With the recent passing of Julie Obenreder, West Pasco County lost a pioneer nurse and longtime resident who led the way in the preservation of West Pasco history.
Obenreder, who died Thursday, March 10, at the age of 98, came to New Port Richey in August 1945 with her husband Roy and three children, James, Joyce and Connie Ann, according to historical documents. In search of warmer climates for their daughter, they only intended a temporary stay. But the needs of the community called, and Julie answered.
Born January 17, 1913 in Wilcox, Penn., as Julie Jenkins, she studied nursing with a keen interest. On December 31, 1932, she married a hard-working man named Roy Obenreder, who, according to the St. Petersburg Times, delivered coal by truck.
When the Obenreders arrived to west Pasco, there were no hospitals. Pregnant women either delivered at home or drove to Tarpon Springs, Dunedin or Clearwater for delivery in a hospital, according to the book “West Pasco's Heritage”.*
In 1952, Dr. Gerald Sprankle understood the needs of the community and established the Richey Clinic, located on South Boulevard. This small clinic consisted of a reception room, exam room, treatment rooms, therapy department, laboratory, delivery room, four-bed ward, small kitchen, and laundry room-- it was a complete care unit for expecting mothers and Mrs. Julie Obenreder was the nurse-in-charge. During the eight years the clinic operated, patient numbers well exceeded 600.
However, Obenreder’s duties as a midwife didn’t stop there.
She was often called upon by the local black community of Pine Hill, where the only option was home delivery. She delivered at least 50 babies for the residents of Pine Hill, usually at no charge.
In "West Pasco 's Heritage"-- which she helped write-- Obenreder recalled-- “There were no electrical or plumbing facilities at Pine Hill Community then.” *
Obenreder became an ardent supporter of our local history when she discovered historic writings and information about the community seemed to be lacking. This prompted her and others to research and write "West Pasco Heritage."
In addition to her contributions to the book "West Pasco Heritage," Mrs. Obenreder also authored "My Pioneer Days in West Pasco."*
In 1973, she helped organize the -- the society’s first regular meeting was held at Obenreder’s home with 10 ladies attending. Chartered in May 1973, the Society elected Obenreder as the first president, and she served on the board until 1983, according to records at the museum and a transcription of "A Time to Remember: The Building of a Museum, A Journal Written by Julie Obenreder."
Obenreder was instrumental in acquiring the society's headquarters, a former school house that had been converted into a residence, after the buildng was put on the market in 1981.
After acquiring the old school for the society, Obenreder negotiated for months as she tried to find a location for the building. A decision was finally reached with New Port Richey to have it placed on a small triangle patch of weeds in Sims Park; which seemed ideal."
The old school house and new museum reached its home in the park on October 28, 1981. However, the work didn’t stop there. Roy Obenreder, then a building contractor, oversaw work on converting the old schoolhouse into a museum, which opened January 16, 1983.
Julie Obenreder’s dedication to the community is still evident today through her numerous contributions and the smiling faces of those she helped to bring into this world during her early days as a midwife.
Obenreder died Thursday afternoon at Southern Pine Nursing Center on Congress Street. She is survived by daughter Connie Smith of New Port Richey and son James Obenreder of Fryburg, PA. Her husband Roy preceded her in death 18 years earlier at age 80.
Family and friends will pay their final respects Monday afternoon during services held at Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church where Obenreder was a member.
Jeff Cannon is a historian who lives in Hudson. Watch for his column to premiere March 15.
*This article was updated for style at 10:42 a.m.
*This editorial has been corrected. The previous version read that a book Obenreder helped write was called "West Pasco Heritage." The correct title is "West Pasco's Heritage."