Every summer since 2005, a town on the Mississippi River with a population of 1,100 doubles or triples in size for five weeks when performers and spectators flock to Nauvoo, Illinois. During the 2013 Nauvoo Pageant season, 1,700 to 1,800 visitors attended each night’s performance, and one night eleven tourist buses increased the attendance to 2,800.
This year Elder Dallin H. Oaks joined the pageant audience. Before participants went to the pageant stage, Elder Oaks addressed them at the Nauvoo Stake Center. According to one participant, Elder Oaks told them about an organist who played beautiful music on a pipe organ that required a boy to pump the bellows to sound the organ. At the end of each concert, the organist received grand applause, but no one thanked the boy for pumping the bellows. One evening the boy decided not to do his job. As a result, the organ made no sound–and the organist could not perform. Elder Oaks reminded pageant participants that, like a bellows pumper, behind-the-scenes volunteers at the Nauvoo Pageant are as important as those who appear on stage.
John and Peggy Ricks
One behind-the-scenes volunteer group that often goes unnoticed is the pageant’s medical team. Peggy Ricks, wife of Pageant President John Ricks, said, “Throughout the course of the nine years of the Nauvoo Pageant, we have had dedicated, professional medical volunteers who willing give of their time, resources, and knowledge. A local couple, Rob and Janette Glass, with emergency and nurse practitioner experience give of their time and expert knowledge to direct the medical team.”
Development of Medical Team
Rob and Janette Nye Glass were first introduced to Nauvoo’s musical productions in 1999 when their family performed in the City of Joseph Pageant. Cast members paid their own expenses and lived for almost three weeks with their families in tents, campers, RVs, cabins, dorms, or hotels. They rehearsed 15 hours a day in hot, humid weather and performed for seven nights on an outdoor stage.
“I was a fairly new nurse practitioner and had been working in an emergency room as an RN. Rob had been an EMT for many years,” Janette remembered. “On the first day they asked for volunteers to provide first aid and medical attention for the pageant cast and crew, we stepped up.”
Rob and Janette noticed little organized medical support for the 600 participants, and they joined other volunteers to organize a medical team. Doctors who came to participate in the pageant had been seeing “patients” daily instead of having an experience with their families, so the medical team assigned a designated leader each day to treat minor problems.
Being trained in emergency medical services (EMS), Rob and Janette recognized the need for additional first aid supplies. They purchased a large jump bag and filled it with the necessary items. The next year they filled backpacks with EMT materials and placed them at Camp Nauvoo, the Joseph Smith Academy, and other sites where cast and crew congregated. Rob became the lead medical officer at the City of Joseph Pageant and served until the pageant ended in 2004.
City of Joseph Memories
Each year doctors participating in the City of Joseph Pageant identified themselves and their specialties to the medical team. “When we had specialists, we many times needed that type of specialist,” Janette said. One year a young man got hit in the eye with a towel a friend snapped it at him. Janette recognized the injury as a hyphema, and a doctor at the pageant happened to be an expert on this injury and published a paper about it in a professional journal.
Another year a man, whose wife was portraying Emma Smith, arrived late for the pageant, and security escorted him to a seat. Near the end of the production, an older lady sitting next to him began having difficulty breathing. Within minutes she was in respiratory distress. The man, who happened to be a doctor, requested equipment which the medical team did not have; but Rob Glass applied oxygen, performed basic life support, and called EMS. If the doctor had not been sitting next to the woman, she may not have received help immediately.
The City Of Joseph Pageant ran for seven nights each summer between1976 and 2004. Medical volunteers treated bug bites, lacerations, scrapes, sprains, and dehydration. They assessed injuries, skin infections, fainting from heat, nose bleeds, fractures, sick children, rashes, and “stomach bugs.” They also referred individuals to local health care providers.
Nauvoo Pageant Medical Team
When the Nauvoo Pageant began in 2005, Rob and Janette Glass were asked to provide medical support during this pageant’s five-week season. They continue to serve as medical directors with their team of volunteers, including a full-time nurse appointed by the pageant presidency.
“Many times medical volunteers are supported by spouses who come with them. Other times they come from long distances to serve alone,” Peggy Ricks said. “Each person on the medical team serves at great sacrifice, and pageant participants love and appreciate them. The background each medical volunteer brings is invaluable to those who participate.”
The Nauvoo Pageant medical team first operated out of a tent until someone donated a travel trailer in 2008. Now those seeking medical assistance can be treated in a facility with air conditioning, which is a blessing when outside temperatures reach the triple digits. “Dehydration, heat related illnesses, sprained ankles, sore muscles, bumps and bruises, bug bites, torn ears, bronchitis, and even dislocated hips and fingers and one broken leg are what the Nauvoo Pageant medical team handles to care for cast families and volunteers,” Peggy Ricks said.
Memories of a Pageant Nurse
In 2008, Becky and Ray Fligge purchased a “summer” house along the river road near Nauvoo. Becky remembered, “I got up one morning and informed Ray and my boss that I’d be moving to the new house in two weeks-early July. I had no urgent reason, just a feeling.'” Ray remained in Peoria, Illinois, to sell their house, and Becky moved to the new house. After unpacking a few necessary items, Becky drove to Nauvoo and watched the Nauvoo Pageant. At the end of the performance, she went to the medical area and told the nurse she was an RN and could give additional medical help.
“It wasn’t very long before Pageant President Jack Renouf was on the phone requesting my services,” Becky said. “The Pageant nurse had been called home, and they had no replacement. They asked everyone in the Pageant to fast and pray that the Lord would provide someone to fill the position. I was told that I was the answer to that prayer.”
Doctors from each of the five family casts offered to assist the new Pageant nurse. “A family practice MD was available when an eight-year-old girl got stung between the toes by a bee and her entire foot and leg swelled up,” Becky said. “He diagnosed her with bee sting allergy and provided treatment quickly.”
In addition to treating medical concerns, Becky monitored participants as they rehearsed outside on the stage in extremely hot weather. “Many days the heat index was over 100 degrees, and heat-related issues were the norm,” Becky said. “It was my responsibility to advise actions to avoid life-threatening sickness. The pageant management initiated popsicle time and increased the breaks while encouraging families to gather in the grove of trees and increase their fluid intake. Management also added a large industrial ice maker to the backstage prep area.”
Becky remembered treating injuries incident to the pageant stage. “Several areas on the stage deck were patched, making the slope on the deck hazardous to the performers. We cared for multiple sprained ankles and pulled muscles on a daily basis and identified one fracture.”
Becky identified another concern with the pageant stage. “By the last week of the pageant, many performers and almost the entire core cast were so hoarse and plagued by continuous coughing that we asked them to see the local doctors to rule out strep throat.” The pageant director sat with the medical volunteers on Tuesday evening to watch the performance. “During one of the dance scenes, I noticed how much dust was being kicked up on stage,” Becky said. “I pointed it out to the director, and we both agreed that the dust could cause throat irritation. The next afternoon a stage crew member ‘power washed’ the entire stage deck. It worked beautifully.”
2013 Pageant Nurse
During the 2013 Nauvoo Pageant season, Ursula Davies from St. George, Utah, served as the pageant nurse. As assistant medical director, she provided support to the cast and crew during the day and assisted Rob and Janette Glass at night. During the day, she went backstage to check on cast and crew and make sure they stayed hydrated with water jugs and ice from the first aid trailer. Ursula also became a pro at spraying bug spray to keep participants and attendees from being eaten alive by pesky insects.
One evening Brother Johnson limped to the first aid trailer after participating in a sack race at the Frontier Country Fair. Ursula gave him materials to wrap his toe and noted that he probably broke it. Brother Johnson said, “But it was worth it. I beat the women in the sack race!”
Brother Johnson and Nurse Ursula
Soon Rob Glass received a call on his radio that a four-year-old child lost his parents. Security took the child to the first aid station to wait until his parents were found. According to Rob Glass, each night two or three children lose their parents, and the first aid station becomes a safe haven while parents are located, which is usually no longer than seven minutes.
This year Ursula’s husband Bill Davies accompanied her to Nauvoo to help pageant security, fill water jugs and replenish ice, lift heavy items, and perform other tasks at the first aid trailer. He also made wonderful connections with pageant children. One child started calling him Santa Claus, and others followed suit. They also called him the candy man after word quickly spread that the candy man passed out free candy. Once a week, Bill drove to Keokuk to purchase candy for his young followers. Soon grown-ups even stopped by for a treat.
After 37 years of ER and life flight experience, Ursula Davies enjoyed the spiritual side of being the pageant nurse. “Pageant directors tell us to let the Spirit direct,” Ursula said. “They remind us that participants and spectators have been called to Nauvoo for a reason.” Ursula participated in daily district meetings held in the grove by the pageant site. “I became friends with the core cast who served as district leaders and had different spiritual experiences as I moved from one district to another.Jane Manning, John Taylor, Robert and Becky Laird, and Heber C. Kimball emphasized different topics and steered the conversation in their meetings.”
After the 2013 Pageant ended on August 3, cast, crew, and visitors returned home with testimony-strengthening memories. “With almost one thousand participants, it takes more than the directors to follow the cast through rehearsals and performances and meet their medical needs,” Peggy Ricks said.Like the bellows pumper, “each person who has served on the medical team has done so at great sacrifice-and all participants love and appreciate them.
” Thanks to the medical volunteers for pumping the medical bellows at the Nauvoo Pageant.