Pop was raised in an Indianapolis Southside German family – mother from Berlin and father from Hamburg. So, my Dad spoke high and low German fluently. He often had to intercede between the two parents so they could really get their point across. He was very helpful when I took German in college in encouragement as well as pronunciation.
He was an Algebra scholar at Manual High School and came within one question out of five of winning a major arithmetic contest lasting five hours. He was extremely helpful when I was taking Algebra in high school in tutoring me through some rough sessions. He would wake me when he came home from making house calls at two a.m. and we would sit at the dining room table while he went over the day’s assignments until I was awake enough to understand the problems presented.
When my Dad arrived at Indiana University after taking Pre-Med at Butler University in Indianapolis, he spent his first day on the Bloomington Campus walking through the laboratory and viewing the cadavers. He said he wanted to become acquainted with death even though he was dedicated to preventing it. Never having much money while in school, Dad always made do with what he had. As an example, Upon graduation from IU a few years later, he had to back his Model T Ford up the hills in Brown County in reverse so that he could make the ceremony and back home again. He was always a determined man and money was never his motivation.
Pop interned at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis where he met and eventually married my mother who was in nurses training. They weren’t supposed to date, but I am certainly glad they did.
There were literally hundreds of stories connected to his early days in practice. Needless to say, he enjoyed being a physician, and dedicated his life to his patients. As children, my sister and I realized we shared my father with his patients as did my mother. We were trained to answer the phone, when patients called at home, in a professional manner and to take notes should we be required to pass along important information. From early on, I realized my Dad would have made a great country doctor rather than one whose practice was more urban. Often, he would bring home vegetables and fruit as payment for house calls and office visits.
Even though we understood our relationship with Pop often took a secondary stance, he was always there when needed. When it came time for me to learn how to drive, the lessons were accomplished at early morning hours as a part of house calls. Even though the traffic was much less at that time, I am sure I still frightened him from time to time with too wide turns. Many times he took me fishing and taught me the patience and perseverance that are necessary when seeking the “lunkers.” Also, it gave me time to talk with him between catches.
I have often remarked that the years of World War II saved his life because it put him on a regular schedule. He was home most often in the evenings for dinner and enjoyed many of the sporting activities on base that he never had time for as a civilian. He was an excellent tennis player and bowler and could shoot a wicked game of pocket billiards. I stopped trying to beat him at horseshoes because he would call his “ringers” whenever he wanted to beat me. Even so, he wasn’t good military material. He cared too much for the men he was charged with. He was often criticized for treating them as equals. One Colonel made his life a bit tough until the high ranking officer ended up in his care and my Dad kept him on bedpan for a couple of weeks until he begged for mercy. They became lifelong friends after that, and the Colonel never mentioned his treatment of the men in Dad’s charge again.
One of the stories concerning Dad’s military life was that he was given the responsibility of marching his fellow officers. He stated he could get them started okay, but stopping them was another challenge. As far as we know, they may be still parading around somewhere. And, there was the story of the Medical Division at Scott Field, Illinois, being required to parade for a visiting dignitary. These men had never marched for anyone. There they were “passing in review” not knowing the lay of the land in which they were asked to march. No one told them about sprinklers hidden in the line of march. They found them -right in front of the reviewing stand. The men ended up in a pile creating an embarrassing disaster for everyone concerned.
During the war years, one of his fellow physicians still in civilian life encouraged him to give up his General Practice to take up Diabetes as a specialty when returning home. He took the suggestion and became one of very few doctors in Indy specializing in the practice at that time. He trained many of the doctors who today are highly regarded as specialists in this form of medicine. He was a pioneer in establishing the Diabetic Camp for Children and was successful in starting the Doctor’s Telephone Exchange in central Indiana. He served also as the President of the Indianapolis Medical Society as well as State Treasurer for the Indiana State Medical Association for many years. Pop contributed many worthwhile articles to various medical publications and was recognized for his outstanding knowledge in the field. Dad was honored by Manual High School as an Outstanding Alumnus in 1976.
I was pleased to attend one of the speeches Dad gave to a group of physicians while he was still practicing. In the message, he outlined what he believed would be the downfall of medicine in the years to come. In his words, he believed the doctor – patient relationship would become strained in future years and the bond he felt so important to curing those who were ill would become strained. Very few in the audience that day took him seriously. I often wonder what they would say today.
When he passed away, I was given the task of going through many of his ledgers and helping to wrap-up any loose ends. There was page after page of house call charges for three to five dollars, and office visits that were written-off because the patients were unable to afford payments. Untold medications were prescribed and samples were given in cases, where again, the patient was not in a position to pay.
One more honor was received several years after he died when Community Hospital in Indianapolis presented a plaque posthumously to my mother honoring his many years of outstanding dedicated service to the institution and for serving as a member of the Board of Directors for a number of years. A duplicate plaque is mounted in the hospital corridor.
When you have a man to emulate like my Dad, it becomes a challenge to live up to his example. I know he would have liked me to be a doctor as he was, but that didn’t happen. Beneath and in spite of his many successes and accomplishments, was a kind, sincere, dedicated, honest individual who loved his family, had a strong faith in God and worked to make his community and its people better.
“Wilkie” as Dad was called by his peers, was respected by all who knew him. An elderly woman patient stopped me once while I was doing some yard work at my Dad’s office. She bent over to ask if I was related to the “doctor.” I said that I am, and her remark next summed up her feelings and those whom he served so well for over fifty years. She said very softly, “Well, you know…he’s my doctor.” There was a reverence in her tone and a personal feeling in the words that I will carry with me through all my years.