• By Joel Streed

Guiding values uncovered in century-old letter

October 27, 2021
Mayo Lost-Letters-laying on an old wooden trunk

Every now and then, you hear about surprising finds at flea markets, yard sales or in an attic. Items that appear ordinary are actually extraordinary, maybe even priceless. Recently, a Minnesota man had just such an experience. But the value of his find wasn't monetary. It was historical.

Watch: Lost Mayo letter from 1896 offers glimpse into Mayo values

Journalists: Broadcast-quality video (2:22) is in the downloads at the end of this post. Please courtesy: "Mayo Clinic News Network." Read the script.

"This is a flower sack of Aaron Dayton's that he used on his farm. There are certain artifacts from the Civil War that he used. This is a binocular case. This is a ledger from the Ravine House. Some of the many bank statements."

For Fillmore County historian Brian Huggenvik, opening this trunk was like opening the door to the past. A treasure trove of history packed into a trunk that hadn't seen the light of day in 40-plus years and probably hadn't been opened even longer. Huggenvik discovered the trunk in a basement of a building in Lanesboro, Minnesota. The trunk belonged to Aaron Dayton, whose family owned the Ravine House, which served as a hotel and stagecoach stop in the area.

But it was another piece of paper with ties to a different Southeastern Minnesota business that caught Brian's eye.

"We found a letter from William Mayo," says Huggenvik.

Doctor William J. Mayo.

"It didn't click initially. Actually, it was just like: 'This just can't be.'"

Dr. Mayo's letter was in response to a scathing letter that Dayton had sent to him. At issue: a $50 charge for medical services Dr. Mayo provided one of Dayton's farmworkers.

"I was like, ah, just gave me goosebumps right away. I was like, 'I'm holding a piece of paper that's from the Mayo brothers.'"

Krista Reese is Brian's daughter. She is also a nurse at what is now Mayo Clinic.

"I can't believe I'm actually holding a piece of paper that W.J. Mayo, actually, you know, he typed and then signed. It still has the watermark," says Reese.

"Dear Sir, your proposition will be accepted with pleasure on our part. The question of expenses was talked over ..."

For Mayo Clinic historian Matt Dacy...

"... We have every desire to do the fair thing. With kind regards to Mrs. Rolfe, I am yours very truly, W.J. Mayo."

... These letters are a keyhole into Dr. Mayo's values.

"Where Dr. Mayo stood for what was right. He believed in making his case in doing those things, but he was not out for the ultimate financial gain. His real purpose was to serve the patient," says Dacy.

And setting the stage for the future.

"And so the nonprofit Mayo Foundation of today was exactly being created at that time, and here is a real-world daily situation of how he lived that out."

All captured in a letter tucked away for over a century.

"They went above and beyond for the patient."

"Needs of the patient came first."

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