The long, treasured history of Freeman Neosho Hospital will be told in images that will grace the hospital’s main entrance, and those images are the concepts of a Neosho man who won a contest to have his artwork displayed in the hospital.

John Mills was one of those who responded to the urging of Renee Denton, hospital administrator, who asked area artists in June to submit proposals for the project.

“The theme of the project should focus on the history of the hospital and its contributions and impact over the years,” Denton said.

Mills’ design was recently selected as the winner by a committee comprised of hospital and community leaders, and he was given the go-ahead to bring his work to completion.

Mills explained that the competition asked artists to include some of the people who were important in the hospital’s history. He described his submission: “Of course, starting at the left is Dr. [Onal Carter] Sale and Dr. [Melvin C.] Bowman were the first two that started — Dr. Sale actually started in the old Sale Apartments, we read that history about Dr. Sale, he started his practice in the Sale Apartments, and that was the first hospital, and that’s going to be included in the image.”

Also depicted is the north end of the current hospital facility, which Mills said was built in 1938, and has since been remodeled and enlarged through several processes.

“And then the new hospital is shown to the left, with the clinic across the street,” he said. “It shows that transition through the years, Neosho’s maternal department was a big department back in the earlier years, so some of these images will show the older uniforms, as well as a bit here on what the radiology equipment looked like then and how it’s changed to new and, of course, the helicopter showing the transition to improved care that can be regional or national.”

Mills made sure that patient care was illuminated in his design, and explained that has always been a priority at any hospital, “And especially at Freeman, and so we tried to show different elements involved in that patient care.”

He said about 100 photographs and images were considered before determining what to use in the mural so that it would tell a story but not be cluttered.

“It’s a challenge when you do a mural to do that, tell a story but not let it become so cluttered with information that people don’t stop and look at it.” He noted, “I hope that it’s interesting, that it will make people stop and consider the history.”

Before ever putting pencil to paper to conjure an image, Mills explained, “With any historical thing in Newton County, you call Larry James.” He said James was his first source for information and photographs, and added that historical photographs are hard to come by.
“So I kind of went by the written history, and then tried to find images that would fit the history,” he said.

Mills also credited Debbie Werneke and Silhouette Imaging for assistance with the design layout.

Mills said his finished 48 by 30 inch painting will be scanned onto a 96 by 60 tile mural that will then be installed in the hospital’s main entrance.

“They wanted something more permanent than the painting because it’s not climate controlled in that area,” he said. “That will be in a permanent type of material so they don’t have to worry about it being bumped or scratched or whatever as people come through.”

Mills expects the finished 48 by 30 painting will be displayed in a hospital office.

Upon announcing the competition, hospital officials stated that if another proposal captured the essence of the desired theme, they would consider placement of a second project in a different area of the hospital. The work of Donna Wells of Neosho did just that.

“When I first found out about the contest I had a vision in my head of what I thought it should be, and I saw it as a series of collages of actual artifacts that would nest together and show the story from the beginning to what it is now,” Wells said. “I wanted to see those collages mounted on Plexiglas and sort of mounted away from the wall on these metal rods called ‘standoffs,’ and so I did some research with a sign company and they told me it was possible. That’s what we’re going to do.”

To acquire her images, Wells said she has contacted several retired doctors and family members of some who have since departed.

“They have been digging through their memorabilia and finding some old photos and newspaper articles, so I’ve been scanning those and once I have everything scanned I’ll pick and choose what will work best and lay those out in hopefully an interesting collage,” she said.

Her’s is still an evolving design, and Wells welcomes the submissions of photos or Sale Memorial Hospital-related memorabilia. She said she will scan submitted items and return those to their owners. If anyone is interested in being a contributor to Well’s project, email

Wells said her three dimensional project will be displayed upstairs across from the ICU waiting room. Both projects should be installed by sometime this fall.

Christen Stark, marketing and media manager, Freeman Health System, said as the hospital has undergone renovation over the past 18 months, Freeman Neosho has focused on brightening the atmosphere.

“To make it more comfortable and appealing to those who visit it, those patients. So instead of using artwork that isn’t necessarily significant to the community, Renee Denton felt it was important to open this opportunity to local artists and give them the opportunity to contribute to a little bit of history of Freeman Neosho,” Stark said.

Wells added, “There is some pride also in the history as far as Sale Memorial Hospital, and now that we’re Freeman Neosho instead of just Sale Memorial, people still want to have that showcase of where they come from, and having the history on the wall will speak to the community, certainly.”

Born and raised in Neosho, Mills said he has many connections to Freeman Neosho and Freeman West. He said he is for anything that has to do with Neosho, and is excited that he has the opportunity to contribute to the hospital.

Wells said she does not have that life-long connection, moving to Neosho in 1984, but she sees how important the hospital is to the community and surrounding smaller towns.

“And the pride!” she exclaimed. “We’ve had a lot of people who when they come in the hospital have talked about the photos of the founders that had been hanging on the wall, and when they started the renovation they had to take those down in order to paint and stuff, and people have asked, ‘Where are those photos?’ So they want to see the history back up on the wall, so we want to make sure that we honor the wishes of our community.”

Mills added that the hospital is important to the economic development of Neosho and its continued growth. Being so close to Joplin, he said, “It speaks highly of Freeman to be invested in this community, They’re invested in our ‘Y’ (YMCA) and they just got a new therapeutic center that they’ve opened and teamed up with La-Z-Boy, so all of that I think speaks highly that Freeman is dedicated to Neosho, and they know it is an important part of their business.”

Denton said she hopes the final product will be a message and a source of pride to those who walk into the hospital and see it.

“Also a historical reference, an informative art piece — if you will — that will really tell the story of Freeman Neosho Hospital,” she said.