SAN BENITO — Where did Dolly go?
After a long succession of owners, a painting of Dolly Vinsant that once graced the lobby of the now defunct Dolly Vinsant Memorial Hospital has gone missing.
Members of the Dolly Vinsant Memorial Foundation are asking the public for help in finding the portrait of Wilma “Dolly“ Vinsant Shea and offering a $1,000 reward to whoever finds it.
Foundation Chairman Charlie Wilson said “somebody from the past has removed the painting.”
“We want to try and find the painting and are willing to offer a $1,000 reward for its return,” Wilson said.
Vinsant, a San Benito native, was a World War II U.S. Army Air Forces flight nurse. On flights she had sole charge of wounded soldiers who were being evacuated from combat zones in Germany.
She was killed when her evacuation airplane carrying wounded American soldiers to a hospital was shot down over Germany in 1945.
She died at age 28.
Her awards include the Air Medal, Red Cross Medal, a Special Citation from President Harry Truman and a posthumous Purple Heart.
The 81-bed Dolly Vinsant Memorial Hospital was opened in San Benito in 1949 and a life-size painting of her in flight-nurse uniform was the focal point in the Memorial Lobby.
That painting is now missing.
Anyone with information on the whereabouts of the painting can call Wilson at 956-399-5763.
Wilson said if found, he would like to hang the portrait in a public building.
“It will remind people that we did have a hospital in San Benito,” Wilson said.
Tootie Madden, president of the San Benito Historical Society, said she doesn’t know where the portrait could be or the exact date it disappeared.
“We don’t even know who painted it,” Madden said. “We do know that when the hospital closed it was heavily vandalized.”
Madden speculates that anything could have happened to the painting but couldn’t be specific.
“Before Southwest Keys moved in there, we were able to remove some artifacts,” Madden said.
The portraits were not among the retrieved artifacts because they “must have gone missing long before that,” Madden said.
Like Wilson, Madden said if found, she would want to display the portrait in the museum and then display it on rotation among several public buildings.
“We really want to find this painting, if it still exists,” Madden said.
The foundation provides scholarships to graduates of San Benito, Los Fresnos and Rio Hondo high schools who are planning to enter the medical field.
Wilson said city officials from the three towns were the ones who donated the funds to build the hospital after World War II.
“We have helped a lot of students from those areas get their education in the human health care field,” Wilson said.
This year the foundation awarded scholarships to 17 students.