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Medical pioneer: Gladys Peretti, 90, partnered with female co-worker to open Spokane Valley lab facility in 1956

June 10, 2021 Updated Wed., June 16, 2021 at 9:31 a.m.

Spokane Valley’s growth was taking off in the 1950s when Gladys Peretti and a female co-worker embarked on a plan to open a private medical lab.

Both women worked as Rockwood Clinic medical technicians doing blood tests and other doctor-ordered lab screens. She and Molly Tsalaky became quick friends and realized an unmet demand for such services closer to Valley residents instead of them driving downtown.

“We decided the Valley could really use a medical laboratory, so then we decided, why don’t we put one out there?” said Peretti, who turned 90 on Tuesday.

“We made the decision to do that, and I think it was about $500 a piece that we came up with, and, of course, we needed a place in the Valley. There were some little strip office spaces just beginning to be built, and past Dishman at E. 9822 Sprague was this building being constructed.

“Alvin Wolff was the person who was renting the building, so we went down and talked to Alvin. That was 1956, when we opened the lab, and not many people would even be interested in renting to women for a business at that time, but Alvin was encouraging.”

She said Wolff asked a few questions about their business plans and agreed to rent them the space.

“I felt we were part of the Valley growing because then it was very small,” she said. “I feel very proud of the time we worked out there and the services we provided because it made it more convenient for people living there.”

Peretti has a framed announcement for the opening, which reads: Valley Medical Laboratory, Jan. 16, 1956, “for the convenience of you Valley patients.” It was a root of what eventually became known as Pathology Associates Medical Laboratories.

In launching, Peretti said she and Tsalaky learned of a requirement that the lab had to have a supervising pathologist. That’s when they found a backer in Dr. Robert F.E. Stier of Spokane’s Hollister and Stier, known for its allergy treatment products.

She said Stier added his support, bought lab equipment and involved his son, Dr. Alton R. Stier, a pathologist, who became the supervising medical doctor to open the lab. After several years, “He (Alton) bought us out,” she said.

According to his Aug. 12, 1998, obituary in The Spokesman-Review, Alton Stier was credited as a co-founder of PAML along with Dr. George Schneider. In 2017, the North Carolina-based LabCorp purchased the 60-year-old PAML business.

In the 1950s, most doctor-ordered lab tests were done at hospitals. Peretti said they talked to “maybe six” total Spokane Valley doctors at the time about sending some of their patients to the new site instead of to Sacred Heart Medical Center or Deaconess Hospital. Many of them were receptive to the idea, she said.

In the beginning, Peretti said she and Tsalaky worked to get the operation off the ground. The lab work they did involved blood count tests for red blood cells, white blood cells and hemoglobin. Other testing reviewed cultures for infection and blood sugars for diabetes. “There are all these tests that need to be done for diagnoses.”

Although initial traffic was slow, it didn’t take long for the Valley lab to get busy, Peretti said. By then, she’d moved to a job at Deaconess while also supporting the new enterprise.

“I opened the laboratory at 8 and closed at 1, and from there, I’d work 3 to 11 p.m. at Deaconess, but then I was really young. I didn’t get married until I was 28.”

She eventually left Deaconess and worked solely in the Valley lab, but after a few years, she and Tsalaky decided to sell their interests as both of them had children.

At a young Catholics’ college group, she met her future husband, Larry Peretti, an accountant. They’d been married for 56 years when he died in 2016. Peretti didn’t go back to work once their children, a son and a daughter, were born.

Peretti said she fell into medical lab work by chance when deciding about college. Born in Deer Park, she moved at a young age with her family to Spokane and went to Willard Elementary and North Central High School.

After graduating from NC, her family wanted her to go to Gonzaga University, so Petretti was among 70 women who registered for the Jesuit school’s first year of admitting female students in 1948. She recalls that the campus was still in a bit of disarray because of use during World War II by cadets in a Navy collegiate program.

“I wanted to take pharmacy and WSU had a great course for that, but Gonzaga only had medical technology,” she said. “Everything worked out fine; maybe there was someone guiding me to take medical technology.”

Her father, Philip Cerenzia, died in 1944 when trying to rescue her and a friend from drowning while outdoors swimming.

“There was an undercurrent that was pulling us both down,” Peretti said. “She was all of a sudden being pulled down and was behind me. She reached around me, and both of us were starting to sink.

“My dad, who was sitting on the beach, was an excellent swimmer, but he had been looking at property that day, so he had on a pair of logging boots. He immediately jumped into the water. He grabbed ahold of me and got me back to the beach.”

Then he returned to get her friend.

“By that time, his boots had filled with water, and he had a difficult time staying up, so both of them ended up drowning.”

His act of courage was recognized with a Carnegie Award for heroism, which later provided Peretti with $500 for her education.

“The funds were available, and I just needed to notify them when I was ready to go to school. With $500, I lived at home, so that was enough to go to Gonzaga.”

Her mother remarried, to Frank Sisco, and she has a brother, John Sisco, and a sister, Sharon Paulsen. After graduation from Gonzaga, Peretti got that first job at Rockwood Clinic as a medical technologist.

“That was drawing blood from patients, and running all their blood chemistries, and doing the blood counts and urinalysis, just general medical laboratory work.”

Peretti still thinks becoming a medical lab technician and starting a business were good decisions.

“I do think we played a role as far as women being in business,” she said.

“I would hope that we maybe did something as far as showing people you can start something small that can end up being something that is much larger and getting the satisfaction from doing that. It was good to be your own boss.

“I think the medical field is a wonderful place for women to work. There are a lot of opportunities, and you’re treated with respect in the medical field.

“I’d certainly go into that sort of thing again.”

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