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The Kimball Family of Battle Creek

Arthur Herbert Kimball (1850-1894), the first of three generations of locally prominent physicians, arrived in Battle Creek in 1883. His visit was originally intended as just a brief call upon an old friend, Richmond Kingman, before continuing west to North Dakota.


Arthur was quite impressed with the inviting climate and the prosperous atmosphere of the area. Boasting population of more than 7500 and a busy farming and business community, the “Queen City” seemed to be an ideal location for a hardworking doctor to open a new practice. He sent word to his wife, Marion Baker Kimball, and his two small sons that Battle Creek, Michigan, would be their new home.


Dr. Kimball was an exceptionally well qualified physician, having both a four-year degree and medical training at Dartmouth College, and he enjoyed a thriving practice and the respect of his colleagues. He served as City Health Officer in 1885-1886 and played an important role in local health education. He worked with Dr. John Harvey of the Battle Creek Sanitarium to establish “open air schools” where frail children were treated with fresh air, nutritious meals and plenty of rest and exercise. He was instrumental in establishing a detention hospital for patients with contagious diseases and was active in both county and state medical associations. Surgery was Dr. Kimball’s particular specialty and he performed many successful procedures.


With professional success came financial rewards. Dr. Kimball invested in a downtown business block and stock in the Battle Creek Machinery Company and built a lovely home on Maple Street (now Capital Avenue NE). Because of his sound business sense, Arthur left his family financially secure when he succumbed to tuberculosis on August 6, 1894. He was 44 years old.


Arthur Stevens Kimball, Sr. (1875-1921), proudly graduated from his father’s alma mater, Dartmouth College, and continued on to the University of Michigan Medical School. There he met his future wife, Minnie Guenther Osterbind, a fellow student. The young Dr. Kimball opened his practice in 1903 and soon established an admirable reputation for his skill, kindness and devotion to his parents. Unlike his father, Arthur strongly disliked surgery and decided to specialize in pediatrics. He studied at the great teaching hospitals in New York, London and Edinburgh before he returned to become Battle Creek’s first pediatrician. Dr. Kimball’s professional life was full and varied. He was appointed City Health Officer in 1910 and continued to influence health policy for years later. He monitored the city water supply, established a Children’s Free Clinic at City Hall and directed the construction of a new detention facility, the Kimball Isolation Hospital. In addition, he founded the Calhoun County Red Cross, spearheaded the drive for a tuberculosis sanitorium and conducted a free chest clinic for returning World War I servicemen.


Arthur’s personal life was no less busy. He and Minnie had five children -- including two sets of twins. The multiple births added a touch of mystique to his practice as some parents thought he had acquired them through the use of secret obstetrical knowledge. In 1918 Arthur was diagnosed as critically diabetic. Use of insulin was still at the experimental stage and strict diet control was the only treatment available. With a tenacity which amazed his physicians, Arthur managed to live and remain active for three more years. When he died on November 6, 1921, at the age of 43, the entire city mourned the loss of a beloved doctor.


Minnie O. Kimball (1879-1952), newly widowed, considered completing her training and launching a medical career of her own. Unfortunately, Arthur left only a modest estate. Minnie took in boarders at their spacious Upton Avenue home, but after Marion Kimball’s death, she and her children moved into the family home at 196 Capital Avenue NE. In her first job Minnie Kimball handled entries for a nation-wide contest run by the Postum Cereal Company. Later positions included managing the Community Center for unemployed men and directing women’s projects under the WPA (Works Progress Administration). Her most enduring role was as the Calhoun County welfare agent, a job she held for over ten years. As welfare agent, she investigated all cases that appeared before the juvenile court and placed children with foster homes and adoption agencies.


Minnie believed that her efforts were best rewarded by the success of her children. All five attended prestigious universities and established careers in the fields of law, teaching and the arts. Following the family tradition, Arthur S. Kimball, Jr. (1912-1966) received his medical degree from McGill University in 1939. He completed his internship and residency at the Oakland County Tuberculosis Sanitorium and was promoted to medical director in 1944. Arthur Jr’s career was centered on tuberculosis, at least in part due to his personal battle with the disease. Diagnosed while in medical school, he fought his illness with the limited technology of the time. Bedrest and a healthy diet were routinely prescribed. More serious cases required the use of special surgical techniques that collapsed a diseased lung, allowing it to rest. In 1947 Arthur was appointed director of the Arthur S. Kimball Sanitorium. He campaigned strenuously for early TB detection and treatment even as his own health deteriorated. By the time the antibiotic streptomycin was introduced, Dr. Kimball’s lungs were too damaged to benefit from the new treatment. Like his grandfather before him, Arthur died of tuberculosis on March 14, 1966, at the age of 53.