ATCHISON, Kan. — The Atchison County Health Department came together in a time of emergency, and it is still dedicated 100 years later toward the greater mission of public health.

A celebration to mark the founding of the health department on May 17, 1919, held Friday in downtown Atchison, Kansas, took place amid a barbecue, celebratory cake cutting and outdoor fun and games. The community marked a moment of levity in contrast with the stark realities of the health department’s historic mission.

At the time of its founding, the Spanish Flu plague ravaging Kansas would leave countless local residents feeling well in the morning and “dead by nightfall,” as a review of the department’s history narrates. Before its creation, diseases like the flu, which killed 12,000 Kansans throughout 1919 and more than 50 million people worldwide, many had nowhere to go for emergency medical care.

“We do still serve the impoverished community and provide services like shots,” said Camron Roloff, RN, nursing supervisor. “There should be no misconception that we are anything less than a fully operating health clinic. We are a clinic that provides all services to all ages.”

The department, now part of the Northeast Kansas Multi-County Health Department — serving Atchison, Brown and Jackson counties — remains focused now on its mission, defined by the motto, “Prevent. Promote. Protect.” Atchison County Commissioner Eric Noll, who serves on the health department’s board in his capacity as an elected official, said the three-county coverage area offers great utility to rural communities and the governments which serve them.

“With one administration and three health clinics, we can provide what we need, where we need it,” he said. “As a county commissioner, it’s been my privilege to serve with not just the Atchison County health clinic, but the efforts in Brown and Jackson counties also. It helps very much.”

Marcus Clem can be reached