Louis and Peggy Slapshak were getting ready to go to a house party the last evening of 1965 when plans changed.
“I called the hostess and said, ‘We are not coming to the party,’” said Peggy, 74, of Belleville. “‘We are going to the hospital.’”
Peggy, whose due date was Jan. 7, was in labor with her first child.
“It was New Year’s Eve. We went to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital about 9 p.m. When I arrived at the nurses’ station, they said, ‘Oh, my gosh. You are going to be the New Year’s mother.’ They were all so excited. I said, ‘Oh no, there’s no way I will have this baby in three hours.’ They said, ‘We will help you.’ Well, let me tell you, nobody actually helped me. The next thing they did was to make me take a shower and run hot water over my stomach. That was to help the labor. I think it did.”
She also remembers nurses calling Memorial Hospital to find out if they had anyone in labor.
“They told me, ‘You have got to get going.”
But the baby didn’t get the message.
“Labor went on through the night,” said Peggy.
Steven Louis Slapshak was born at 8:15 the next morning. He weighed 6 pounds, 14 ounces.
“The nurses were screaming and carrying on,” said Peggy. “‘We won, we won. St. Elizabeth’s won.’”
So did Louis and Peggy.
“He was so very special to me because I had a miscarriage the first time,” said Peggy. “When I had a healthy baby boy and the New Year’s baby, it was like being blessed twice.”
The first baby of the year got certain nursery privileges.
When they brought Steve in, he was wearing a little New Year’s hat. He looked so cute and was only 15 minutes old. He was king of the nursery, with a large sign on his crib that read, ‘Mr. New Year 1966.’
Peggy Slapshak on her newborn baby boy
“When they brought Steve in, he was wearing a little New Year’s hat,” Peggy said. “He looked so cute and was only 15 minutes old. He was king of the nursery, with a large sign on his crib that read, ‘Mr. New Year 1966.’ He had the sign on his crib all week and even wore his New Year’s hat all week.”
Peggy was queen of the pediatrics floor.
“Doctors would stop in and say, ‘Congratulations.’ Nurses from various departments congratulated me. I got many letters from people wishing me well. I even got a letter from (U.S. Rep.) Melvin Price acknowledging the New Year’s baby.”
Steve and his parents received a shower of gifts from Belleville merchants. A dozen red roses from Grimm & Gorly, a carton of formula from Kroger stores, a carry-all from Bridges & Ward Druggists Inc., a dress for Peggy from Lerner’s and a duster and gown set from Jean’s Uniforms, a $19 hat for Louis from Union Clothing Co., a camera outfit from Marvin’s Camera Mart., a baby diamond baby ring from Hartleb’s Jewelry store (Steven still has it), a crib mattress from Goehner & Eaves Inc., and a $10 savings account from Greater Belleville Savings and Loan Association.
The biggest surprise? “My hospital bill was paid for by St. Elizabeth’s,” said Peggy. “It was $250. On the very last day, a Sister came to my room, ‘I just wanted to let you know that your bill is paid.’ We just couldn’t believe it. I sent her the biggest thank-you note I could find, the most beautiful card I could find.”
The hospital doesn’t do large giveaways of gifts nor do we have any local merchants donating items, as happened decades ago, said Kelly Barbeau, marketing manager at St. Elizabeth’s, who asked two nurses about what happens these days with the first baby of the year.
“They both agree that the birth of the New Year’s baby does not garner as much publicity as in years past,” Kelly said. “however, there is a healthy competition within the Mother-Child departments of local hospitals as to which one will host the birth of the first baby born in the new year.”
Back in 1966, the Slapshaks also made the front page of the Belleville News-Democrat. The story began, “Once more the 1966 first baby is a master.”
The master turned out to be “a really a good kid, a responsible kid,” said Peggy. “He was so easy to raise and always so trustful and dependable. You could always count on Steve.”
Steve could count on his parents to make sure he got both Christmas and birthday presents.
“We always had a birthday cake and a New Years’s party,” said Peggy. “New Year’s Day was his birthday party and everyone came over to our house when he was growing up.”
Steve attended Our Lady Queen of Peace grade school, Althoff Catholic High School and St. Louis University where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration and finance. He and wife Amy live in University City, Mo., with their four children, Sam, 17; Maggie, 16 (named after her grandma); Kate, 14; and Will, 12. Steve is now senior vice president financial planning and procurement services for Centene Corp. He has a younger brother Brian, 48, who lives in Midwest City, Okla.
“At this age, we go out to eat for his birthday on New Year’s Day,” said Peggy.