PITTSBURG, Kan. —
The last evergreen to leave the Bowen Christmas Tree Farm wasn’t one under which presents would be placed — it was one that wound up on top of a hospital.
The tree, donated by Jim and Karen Bowen, was one of the centerpieces of a ceremony held Friday morning. It was a practice that Via Christi President and Chief Executive Officer Randy Cason said dates to ancient times.
Called “topping out” or “topping off,” it’s an event traditionally held when the last beam is placed at the highest point of a building project.
“It’s a cherished custom when the skeleton is complete,” Cason told a group of residents, hospital stakeholders, city and elected officials who gathered in the hospital’s worship center.
As the ceremony progressed, attendees watched a crane lift the tree and an American flag into place on top of the hospital’s new $20 million surgery center.
Workers also bolted into place on the center’s roof three white beams signed by attendees and workers prior to the ceremony.
It’s the first such ceremony to be held at Via Christi, but has been a practice in the American construction industry since skyscrapers began going up in New York City, Cason said.
Historical records show the tradition likely migrated to America with European craftspeople, having been commonplace in Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Poland. Most sources cite its origins in Scandinavia, where the religious practice of placing a tree on top of a new building to appease the tree-dwelling spirits of their ancestors that had been displaced.
Cason said the tree and flag were a sign of respect to the workers and to the nation, and a sign that the hospital is growing.
“It’s a milestone event between the groundbreaking and the final product, but also a blessing for the work and the workers,” he said.
“This project is a work of faith, a journey of faith,” said Wendell Wilkinson, chairman of the hospital board, during the ceremony. “We have just taken a big step on that journey with the topping out of the new surgery center. Our blueprint is the word of God, which says, ‘if the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor.’
“We are God’s co-workers in this ministry and this building project. Today marks a special celebration of the work and the workers.”
Although the hospital, first started as Mount. Carmel in 1903 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Wichita, then rebuilt as a new Mount Carmel in 1971, has undergone extensive interior renovations in the past decade, none of the construction has been outside of the building’s footprint as the surgery center is.
During the ceremony, Brenda Lemmons, director of the hospital’s perioperative services, read 1 Corinthians 3:9-11, which says in part, “According to the grace of God, like a master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it.”
Jay Gilchrist, the hospital’s senior director of mission integration, led those in attendance in intercessions and a blessing. He called on God to bless the work and keep the workers safe and wise in carrying out a plan to make the center a place of healing.
The workers, employed by Crossland Construction of Columbus, were represented in the ceremony by Nate Stahl, project manager, who said that when the last roof slab is in place, the perimeter of the building will begin going up in the form of precast panels.
Stahl said the mechanical, electrical and plumbing services would be next.
Roxanne Nutt, a nurse in the hospital’s operating room, said a topping out ceremony was a new experience for her and was something that meant a great deal.
“We need a bigger OR (operating room), bigger equipment. We already have a great staff, and a new surgery center is the icing on the cake,” Nutt said. “It’s very exciting. It’s starting to feel real to us now.”