Nowadays, the first baby born at a hospital each year receives relative fanfare, but nothing like the hoopla 50 years ago. Back in 1966, mom and child were hailed as the “king” and “queen” at one southwestern Illinois hospital and showered with gifts from local businesses.

The Belleville News-Democrat recently detailed the case of Peggy Slapshak, who gave birth to her son, Steven, 50 years ago on Jan. 1, 1966, at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. Steven’s birth set off a furor in the hospital and city, with the twosome garnering a spot on the front page of the paper, nurses whooping it up in the hallways, and doctors and politicians sharing their “congrats.”

“The nurse were screaming and carrying on,” Peggy told the News-Democrat. “ ‘We won, we won. St. Elizabeth’s won.’ “

New Slapshak babyPictured above: In 1966, the Slapshaks were hailed as the “king” and “queen” at one southwestern Illinois hospital for giving birth to the first baby of the year.

Several local businesses donated a laundry list of items to the Slapshaks following Steven’s birth. Those included everything from a dozen red roses to a carton of formula from Kroger grocery store, a carryall from the neighborhood pharmacy, a dress for the new mother, duster and gown set, a baby hat for Steven, a baby diamond ring from the jeweler (which he still owns), a crib mattress, and a $10 savings account from the Greater Belleville Savings and Loan Association. The hospital hopped on the charity train, too, forgiving the couple’s $250 bill for the stay. “We just couldn’t believe it,” Peggy said.

Along with the gifts, the Slapshaks were also given special treatment at St. Elizabeth’s. Little Steven wore a New Year’s hat for a week after his birth, and he was dubbed “king of the nursery,” with a large sign on his crib reading “Mr. New Year 1966.”

In 2016, the hospital no longer does large giveaways for the first birth of the year, nor do local businesses around Belleville, St. Elizabeth’s marketing manager told the newspaper. However, local labor and delivery units of hospitals around the area do still get competitive over which hospital hosts the first baby born Jan. 1. Steven Slapshak, meanwhile, is all grown up, living in University City, Mo., with a wife, Amy, four kids ages 12–17, and is a senior vice president of planning and procurement at Centene Corp. 

Slapshak family

Pictured above: Steven Slapshak, center, now lives in University City, Mo., with a wife, Amy, four kids ages 12–17.

Does your hospital still make a big fuss over the year’s first baby? And how have those traditions changed over the past 50 years? Share your thoughts in the comment section below, and watch for a new “Throwback Thursday” column weekly here.