Dedication of the Renovation of the Rotary Building

Ruth Lilly Learning Center Auditorium
Riley Hospital Outpatient Center
Indianapolis, Indiana
August 22, 2014

Riley, Rotary, And Eli Lilly: Battling Polio In Indiana In The Early 20th Century

“Over the past hundred years,” writes Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Julie Silver, “there have been incredible medical breakthroughs that have prevented or cured illness in billions of people and helped many more improve their health while living with chronic conditions. A few of the most important 20th century discoveries include antibiotics, organ transplants, and vaccines.”1

She continues: “The 21st century has already heralded important new treatments including such things as a vaccine to prevent human papillomavirus from infecting and potentially leading to cervical cancer in women.”2 And, writing in 2007, she also noted that polio was on the verge of being eradicated worldwide, which would make it only the second infectious disease behind smallpox to ever be erased as a human health threat.3

But for much of the 20th century, polio was a feared crippler of children, adolescents, and adults. The hundreds of thousands of Americans and other people around the globe who contracted the disease faced lengthy stays in isolation and rehabilitation hospitals, where caregivers worked to rebuild paralyzed muscles and to help polio victims resume their interrupted lives.4

I actually have some personal knowledge of this era, as my mother worked as a pediatric physiatrist, working with children who had polio.

Here in Indianapolis, when the disease was at its height, it was common for the Riley Hospital for Children to be at capacity with 100 polio patients. Children had to sometimes be put in the halls due to lack of room, and physical therapists often worked 24 hours or more without sleep.5

Though Riley Hospital was established as a comprehensive children’s hospital, polio was certainly a major focus during its first three decades. The very first patient admitted at Riley was suffering from the disease6, and in the mid-1930s, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who himself had been paralyzed by polio, visited Riley for the dedication of the hydrotheraputic pool used to treat children with polio.

Even as funds were being raised to build the Riley Hospital, members of Indiana’s Rotary Clubs around the state pledged $250,000 for the construction of a convalescent home, to provide space for children to live, attend school, and receive care during what was often a long period of convalescence. They exceeded their goal, raising a total of $276,000—at a time when the Great Depression was nearing its height—and the additional funds were dedicated to the building’s maintenance.7

In accepting the building in 1931, IU President William Lowe Bryan, himself a Rotarian, called the facility “a monument to the courage of our people—a courage which no hard times can destroy.”8

The support for the construction of the facility given by Rotarians from all corners of Indiana also benefitted Reilly Hospital more broadly. As dean emeritus of the IU School of Medicine Burton Dorr Myers wrote: “There were at that time 57 Rotary Clubs in 57 cities of Indiana. There were, therefore, 57 centers of special interest in the Riley Memorial Hospital which helped impress upon whole communities the importance and great merit of the Riley Hospital project.”9

Of course, Indiana’s Eli Lilly and Company played a major role in the reduction of polio in the U.S. through the manufacture of the vaccine developed by the legendary Dr. Jonas Salk. Lilly produced more than half of all the Salk vaccine used in the United States10, a vaccine that resulted in a nearly 90 percent reduction in the incidence of polio within a few short years of its approval and widespread use.11

The Rotary Building and Global Health in The 21st Century

Following this enormous reduction in the incidence of polio, convalescent homes around the country were put to new uses, as was here the case with the Rotary Building. By 1951, patients from the Rotary unit had been moved into Riley Hospital, and IU President Herman Wells and the university’s trustees considered what would be an appropriate use of the building.12

Over the years, the building has been put to a variety of uses, most recently as home to the Department of Ophthalmology, now located in the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Eye Institute.

The Rotary Building is an outstanding example of an effective response—by Indiana University and the IU School of Medicine, in partnership with the people of this state—to a major health threat of the day.

But as this historic building entered the 21st century, it was in great need of renovation. The Rotary Building was identified in the IUPUI Master Plan, an updated version of which was approved by the trustees in 2012, as one of a number of campus buildings in need of a major remodeling.

With this renovation, the building is now poised to serve as a fitting home for those who are working to address some of the most serious regional and global health threats of the 21st century.

This splendidly renovated building now provides modern, high-quality space near the new Eskenazi Health facilities and the Riley Hospital for IU’s Center for Global Health, the IU Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program, and the administrative offices of the Department of Surgery.

All of these divisions embody Indiana University’s commitment to excellence in teaching, research, service, and engagement, and their work has an enormous impact on the lives of many people across the state, the nation, and around the world.

Special Thanks

Projects like this renovation require a great team that collaborates on the many details that ultimately come together in the final product.

I want to commend Dean Jay Hess, from whom you will hear in a moment, and all of his colleagues in the School of Medicine who had roles in the planning and implementation of this project.

I also want to commend Vice President for Capital Planning and Facilities Tom Morrison, as well as the many design and construction professionals, both internal and external, who contributed to this renovation.

And, finally, I would like to thank our Trustees for their steadfast and enthusiastic support—not only for this renovation—but also for their support over the last seven years for what has most likely been the most sustained period of the renovation, renewal, and repurposing of IU’s existing facilities, and of the construction of new facilities, in the university’s history—and, more generally, for their continued and ongoing efforts to guard and care for the welfare of our institution.


At the time of the Rotary Building’s dedication, Paul Harris, the founder of Rotary International, called the facility a visible and tangible expression of Rotary’s ideals.13

Today, the building, which grew out of a great spirit of collaboration, remains a visible and tangible expression of our shared ideals for improved regional and global health.

We look forward to celebrating the many, many achievements and advances that will result from future collaborations and partnerships as the building’s newest occupants build upon the momentum begun here so many years ago.

Source Notes

  1. Julie K. Silver, Daniel J. Wilson, Polio Voices: An Oral History from the American Polio Epidemics and Worldwide Eradication Efforts, (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007), iv.

  2. Ibid.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Ibid., 1.Pamela Perry, “Polio: Enemy of Youth,” IUPUI News Bureau. 1979.

  5. Pamela Perry, “Polio: Enemy of Youth,” IUPUI News Bureau. 1979.

  6. Burton Dorr Myers, History of Indiana University, Volume II, 1907-1937: The Bryan Administration, (Indiana University, 1952), 318.

  7. William Herschell, “They Must Get Well,” The Rotarian, volume 40, Number 1, January 1932, 56

  8. William Lowe Bryan, Remarks at the Dedication of the Rotary Convalescent Home of the James Whitcomb Riley Hospital for Children, delivered November 15, 1931, IU Archives.

  9. Myers, 329.

  10. John C. Lechleiter, “How a Corporation Should Think About Social Responsibility,” Speech delivered March 4, 2014 in Indianapolis, IN, Web, Accessed August 18, 2014, URL:

  11. “Polio Prevention After Jonas Salk,”, University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics

  12. Minutes of the Indiana University Board of Trustees, Spetember 27, 1951.

  13. Mike Conly, “Laying the Riley Cornerstone,” Rotary Club of Indianapolis Archives, Web, Accessed August 13, 2014, URL: