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Keeping it in the family: Donated painting will honor legacy of St. Luke’s administrator

A close view of the painting given to Gil Gilbertson.
By Chris Langrill, News and Community
March 25, 2021

Shianne Blessing and her mother, Karla Herman, recently teamed up for a little spring cleaning.

“One afternoon we were cleaning out our closets,” Blessing said. “We came across a painting, and my mom said, ‘Gosh, I really don’t know what to do with this.’”

The painting depicts the St. Luke’s Boise building as it looked decades ago, a gift to a family member that was a major part of the hospital’s history.

With a little time to think, Herman knew just what to do. It was, in a way, going to stay in the family.

Shianne Blessing and Karla Herman.

She decided to donate the painting to St. Luke’s – more specifically, the St. Luke’s Rehabilitation clinic on Lake Harbor Lane in Boise, where Blessing completed her rotation as a physical therapy student.

“Growing up, St. Luke’s was a big part of our lives, and a source of pride, for sure,” Blessing said.

The family ties to St. Luke’s began with Gil Gilbertson, who served as hospital administrator from 1961 to 1988. Gilbertson was Herman’s father.

During Gilbertson’s tenure the hospital was expanded, and cardiovascular programs and the Mountain States Tumor Institute were established. The story goes that Gilbertson locked himself away in a motel room for three days writing up the federal grant request to create MSTI.

Pediatric and obstetric services were also developed, including the creation of the NICU, and clinical practices were strengthened in many areas.

Gilbertson raised St. Luke’s profile through his active participation and leadership with the American Hospital Association. He was installed as chairperson of the AHA in 1983.

“That was a really big deal,” Herman said. “We went to Washington, D.C., for his investiture.”

Dr. David Merrick joined St. Luke’s in 1970 as Boise’s first pulmonologist. For nearly two decades, he witnessed Gilbertson’s steady leadership.

“He had an exceedingly important tenure,” Dr. Merrick said. “He set the stage for St. Luke’s becoming what it is now. The St. Luke’s of today has Gil’s fingerprints all over it, and probably will forever.”

Shianne Blessing poses with the painting at St. Luke's Rehabilitation clinic on Lake Harbor Lane in Boise, where she completed her physical therapy rotation.

Dr. Merrick said Gilbertson was fiercely loyal to the St. Luke’s medical staff, even the providers who were critical of him.

“His title was administrator, but nowadays it’s CEO, which is a much more appropriate designation. These guys run a tremendously complex business,” Dr. Merrick said. “That old saw about herding cats should have been coined in relation to doctor groups and medical groups and the people who are supposed to lead them.”

Gilbertson was the first family member to work for St. Luke’s, but wouldn’t be the only one. Herman worked in the hospital’s kitchen when she was 15 years old. Her sister, Kerri Carruthers, was a St. Luke’s nurse for 30 years.

The Lake Harbor clinic made a logical spot to give the painting, providing a full circle feeling for Blessing.

“She jumped right in and hit the ground running,” said Ben Douglass, the clinic’s manager. “She got to work with a wide range of patients and she handled herself very professionally the whole time she was here.”

Douglass appreciates the efforts of Blessing and her family members and understands the significance of honoring the decades of work that Gilbertson did for St. Luke’s.

“I kind of have an idea of where I’d like to hang it, in a waiting area out front,” Douglass said.

And the next time Blessing visits the clinic, she’ll do so with a source of pride.

“It makes me feel really good to know that my grandfather will be remembered,” she said.

About The Author

Chris Langrill is a writer and copy editor for the St. Luke’s Communications and Marketing department.