Seventy three years ago, in August, 1943, Nelle Neighbor-Alonzo was born in Kaiser Permanente’s new hospital in Oakland, the flagship facility in what would become Kaiser Permanente’s Northern California Region. Because Oakland didn’t even have a maternity ward yet, her birth was a surprise first in that hospital, which had recently opened on Aug. 1, 1942.
From the beginning, Neighbor-Alonzo had a deep connection to Kaiser Permanente that has continued throughout her life.
Her father, Justin Wallace “Wally” Neighbor, MD, and her mother, Win, came to Oakland in 1943 to visit their dear friend Cecil Cutting, MD, and his wife, Millie. The Neighbors had come from San Pedro, California, where Dr. Neighbor served as an Army officer. They had met several years earlier while caring for Grand Coulee Dam construction workers at Mason City Hospital, where Win was a nurse and Drs. Neighbor and Cutting were part of a group of physicians that would later become The Permanente Medical Group.
Wally and Win were married, and in August 1943 they were expecting their second child to be born in a few weeks.
But baby Nelle had other plans. Her mother went into labor soon after the couple arrived in Oakland. With no time to spare, Drs. Neighbor and Cutting raced Win to the nearest Kaiser Permanente hospital. At that time, Kaiser babies were delivered at the Richmond Field Hospital; the maternity wing planned for Oakland would not be completed until the summer of 1944.
“They didn’t have bassinets, so I spent my first few days in a clothing basket,” said Nelle Neighbor-Alonzo.
Kaiser Permanente has been a constant presence throughout Neighbor-Alonzo’s life.
Kaiser Permanente co-founder Sidney Garfield, MD, was her godfather (“Uncle Sid” to her) and her father went on to serve as first medical director of the Northern Permanente Foundation Hospital in Vancouver, Washington from 1943-1948. Family friend Dr. Cutting became the first executive director of Northern California’s The Permanente Medical Group.
Neighbor-Alonzo graduated from the Kaiser Foundation School of Nursing in 1971 and practiced nursing for seven years before going to work in administration at the University of California, Berkeley and raising two children with her husband, Rich.
A lifelong Kaiser Permanente member, Neighbor-Alonzo gained new appreciation for the organization when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999.
“I got great care,” she said. “Now I’m 16 years out of the woods, and I’m doing just fine.”
Now retired, Neighbor-Alonzo volunteers in her spare time and takes Pilates and Tai Chi. She also enjoys being with her grandchildren, walking her two dogs, and working in her garden. Neighbor-Alonzo says she’s eating less meat than she used to, while adding more whole grains, fruits and vegetables to her diet.
“I’m pretty healthy, and I attribute that to really wanting to stay healthy and in shape,” she said.
Even as a young woman, Neighbor–Alonzo said she realized Kaiser Permanente’s focus on preventive medicine and keeping people healthy was the way to go.
“I think the Thrive commercials are wonderful,” she said.
“I’m very proud of Kaiser Permanente,” she added. “It’s an amazing organization.”