Fresno Liga History

1934 Beginnings with Dr. Iner Ritchie

          Since 1934, Liga International, Inc., a philanthropic volunteer nonprofit organization has provided medical, dental and eye care to impoverished people in rural Mexico.  Liga means “league” in Spanish.

 A train trip through the dusty Sinaloa desert of Mexico gave birth to the idea, which became Liga (League) International (Flying Doctors of Mercy). When physician, Iner Sheld Ritchie, traveled to Mexico City from the U.S. to treat then interim President Abelardo Rodriguez in 1932, he noticed great illness and suffering as he passed through the country of the Yaqui Indians, some of Mexico’s poorest residents. He discussed the situation with the President, who offered help. Dr. Ritchie’s idea grew during his three-month long “vacation” horseback trips into Sinaloa, Sonora, and Baja, California to treat his impoverished “patients.” Word of his healing expeditions went the rounds of his medical colleagues, and it wasn’t long before he had a cadre of physicians joining him to help. Liga was on its way. see Flights of Mercy International,  From Saddles to Cessnas, Liga International Flying Doctors of Mercy are Changing Lives, April 16, 2015, by Donia Moore,  


              Dr. Ritchie was born in Sweden in 1885 and was given the name Einar Skold.  In 1888, he immigrated with his family to the United States but when his mother died, he and his siblings lived in an orphanage until he went to work on ranches as a milker and cowboy in Chino, Corona and Prado, California.  At the Fuller Ranch in Corona, he met William Shannon Ritchie, a rancher and Seventh-day Adventist who invited the young Einar Skold into the Ritchies’ home for dinners and to attend church.  He was treated as a son and adopted the Ritchie name becoming Iner Sheld (a form of Skold) Ritchie and eventually married the Ritchies’ daughter.  The Ritchies paid for his studies at Pacific College of Osteopathy in Los Angeles where he started school and to where he transferred to in 1908, Linda College of Evangelists, and graduated from in 1915 in the first class to obtain medical degrees from that institution. He was the first medical student from the school to intern at Riverside County Hospital.  Dr. Ritchie then moved to Arlington, California where he practiced with Dr. E. H. Woods.  Dr. Ritchie was liked by his Chinese and gypsies patients, because he did not make non-white patients wait for white patients to be seen first. He also taught anatomy from 1919 to 1926.

          In 1926, Dr. Ritchie purchased a medical practice in Calexico, California, near San Diego and the Mexico border, where he established the first Calexico hospital.  Dr. Ritchie treated the Baja California governor’s baby, and the governor allowed Dr. Ritchie to provide nursing classes, which local doctors had opposed.  In 1929, Dr. Ritchie sold the hospital and in the same year was given permission to practice medicine in Mexico:  stringent immigration laws prevented his family from moving to Mexico for five years.  During this time, Dr. Ritchie practiced at the Tacubaya Clinic in Mexico City and took trips on horseback into the tropical jungle to treat native Indians as a volunteer. In 1936, Dr. Ritchie had a heart attack and was treated in Sonora, Mexico.  He and his family returned to Riverside, California where he opened a medical office in the family home until he built the Monterey Medical Clinic on Walnut Street, which today is on Brockton Avenue. During World War II, he traveled to the Manzanar concentration camp, located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada in California's Owens Valley between the towns of Lone Pine to the south and Independence to the north, it is approximately 230 miles (370 km) north of Los Angeles, to treat Japanese inmates. Manzanar is most widely known as the site of one of ten American concentration camps where over 110,000 Japanese Americans were  incarcerated during World War II from December 1942 to 1945. Dr. Ritchie also continued making trips to the Mexican jungle to treat patients.

          In 1947, Dr. Richie established the Liga Mexico-Pan-Americana Medico Educational, a non-profit organization that sponsored the Montemorelos Hospital in Nuevo Leon and clinics and schools in Baja California and Sonora, Mexico. In 1949, Ritchie died from a second heart attack. See Special to the Press-Enterprise, Doctor Leaves Legacy in Riverside, area, January 8, 2011 by Nita Hiltner.

After World War II, with the small aircraft industry advancement, doctors who had been trained as pilots during the war, began flying to remote areas in the states of Sonora, Sinaloa and Baja, California and accomplished in a weekend what had taken Dr. Ritchie to do over a three month period traveling by horseback.  As a result Liga became known as the “Flying Doctors of Mercy.” From the original handful of medical team participants, Liga currently has over 2,000 active volunteer physicians, dentists, nurses, optometrists, audiologists, pharmacists, chiropractors, pilots, assistants, technicians, translators and supporting volunteers including from educators to builders with an ever increasing need for new volunteers.

Currently, Liga operates four medical clinics located in El Fuerte, Ocoroni, San Blas, and Valle Del Carizo in the state of Sonora, and works closely with the local Mexican community and volunteers including Rotarians and doctors. Each clinic is separate operated with their own volunteers and financial support but volunteers also sometimes exchange information to improve services at their respective clinic.

La Victoria, Ocoroni, Sinola, Mexico One of Four Clinic Locations


                                                                                       (Perhaps map of location of 4 clinics – with highlight of orcoroni – with mileage information etc. from boarder – also show border crossing area)

Primarily doctors from the California Central Valley (Fresno) volunteered their services in Ocoroni, Sinola, Mexico which laid the ground work for what was to become the La Victoria medical clinic.  Eventually the Liga, Central San Joaquin Chapter, located in Fresno, was established in 1991 by Dr. Frank Cantrell and others who routinely volunteered and formalized Liga International, Inc. the Central San Joaquin Chapter.  


La Victoria in Ocoroni, Sinaloa, Mexico

Built and Established with the Help of the Garbedian Foundation and North Fresno Rotary

(Picture of the start of the building)


              The Central San Joaquin Chapter adopted the town of Ocoroni in Sinaloa Mexico.  In 1996, the Central San Joaquin Chapter, with the help of the North Fresno Rotary, insert link to Rotary website, with funds from the Garabedian Foundation, built the medical clinic, La Victoria in Ocoroni, Sinaloa, Mexico.  Volunteer pilots, interpreters, medical personnel, science students, construction workers, artists, as well as others, fly to the clinic bimonthly from October through June to maintain the clinic and to provide general medical and dental treatment for approximately 300 patients, some who have never previously received medical care. Liga also provides an opportunity for American medical students, interns, and residents to enhance their medical education.  Liga has been successful because of donations and volunteers.  Being bilingual or having a medical background is not a requirement to volunteering as everyone has the potential to contribute: There are no paid employees. 



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