We are thinking about swine flu vaccine. In the early 1950s polio was the deadly threat. In Logan County there was a woman who had worked tirelessly for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis – you know it as the March of Dimes – since its founding in 1938. When the Salk vaccine was made available in 1953 and shots were to begin they chose Ethel Ryan Downing to select the first first or second grader in Logan County to receive the shot. Before she could chose it was discovered one of her many grandchildren was in fact a first grader at Mt. Pulaski. She didn’t want to chose him, feeling it was selfish, but the organization insisted.
Thus it was that on his mother’s birthday in 1953, Ethel Downing’s grandson Terry, dressed in his cowboy shirt, got the first polio vaccine in Logan County, followed closely by all the other first and second graders in the county.
No one knew why she was so devoted to that particular cause. Her husband Ellis said she volunteered for so many organizations but that one had a real hold on her. He didn’t know why either. The organization was founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt but Ethel was a staunch Republican. She knew no one with polio. She continued to work for the organization until polio was conquered. They didn’t forget her. When she died in 1975 one of the biggest wreaths came from the March of Dimes.