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Americans began honoring the work of community health in 1955 but COVID-19 has brought into sharp focus the critical role that public health plays in the well-being of a city and its families. As the White House proclaimed ‘Public Health Week’, Americans are urged to celebrate the progress we have made to revitalize our public health, recommit ourselves to the work remaining, and “recognize the remarkable health care workers and public health professionals whose extraordinary sacrifice and courage on the front lines have carried our Nation through one of the most difficult periods in our history.” 

COVID-19 was not the first pandemic to impact Americans, as recently as 1957-1958 a recession was felt in Chattanooga as an Asian flu spread from Hong Kong to the United States and Europe, that pandemic triggering cuts to U.S. exports, rising unemployment rates and slowing housing and car sales. In the mid-1950s, the United Way and the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society’s Public Service Committee established the Dread Disease Fund to fight the diseases impacting area citizens.  

The Dread Disease Fund was a means through which contributors to the United Fund-Red Cross Campaign could also support programs, treatment, prevention, diagnosis, and research against diseases like Tuberculosis, Polio, Heart, Cancer, and Muscular Dystrophy, Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Arthritis and Mental illness. Locally, these funds were used to provide special diagnosis equipment and treatment facilities at local hospitals, including the purchase of the Salk polio vaccine authorized to supplement the supply available from government sources. Respirators, Cobalt 60, an artificial heart-lung machine, telemetry cardiac monitors, and specialized fetal monitoring systems were among an inspiring list of innovative equipment provided to the community by the work of the Dread Disease Fund.  

Gordon P. Street, E.Y. Chapin, III, and Robert S. Killebrew led the United Fund Campaigns during these years and the Dread Disease Fund became the Venture Fund, expanded to provide special innovative grants to address community needs as identified by local studies. This work continued as Chattanooga boomed and unregulated industrialization caused environmental conditions that contributed to a decline in the city’s population. The average house was $12,000 in 1959, a pound of ground beef cost $0.49 and a gallon of gas was $0.25.  

Manufacturing boomed but by 1969 Chattanooga drivers regularly were forced to use their headlights to see through the pollution and glimpses of Lookout and Signal Mountains were difficult to catch from downtown. The Air Pollution Control Ordinance was passed and by 1972, within three years, every local industry was in full compliance and in 2017 the American Lung Association hailed Chattanooga as one of the cleanest cities in America.  

Today the work of the programs supported by the Venture Fund continue to change lives, open doors to success and build opportunities for stable lives and stronger communities. Visit [click here] online to meet some of the organizations supported by the Venture Fund today.