The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

November 8, 2013

HERRITY: Doctoring through the years

By Gary Herrity Special to the Herald
The Clinton Herald

---- — A picture really tells a story, or in this case, many, many stories. All of our older readers know at least some of these service-oriented medical individuals in the photo seen in this column. Each patient can recall many personal stories about their youth, life, and family, as it relates to their doctors.

One of my earliest memories is looking at the beautiful, caring face of Dr. Maryelda Rockwell as she tended to me 70 years ago. She died rather young, but had helped thousands of children here in Clinton during the 1940s and beyond. I could fill a book of memories of Clinton’s doctors.

I recall nearly dying from the one and only asthma attack that I ever experienced. I was 16 years old and was severely allergic to ragweed pollen. The time was Labor Day and the pollen count was about 800 (extremely high). Still, my friend Larry Hoese and I spent all day playing tennis and baseball in the beautiful sun.

Finally, I went home exhausted. I mixed a jug of ice cold orange juice and guzzled it down fast. Within moments, my lungs filled with fluid and I couldn’t breathe. My mom panicked, but my brother remained cool and called Dr. O’Donnell. He was our family doctor.

Years later, my sister was his nurse at his office on Sixth Avenue South — which was also his home. This is significant because he, like most doctors then, lived in “the neighborhood.” He always called my mom, “Mother” as he addressed every married woman with children.

He either had great respect for mothers, or couldn’t remember his patients’ names. At any rate, he came immediately and gave me a shot that totally solved my problem. Dr. O’Donnell’s quick action likely saved my life, as all of these doctors were won’t to do.

That is the way doctors worked in those days. It was cash and carry, and they did their job quickly, at the hospital, in their office, or on the run. Dr. John Hullinger delivered babies for more than 60 years and, arguably, delivered more babies than any other doctor in America.

He fooled a few television panels with that “secret” information, plus the fact that he fathered two sons while in his 90s. Last I knew, they still live in the area.

I vividly recall doing one of my history slideshows, relating those and other stories, and an older gentleman in the audience shouted out, “Do you know why Doc lived so long?” I bit, (although I had several humorous comebacks on the tip of my tongue). “No, why?” I responded. And the man said, “Because he always jogged between house calls!”

I couldn’t resist, and queried, “What the heck is a ‘house call?’”

Now, it’s not my intent to cast aspersions upon modern doctors who don’t typically do house calls. Today, that might actually be dangerous. We have access to rapid ambulance service, and modern doctors have many more tools to work with, including the wonders of having our records on computers, which many now carry around with them.

I could run through dozens of stories like the ones above that occurred in my family. Dr. Nelken lived in our neighborhood on Kenilworth Court and helped several family members with skin problems. I went to a party at Dr. Dwyer’s home, because his daughter Suzie was in my class; and I recall the very tall Dr. Artemus Henningsen walking around downtown, and he slowly became more and more hunched over.

We all knew and idolized our doctors. We even knew their first names, their wife’s, and where they lived. They were celebrities to Clinton citizens, who realized how valuable they were to the community. Dr. Don Mirick lived on Fifth Avenue South and did a lot of adoptions as did other medical people.

Dr. Frank Kershner was one of Clinton’s first very well-trained surgeons; he lived out on Sixth Avenue South near Argyle Court. He had two wonderful daughters, Beth Van Allen and Frances Bickelhaupt, who recently passed away, after long lives of community service and living well into their 90s. The family carefully nurtured a plot of land out by Memorial Park Cemetery where they were known to ride horses in earlier times. In recent years, they sold it for our commercial center on the west end of town.

These were wonderful people who always put their wealth to work in ways that supported Clinton’s betterment.

Also, in the picture, I was privileged to know Dr. Ross King, famous for the King House for Alcoholics; Dr. Robert Dwyer, who was an active and kindly general practitioner. Not in the picture, but one of my favorite fellows, was Dr. Robert Mellen, who often stopped to chat with me while walking around our block. Many were the times he helped me, in my younger years.

All of our doctors have been leaders who’ve worked hard, were well-respected, and who contributed back to the community. Our former doctors set the tone in an earlier era and deserve to be remembered for what they did for us via stories which, though perhaps not in all the history books, are yet remembered through the spoken word. Study the picture and recount your own recollections about Clinton’s old time doctors. Most of you will undoubtedly recall many fond memories.

Gary Herrity is the Clinton Herald’s historical columnist. His column appears on Fridays in the Herald.