Bio: Dr. Koch, James William (1925 - 2009)
Contact: Robert Lipprandt
Surnames: Dix, Hansen, Kaiser, Koch,
O’Brien, Pfefferkorn, Viergutz
----Source: The Tribune - Phonograph (Abbotsford,
Clark Co., WI), Wednesday, October 1, 2009, Online
Koch’s legacy lives on at Colby area clinic. Small-town doc
remembered by colleague, family. By Kevin
Small town doctors are a rare breed these days,
with hospitals and medical associations struggling to recruit and
retain family physicians in rural areas.
Retired Dr. James Koch, who passed away on Sept.
21 at the age of 84, was one of those doctors that didn't need an
incentive package to live and work in a community like Colby, where
he settled for 37 years.
addition to delivering over 3,000 babies and providing house calls
to patients in the area, Dr. Koch also immersed himself in the
community. During his nearly four decades in Colby, he was a member
of the local United Church of Christ, a founding member of the
Colby Lions Club and 20-year member of the school board.
funeral last Thursday at UCC in Colby included kind words from
former colleagues, Dr. Ray Hansen and Dr. Dolf Pfefferkorn, his
daughter, Sara Kaiser, and the recently retired Rev. Ken
Milt Viergutz, a physician’s assistant at
the Marshfield Clinic office in Colby, worked with Dr. Koch from
1976 until Koch’s retirement in 1988. During that time, the
doctor’s office known as the Colby Clinic moved from downtown
to STH - 13 and came under the ownership of Marshfield
Viergutz said having Marshfield take over in 1984 was a calculated decision by Dr. Koch and Dr. Pfefferkorn to ensure that the Colby-Abbotsford area kept a local doctor’s office.
"They were afraid that after they retired that
nobody would come to a small town," Viergutz said.
Koch lived two doors down from the clinic when it was on Second
Street. When he first came to Colby in 1951, his office was in a
two-story clinic that now houses apartments, Viegutz said.
a local family physician, Dr. Koch regularly made house calls and
knew his patients well.
time, Viergutz said Dr. Koch got a call from a man who said his son
was having a hard time breathing, but he hung up before giving his
name. Just by hearing the man’s voice and getting the
child’s name, Dr. Koch knew where to go, "so he was over
there in no time," Viergutz said. "You don’t get that much
nowadays," he said. "Nowadays, you get an automated answering
system. You don’t get that personal touch that you did back
Koch continued doing house calls until his retirement, Viergutz
noted, but not as frequently. He and Dr. Pfefferkorn alternated
nights on call, but they each liked to deliver their own
patients’ babies, so they were always around just in case
someone went into labor.
Dr. Koch’s tradition was to kiss every newborn on the forehead, Viergutz said.
was a very caring and compassionate man," he said. Viergutz said he
was also a "good guy to work with," even if the doctor was a little
skeptical initially about the concept of a physician’s
assistant, which was new in the late 1970s. "At first, he
didn’t want anyone seeing his patients, but as time went on,
he accepted that," Viergutz said.
Orthopedic care was a specialty that Dr. Koch
passed on to his colleagues; he was strong enough to set fractures
himself, Viergutz noted. He also did all his patients’
always liked to play the devil’s advocate. He loved to
debate," Viergutz said, noting that Dr. Koch would make you think
by challenging your ideas.
Viergutz said one of Dr. Koch’s daughters
brought three Honeycrisp apples to the funeral, which came from a
tree that just recently bore fruit after several years. Her father
had hounded her about spraying the tree until she finally took his
advice. This story exemplified the doctor’s determined
personality. "He may be stubborn, but when he’s passionate
about something, he’ll stick with it," Viergutz said.
Outside of the office, Dr. Koch passed on other
traditions unique to doctors. "He’s the one who introduced me
to golfing," Viergutz said, recalling how Dr. Koch let him use his
clubs for a round after a medical conference in Minoqua.
Viergutz also spent some time with Dr. Koch at
his cabin in Holcombe, where he was introduced to the
doctor’s British Columbia pancakes, which involves mixing a
lightly fried egg with the batter.
son, David Koch, helped take care of him after his wife of 58
years, Martha, passed away in 2006. David described his father as a
"hard-driving" man who loved his job, no matter how busy it made
his life. "He always went to work whistling," he said.
David Koch said his father "never gave a thought"
to moving out of Colby, and it was even difficult for him to sell
the office to Marshfield Clinic.
Koch also had two daughters, Patty Edblom and Sara Kaiser, nine
grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
A commitment to rural medicine is evident throughout the family. Martha helped out at the clinic and worked as an RN at Colonial Center Nursing Home. Their daughter, Patty, started working at the clinic in high school before moving to Aspirus Hospital as a nurse.
Patty’s daughter, Jessica Thomsen, recently received the New
Public Health Worker of the Year Award while working as a nurse for
Clark County. She just recently accepted a new job at St.
Joseph’s Hospital in Marshfield.
Thomsen said she was inspired by her mother and
grandparents to go into medicine and is proud to be Koch’s
"He was very passionate about spending time with people," she said. "He loved his grandchildren."
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