Oct 1, 2008
By: James M. Lewis
Savannah, Ga. — Things seemed to be looking up for Erle Glennwood Case, a former grammar-school teacher who had just finished veterinary school in Ontario, Canada, and received a written offer to join a practice several hundred miles to the south.
The year was 1909. The optimistic young man packed his belongings and bought a one-way steamship ticket to Savannah, but on arrival discovered that his plans had gone south, too.
There was no job waiting. The veterinarian who had extended the offer decided he couldn’t afford to hire anyone after all, and Case didn’t have the money to return to Canada.
He approached the town’s only other veterinarian, who couldn’t take on an associate, either, but did offer Case a single stall (in the building where he treated large animals) if Case would handle the growing number of small-animal patients coming his way.
Early transport: Erle Glenwood Case, founder of the four-generation Case Veterinary Hospital, in the driver’s seat of his pet ambulance in 1929.
“This vet thought the dogs and cats that farmers’ wives were bringing him were a bother, so here was a chance to pawn that business off on the new guy,” says Carla Case-McCorvey, DVM, in recounting the story of how her great-grandfather started his career and then founded Case Veterinary Hospital that she and her father, Dr. Jerry L. Case, DVM, Dipl. ABVP, still own and operate today — almost 100 years later.
“I’m the fourth generation. We’ve been investigating and haven’t been able to find any practices in the country or even worldwide that have been operated continuously for that long in the same family,” Case-McCorvey tells DVM Newsmagazine. An article in the May issue (“Preserving the past”) gave brief histories of six other longtime practices, the oldest dating to 1844 and another that has remained in the same family for three generations.
Snapshot in time: Erle Glenwood Case in front of his hospital in downtown Savannah, Ga., in 1909.
“Erle Case was the first Savannah veterinarian with a degree. The others, who had no formal training, resented him for that,” Case-McCorvey says. “When he started his own practice, he treated both large and small animals.”
In those days, some clients bartered for services with chickens or farm produce. Case’s original hospital was in the city’s historic downtown area, but it was destroyed by fire and the family doesn’t have a record of its exact location.
“As the city grew, some people didn’t like the traffic and animals downtown, so Erle was asked to move farther out,” Case-McCorvey says. “He built a new practice on Ash Street in 1923, exactly on the city limits and right on the trolley line. The family residence was upstairs.”
Francis Horace Case, Erle’s son and Case-McCorvey’s grandfather, grew up working with his father, then entered veterinary school and received his DVM degree in 1943 from Alabama Polytechnic Institute (today’s Auburn University). “He went there because the University of Georgia’s veterinary college, where both my Dad and I received our degrees, was closed during the war years,” Case-McCorvey says. (Another son of Erle Case, Harlan, also became a veterinarian, but moved to California.)
Erle Case died in 1949, just months before his grandson Jerry was born.
In 1958, the family moved to a new residence — “when my Dad was 8 years old,” Case-McCorvey says — but continued operating the hospital on Ash Street until 1978, when Francis Case sold it to an associate and built a new hospital at the present address on Eisenhower Drive.Francis Case died in 2002. “Back in 1975, my grandfather’s practice hadn’t modernized very much. He didn’t even have an X-ray machine. His mother was the bookkeeper and receptionist. Growing up in the household, it seemed normal to me that no one worked in the hospital who wasn’t a blood relative,” Case-McCorvey recalls.
Father and daughter worked together her entire life. Jerry Case recalls making cotton balls and sterilizing equipment, and his daughter says she also made cotton balls the same way from a large roll. She remembers painting lines on the parking lot, cleaning cages and taking jars containing formal-dehyde-preserved hearts of dogs that had died of heartworms to elementary school for show-and-tell.
Today, with his daughter now chief of staff, Jerry Case says he is staying mostly in the background, on the business side. “I never pressured her growing up to take over, but I never discouraged her, either,” he says.
“It was my Dad who built the practice into what it is today. My mother (the former Gail Halstad) was his receptionist and technician, then Dad began hiring outside the family.”
The first “outsider” was Kenneth Weaver, who as a high-school senior volunteered to work two weeks at the hospital as part of a school occupational-study program. After graduation in 1978, he asked to return and was hired. Now a Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT), Weaver marked his 30th anniversary with Case Veterinary Hospital this year.
The most recent addition to the staff is Miranda Knight, DVM, who previously practiced and taught classes at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine and was in private practice in Athens, Ga.
“Today we consider ourselves very progressive,” Case-McCorvey says. The practice, which recently began offering laparoscopic surgery, has 30 employees and six veterinarians, including the father-daughter owners. It has more than 9,200 active clients. Lisa A. Yackel, CVPM, PHR, is the hospital manager.
“We plan to celebrate our 100th anniversary throughout 2009, with something special each month,” Case-McCorvey says.
Savannah’s Small Business Chamber of Commerce recently named Case Veterinary Hospital its 2008 Business of the Year.