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 Edition 

Dr. Koch’s legacy lives on at Colby area clinic. Small-town doc remembered by colleague, family. By Kevin O’Brien 

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.  

In 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.  

The 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 Dix.  

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 Clinic. 

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.  

Dr. 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.  

As a local family physician, Dr. Koch regularly made house calls and knew his patients well.  

One 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 then." 

Dr. 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.

"He 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’ tonsillectomies. 

"He 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.  

His 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.  

Dr. 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.

And 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 granddaughter.  

"He was very passionate about spending time with people," she said. "He loved his grandchildren." 



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