis said. “Without these gifts, we would not be able to purchase much-needed equipment and technology.”

After arriving in Pettis County in 1871 from Illinois, John Bothwell was first an attorney and then served as an assistant prosecuting attorney and acting judge of the circuit court and represented the county in the Missouri General Assembly for four terms. He was even a nominee for state governor. He bought and sold real estate and at one time or another owned buildings on nearly every block of Ohio Street. Bothwell’s influence also helped make Sedalia the permanent location for the Missouri State Fair.

“John Bothwell was an attorney, politician, judge, and by all accounts, a savvy businessman with an entrepreneurial spirit,” Beykirch said. “I’d like to think he would be really proud of how his money has been managed over the last 95 years and the incredible benefits it has created.”

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