A one-time mayor of Kalamazoo, Michigan, Dr. Stellar Rudolph Light was a prominent physician in his native state who in his later years became an educational and medical benefactor to institutions of higher learning throughout Michigan. Light is honored today on the fifty-second anniversary of his death as the newest profile to be added to the site, and I must note that his unusual first name took a fair bit of digging to locate!
While information on Light's medical and public career is readily available online, nearly all of the sources mentioning him give his name as "S. Rudolph Light". After some hours of tedious searching in medical journals and newspapers of the time, Light's first name was revealed to be "Stellar", and judging by his success in the fields of medicine and public service, he was aptly named!!
Born in Lebanon, Pennsylvania on March 2, 1877, Stellar Rudolph Light was one of two sons born to the Rev. Ezekiel Light (1834-1903) and his wife. Light's early years in Pennsylvania are unknown at the time of this writing, as is his education. What is known is that Light decided upon a career as a physician at an early age and eventually enrolled at the University of Michigan's Department of Medicine and Surgery around 1900. Light's name is listed as a "third year student" in the 1903 General Register of the University of Michigan and notes that he was a resident of Dayton, Ohio. This indicates that the Light family relocated from Pennsylvania to Dayton sometime in the late 19th century but an exact date remains uncertain.
From the 1903 University of Michigan Register.
In 1904 Light graduated from the University of Michigan and in that same year became an assistant physician at the Kalamazoo State Hospital. His tenure here lasted until 1907, and at some point afterward established a private practice in Kalamazoo. Sources of the time also list him as an "mfg. pharmacist" in that city. Light married in Kalamazoo on June 25, 1908, to Ms. Rachel Winifred Upjohn (1880-1929) with whom he had one son, Rudolph Alvin Light (1909-1970). Rudolph Alvin followed in his father's footsteps and became a noted medical practitioner, later serving as an associate professor of surgery and director of surgical research at Vanderbilt University during the 1950s. He gained further distinction when he was named as a Commander of the British Empire in 1964 for his earlier service as an educational benefactor and visiting professor of surgery at Oxford. In an interesting historical tidbit, Rudolph Alvin married in 1960 to Ann Rork (1908-1988), a former actress and ex-wife of prominent American billionaire Jean Paul Getty (1892-1976).
In addition to Dr. Rudolph Alvin, Winifred Upjohn had another son from a previous marriage named Richard Upjohn (1902-1994). Light adopted Richard upon marrying Winifred in 1908 and eventually gave the boy his own last name. Richard Upjohn Light would go on to prominence in his own right, becoming a noted surgeon, pioneer aviator, cinematographer, author and President of the American Geographical Society from 1947-1950.
While continuing to practice medicine, Light and his father-in-law William Erastus Upjohn (1853-1932) established the Orchard Hills Realty Company in 1916. William Upjohn was already an established figure in Kalamazoo and had established the Upjohn Pharmaceutical Company in 1886. S. Rudolph Light first joined this company in 1907 and later became one of its vice presidents in the mid-1910s. In 1919 Light was named as a trustee of the Michigan State Psychopathic Hospital at Ann Arbor, and continued in this position until becoming Mayor of Kalamazoo.
This notice on Light's election as Mayor appeared in the Benton Harbor Palladium in 1929.
In November 1929 Light was elected as the Mayor of Kalamazoo, Michigan, succeeding outgoing mayor Edward Kennedy who had declined to enter that year's race. Light's inauguration as mayor was somewhat dampened by the passing of his wife Winifred, who had died in April of that year at the young age of 48.
Light's term as Mayor concluded in 1931 and in the following year he served as a member of the Kalamazoo City Commission under newly elected mayor Lewis C. Wright. Dr. Light continued involvement in political affairs by serving as a delegate to the Republican National Convention from Michigan in 1936 and 1940. In the mid 1940s he was named as the President of the American National Bank of Kalamazoo.
In his later years Light found further distinction as a philanthropist and educational benefactor, donating large sums of money to various institutions both in Michigan and elsewhere. In 1955 he donated funds that led to the establishment of the S.R. Light Laboratory at Vanderbilt University and the S. Rudolph Light Fund as well as the S. Rudolph Light Medical Scholarship were also established in his name.
Stellar Rudolph Light died in Wisconsin at the Milwaukee Sanitarium on January 27, 1961 at age 84. His death notice gives note that Light had been a resident of that facility since September of 1960 and he was later returned to Kalamazoo to be buried in that city's Mountain Home Cemetery. This cemetery is also notable for being the final resting place of oddly named Michigan Governor, legislator and State Supreme Court justice Epaphroditus Ransom (1798-1859), profiled here back in July of 2011.
This death notice for Light appeared in the Benton Harbor Palladium in 1961.