Oral History Project

Dr. Dick and Arlis UlmanSome people are fortunate to know their chosen career path at an early age. Arlis Ulman is such a person. At just 15, she began working at a hospital in Coulee Dam, Washington. She went on to receive her nursing degree and training at St. Luke’s Hospital School of Nursing in Spokane. A friend who also worked at St. Luke’s introduced her to Richard (“Dick”) Ulman, an intern at Deaconess Hospital in Spokane. That introduction led to a sixty-plus year marriage for Arlis and Dick Ulman.

With Dr. Ulman’s residency in Tulare, California nearing completion, they began looking for a town to settle down in. According to Arlis, Dick wanted to go somewhere he could practice “good medicine, never having to rush patient care.” As an avid outdoorsman, Dick hoped to find a place where he could also enjoy Florence Soda Fountainoutdoor activities (hunting, fishing, etc.). During a road trip to interview for a general physician’s practice in Newport, they stopped in Florence at the soda fountain in Peterson’s Drug Store. By coincidence, also seated at the fountain was a bank president, Pete (a pharmacist), and John Sampson, owner of Western Auto Supply. After a bit of neighborly conversation, John revealed he owned a building across the street with an upstairs office he had been preparing for a doctor. The doctor however, had changed his mind and decided against relocating to Florence. Pete proposed he would purchase the store space if the Ulman’s would take the upstairs space for Dick’s medical practice. The deal was struck! Luckily for Florence, the Ulman’s never completed that road trip to Newport.

Dr. Ulman and Arlis relocated to Florence in 1955. It was a time when everyone in town knew each other by first name (at the grocery store, on the street, in the bank, restaurants, etc.).

In setting up his medical practice, the delivery room was comprised of used equipment purchased from the Tulare County hospital – including a surgery table and an incubator (non-electric), heated by water bottles. According to Arlis, who worked as his nurse, 36 babies were delivered in the office, including 2 premature and a set of twins. In all, Dr. Ulman delivered over 1,000 babies during his 36-year medical practice.

His practice was not limited to deliveries. To support a growing town with active logging, fishing and dairy industries, Dr. Ulman performed surgeries, orthopedics, tended to heart attacks, and more. Arlis recalls Dr. Ulman saw 35 to 40 patients a day, and sometimes more. Office hours extended from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. including being on call 24 hours a day, every day of the week. In addition to Florence, house calls were made to Mapleton, Deadwood, Swisshome and Ada. Breakfast was the one meal their family ate together, as dinner was most often interrupted by a phone call for a medical need. Patients even came to their home. Not surprisingly, any type of family vacation required extensive planning a year in advance.

Walking Blood Bank

In addition to being a nurse in her husband’s practice, Arlis Ulman appeared at meetings of the Elks Club, Lions Club, or any other public gathering to perform blood tests for those in attendance. The blood type results established a contact list used by the hospital whenever an urgent need for blood donors arose. She performed the tests for 8 years in town as well as Deadwood and Swisshome.

Arlis also participated in the Wellness Program for Florence schools, performing annual eye and ear examinations on students.

With Dr. Ulman being an outdoorsman, he flew his own planes to Alaska for hunting and fishing trips. Arlis also learned to fly, and took lessons in Florence on a Piper Tri Pacer when the airport’s dirt runway was just wide enough for one plane. She later became a member of the Civil Air Patrol.

1991 Rhododendron Parade

The Ulmans were honored with being selected as the 1991 Grand Marshals of the Rhododendron Junior Parade. They were recognized and selected for their continued devotion to the youth of the Florence-Mapleton area for more than 35 years.

Many articles have been written of the compassion and tireless service Dr. Ulman showed in caring for his patients. Even for those of us not fortunate to have known him, we honor his devotion in practicing “good medicine” to all of his patients. Throughout, Arlis Ulman was right alongside him, “working like two peas in a pod”, she says. The contribution of the Ulmans to the history of Florence is deep rooted, and helped shape the town to one we’re all grateful to be living in, as a community of people who truly care about one another. It was a privilege to interview her.