Margaret Anne Inman, who founded Providence Speech and Hearing Center in a small, adobe house in Orange and built it into one of the largest treatment facilities of its kind in the country, died Feb. 15 at her home in Newport Beach. She was 90.
Inman, who had a heart condition, died in her sleep, said Christi Owen, a close friend.
Trained as a speech pathologist, Inman began her career at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange in the mid-1960s, working in an office the size of a broom closet. She evaluated children with speech disabilities who had been referred to her by the medical staff.
Young patients warmed to her, partly because at 4 feet 11 inches tall she was hardly intimidating. Inman's reputation quickly grew.
"She was very gifted and had great insight into many of the children's problems," said Margaret McElroy, a longtime friend and colleague.
Most days, a line of patients waited outside Inman's door.
"There were very few places where doctors could refer children for evaluation," McElroy said.
Encouraged by her hospital supervisor, Inman decided to open a clinic nearby where she could accommodate more patients and offer therapy as well as evaluation. She established her center in 1965.
At the time, Inman was a nun known as Sister Ann Monica. She had become a member of the Sisters of Providence in 1937.
She named the center in honor of her sisters. But, six years later, she found that her work was consuming and she left the religious order.
"It was one of the hardest decisions of her life," McElroy said. "Margaret Anne had a calling to devote her entire life, with no distractions, to the center."
One of her first patients was Mary Karcher, whose father, Carl, founded the Carl's Jr. fast-food chain. Mary overcame her speech problems under Inman's care and her father became a loyal supporter and member of the center's board of directors.
Inman always saw her work as collaborative.
"She was adamant about conferring with others in the medical community, including pediatric neurologists," McElroy said.
She also kept up on new testing equipment and was one of the first in Southern California to acquire technology to measure auditory brain-stem response, said Owen, a speech pathologist who worked with Inman for about five years.
"Margaret Anne would say, 'If you can't speak you can't communicate. You have no quality of life,' " Owen recalled.
With few established techniques for treating young children with hearing and speech problems, Inman created some of her own. Most of them began with engaging a child in play.
"For Margaret Anne, therapy emerged out of her rapport with the child," Owen said. "She had a way of drawing children in. They never feared her."
Born April 5, 1917, in Greencastle, Ind., Inman earned a bachelor's degree in English at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in Indiana, where the Sisters of Providence were her teachers.
She earned a master's degree in biology and speech pathology at Marquette University in Milwaukee.
As a nun, she taught school for 15 years and became increasingly aware of children with learning impediments related to speech and hearing.
"I think that prompted her to get into speech pathology," McElroy said.
The Providence Speech and Hearing Center expanded to include six houses before a six-story building was erected next to St. Joseph Hospital in the 1980s. In recent years, Inman was emeritus director of the center. Among her many awards and honors, the Orange County Board of Supervisors proclaimed a "Dr. Margaret Anne Inman Day" in 1990.
Inman never married and has no immediate survivors.
A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church, 2046 Mar Vista Drive, Newport Beach.
Contributions in Inman's name can be made to Providence Speech and Hearing Center, 1301 Providence Ave., Orange, CA 92868.