Obit: Meyer, Walther William Dr. #3 (1922 - 2009)
Poster: R. Lipprandt
Surnames: Arnett, Balko, Berglund, Dittrich, Doege, Ewan, Frosch, Krug, Melke, Meyer, Norton, Nystrum, Olson, Purvis, Reuter, Sadowska, Simek, Thums, Wellner, Wirz
----Source: The Star News (Medford, Taylor Co., WI), Thursday, April 2, 2009, Story by Mark Berglund
Doc Meyer delivered a lasting legacy
April 2, 2009 — Dr. Walther William Meyer died Monday, March 30. Survivors include the almost 7,000 babies he delivered in a lifetime committed to the health and welfare of Taylor County.
The 86-year-old Meyer is the central figure in the history of healing in this community. The native son of the community was still working in the 61st year of unparalleled career when he died. "There are a lot of people who wouldn't be around without him," said Karen Frosch, his registered nurse of 23 years at the Medford Clinic. He was an old school doctor. They don't make doctors like him any more. He still wore a lot of hats and was still sharp as a tack."
Funeral services will be Saturday, April 4 at Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church in Medford with Rev. John Melke officiating. Burial will follow in Medford Evergreen Cemetery. Visitation will be Friday at Hemer Funeral Home from 4 to 7 p.m. and Saturday at the church, beginning at 10 a.m.
For Peggy Dittrich, the loss of Dr. Meyer is felt on many levels. One of the most important is a man who walked in the door by her office and always had a smile and wave — every day — for the past 18 years. "He put a passion in his work like no one I know," said Dittrich, who is the executive assistant to chief executive officer Gregg Olson. "He had an inner strength. He was clearly from a different mold. If I could live a fraction of his legacy, I would be happy. He worked until he was 86 years old. It's not supposed to happen that way."
Dittrich said he worked until he became ill last week. He died at 11:13 p.m. Monday at Aspirus Wausau Hospital, where he had been a patient for the past five days. "The immediacy of his death has left everyone quite numb today. In 18 years here, nobody's passing has come with quite this much awe."
Dittrich said Dr. Meyer died on National Doctors Day, an irony linking the man with a day established to celebrate the highest ideals of his profession.
“You will never see the likes of him again,” said Dr. Mark Reuter, the chief physician at Memorial Health Center.
The exact count of births to Dr. Meyer's credit is 6,719 in a county of roughly 20,000 residents. "You always felt like the delivery would be OK because he had seen everything," Frosch said. "He told me toward the end that after every birth he still found each one a miracle and precious."
Frosch said he made every working day a good one. "He was a special person. He was never angry and he said thank you every night when we left. He told me I should never let somebody ruin my day."
“He was a mentor to us all,” said Mark Reuter, the current chief of medicine at Memorial Health Center. He said Meyer was a mentor for whole generations of doctors, even ones who have since retired. Reuter first met Meyer 14 years ago, when he came to Medford. “I came here straight after residency and Walt had been in private practice for 40 plus years at that point.”
In the modern practice of medicine it is more common for doctors to spend a few years in one place and then move on. Having a doctor stay in one place and practice medicine for more than six decades won’t be likely to happen again, he explained.
Reuter noted how common it is to have had several generations of the same Medford families delivered by Meyer. “He delivered over 5,000 babies,” he said.
Driven and dedicated where the words Reuter used to describe Meyer noting he was committed to the practice of medicine and in an era when getting in to see a doctor is sometimes a challenge, Meyer was still making house calls.
Reuter recalls watching Meyer go on his daily evening constitutional walk. “It wasn’t a walk, it was a power walk. He was driven,” Reuter said.
Gregg Olson called Dr. Meyer a one in a million doctor. "What always inspired me was how brilliant a man he was. I was impressed by the way he put his patients and medicine first. He was incredibly dedicated to his work," Olson said.
Olson came to his job and the community a few years ago and Dr. Meyer's historical perspective on the area was a valuable resource. "He could cite when a certain business opened, or a certain doctor came here or information about when the clinic and hospital were built. He helped me understand how it all came together. It's certainly the end of an era, but think about what a better place Medford is today because of Dr. Meyer."
"For many people, this is the physician they had their whole life or he is the physician they've had since they had their children," said Sally Sadowska, administrator of Memorial Nursing & Rehab Center. "He would be in every day. He took the time he needed and treated people with respect and compassion. He would do it day after day."
Sadowska said Dr. Meyer was a valued resource for the nursing home and hospital staff. "He knew so much because of his experience. He was always reading and learning and bringing in articles to share. He not only worked here, but in Rib Lake. He saw this as his work and was committed to it."
"He was a true legend and a true hero," said Carol Ewan, the former administrator of the Memorial Nursing & Rehab Center. "He delivered more than 5,000 babies years ago. When you think about it, that's a community."
Ingrid Purvis, a registered nurse and public health nurse with the Taylor County Health Department, is one of Doc Meyer's babies. She said the confidence patients had in him never wavered through the years. "We would work with him in the nursing home when he would do rounds. When you asked people, 'who's your doctor' they always said 'Doc Meyer.' He delivered their babies and set their bones. People had confidence in him. It's a great loss. He left a lasting impression on the community."
Patti Krug heads the Taylor County Health Department. She valued his contributions as a member of the county health board during the past 16 years. "He contributed a lot to the discussions of public health in Taylor County. He kept up to date on the issues and the most current evidence-based strategies for dealing with them."
Krug said Meyer was someone who was as interested in dealing with the causes of health problems as much as the disease itself. She noted his support of wellness and physical activity programs. "He would always ask, 'what can we do about prevention.' He was always proactive rather than reactive. That was his stance. He saw the effects of prevention," she said.
At a stop at the Taylor County senior citizen center, regard was high for the man who delivered their babies — and in many cases their babies babies too. "He learned by doing. If he made a mistake, he learned from it." They said he was also a doctor who learned by listening. "He listened to people. He said he learned more from the older mothers than he ever did in medical school," one woman recalled.
Meyer was remembered as someone there when times were tough. One woman recalled Meyer helping her sister battle multiple sclerosis before she passed away. "He did everything in his power to help her," she said. "It's the only time I've ever seen a doctor come to the funeral home."
Meyer's father, George, and wife, Delores, both served as Medford city mayor. Current mayor Mike Wellner issued a statement of condolence. "On behalf of the City of Medford, we wish to extend our sympathy to Delores Meyer and her family in the loss of Walt. He will be sadly missed by all he came in contact with, and will be remembered for his unselfish devotion to the Medford community. Words cannot express our gratitude for Walt's commitment to the medical profession, and to the community he called home. We will always appreciate the important contributions Walt has made to our city, and to the progress of this community."
Meyer received the Medford Area Chamber of Commerce's Lifetime Achievement award in 1989. He was selected as the 1993 Physician-Citizen of the Year by the State Medical Society of Wisconsin.
Meyer graduated from Medford High School in 1940. He was a member of the National Honor Society, co-captain of the school's football team and a basketball letterwinner. He received the American Legion award for scholarship and athletics and gave a commencement address entitled "Economic Challenge of an Ideal." He was the lead in the senior class play, playing the role of Howard Brant in "Spring Fever."
He then attended the University of Wisconsin. A December 4, 1941 story in The Star News noted his role on the school's all-star traveling touch football team. The team traveled to Minneapolis, Minn. on November 22 of that year to play the University of Minnesota's residence hall all-stars. Meyer quarterbacked the Badgers to a 16-6 win after playing halfback during the regular season.
Meyer studied pre-medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison before entering the U.S. Navy’s medical program at Northwestern University. He then attended the University of Chicago Medical School followed by an internship at University Hospital in Madison. Dr. Meyer was in the first year of a two-year residency at the Marshfield Clinic when he was called home. His father, George, was the Medford clinic-hospital's manager and the death of one of the clinic's three physicians left the community with a need. They finally agreed he would come home for one year.
Dr. Meyer knew the doctors with whom he practiced, Drs. Les and Ray Nystrum, since he was a child. Together the three doctors, a nurse and a lab technician made up Medford’s entire medical community. The doctors did not set appointment times, instead running the daily clinic until there was an empty waiting room.
"There have been lots of changes in medicine," Frosch said. "There were not that many doctors working then and everyone was seen when they came in. We would put the charts in a pile and work until everyone was seen."
Despite retiring from his clinical practice in June 1998, he never retired from medicine. In addition to doing consulting work and making house calls. Meyer continued his geriatric medical practice treating a number of Memorial Nursing & Rehab Center patients and providing the community with education about nutrition and wellness. A pioneer in the idea of community wellness, Dr. Meyer was conducting research with community subjects on obesity issues in the final years of his career.
Dr. Meyer delivered his first baby on August 22, 1948 to a couple from Little Black. He delivered 6,719 babies, many the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of babies he delivered.
A key figure in the development of medical services in Medford, he helped establish, in 1962, the Memorial Hospital of Taylor County, later renamed Memorial Health Center. "He was one of the driving forces in getting the new hospital," said Eugene Arnett, who served as the hospital administrator and CEO for many years.
Arnett said it was always about the patient for Dr. Meyer. "Everything came around the patients. He was on call 365 days a year, whenever you needed him," Arnett said. "He always had time for his patients. He never shoved you out the door."
Arnett said his drive and standards rubbed off on those who worked with him. "He demanded a lot. He didn't care who you were or your name, you did your share," he said. While his practice no doubt interrupted his family life through the years, Arnett said, Dr. Meyer and his wife of 61 years, Dee, spent many close years in later life as he has cared for her. "She will be the one who will miss him the most," Arnett said.
Meyer was a leader in the community as he served on the Medford School Board, the Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church Council and in other roles. "He was the rational one in discussions," Elmer Balko remembers of his church leadership. "He was the someone who sought compromise and new ideas."
Gene Wirz, a former teacher, coach and Medford School Board member remembers Dr. Meyer visiting members of the district's Amish community when the referendum for the new high school complex was in question. He delivered the votes which helped pass the referendum for building.
"He wrote a lot of Vox Pops over the year. He was not afraid to express an opinion," Arnett said.
One of his other loves in life was his tree farm in the glacial hills of Westboro. An early advocate for community wellness, Dr. Meyer helped the then fledgling Rib Lake cross country ski club get off the ground by donating his grooming equipment when the club had none. "He was always a gracious host and generous man," said Rollie Thums, who shares his passion for the ski trails and served with him on the Taylor County Board of Health. "I was always amazed at the number of things we agreed on. He was a thinker and we thought alike on things. He was always asking 'what are the ramifications if we do this.'"
Dr. Meyer delivered two of the Thums children and all the siblings of his wife, Susan. Thums was surprised to find out how old Dr. Meyer actually was. "I never thought of him as anything but a young man," he said.
Arnett said he joined Dr. Meyer for deer hunts on the Westboro farm. "His farm meant a lot to him. He loved being on the farm," he said.
Almost everyone who spoke about Dr. Meyer's legacy, said he he always took the time to listen to the stories, concerns and ideas of his patients, colleagues and neighbors. Here's a chance to listen to Dr. Meyer from his March 1997 essay titled "Medical History of Taylor County as seen by Walther Meyer MD, CMD - a native son."
Medford is the county seat of Taylor County. I was born across the street from the Taylor County Courthouse in May 1922.
My father came to Taylor County to teach a Lutheran parochial school in Stetsonville. My mother was the youngest of 7 children, 5 of whom were immigrants from Switzerland. My grade school and high school education took place in Medford Public School buildings, which no longer exist. I was graduated from 'Medford High' in 1940 and went on to the University of Wisconsin for pre-medical school. My parents, especially my mother, had expressed their desire that I either be a minister or a doctor - in that order. I can remember the exact spot in the old high school building when my high school football coach said, "Wally you should go to medical school to be a doctor."
That encouragement at the beginning of my senior year in high school set the direction for the rest of my life.
In 1943 I enlisted in the Navy under the V-12 Program. The Navy sent me to Northwestern University to finish my premedical courses and to the University of Chicago Medical School to which I had been accepted before enlisting. When my father was going through some of his old records, he showed me the total expenditure that he made for my entire education. It was under $900! Knowing the hundreds of thousands that present doctors end up owing in this day and age, it may be the record for the least expensive medical education ever. It has troubled me some not knowing if I should feel fortunate or guilty about it.
In our class of about 90 medical students at the University of Chicago, I was one of two medical school graduates that ended up as general practitioners. The late 1940s was the dawn of medical specialties and everyone who wanted to amount to something was urged to specialize in their chosen medical field. I had chosen to become an internist and had a contract for Internal Medicine Residency training at the Marshfield Clinic after my internship at Wisconsin General Hospital in Madison.
Throughout my life, I have been impressed by how, what seem to be, casual decisions are life changing. While I was an intern at Wisconsin General, another intern asked me to take his student infirmary call one night. One of the patients I admitted was Dolores Haering, who turned out to be my wife. It took a number of years before my mother saw the humor of "Wally, where did you meet your wife?" "In bed." We had 4 children in four years. I have another memory picture of visiting a high school friend whose oldest sister was a doctor. Walking up to her lounge chair on the shore of Lake Esadore, with 2 boys and 2 girls from 1 to 4 years old, her comment was "My God Wally, you must have missed a medical school lecture somewhere along the way!"
About half way through my Internship, I had a phone call from my father, who had been the business manager of the Medford Clinic Hospital saying, "Walther, Dr. Norton died and doctors Ray and Les are going to need help. I would like you to come up here for a year or so to help them out - until they can find someone. I protested that I was under contract to go to Marshfield. Doctor Carl Doege was the president of the Marshfield clinic at that time. He and my father were business associates as my father had successfully built WIGM radio station in Medford and Dr. Doege was part of an investor group building radio station WDLB in Marshfield. They had employed my father, who had learned how to build and develop small town radio stations from his Medford experience. At any rate voiding the contract that I had for the internal medicine training was no longer an argument that I had.
If I felt somewhat bullied at the time that I 'came up for a year or so', coming to Medford turned out to be a great decision for me and has let me contribute to the community and to feel it's warm response. After WWII ended, I took an honorable discharge from the navy. With the Korean War starting, there was talk of calling me back into service. A group of citizens somehow certified that the community would be adversely affected if I was called up, and it never happened. To this day I do not know the particulars of that effort. In 1989 I received The chamber's Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 1993 Physician-Citizen of the Year award in central Wisconsin.
One of my most cherished experiences was a retirement party for me put on by the Medford Clinic and Memorial Hospital of Taylor County (MHTC) when I retired from clinical practice in June of 1998, after 51 years of general clinical practice. During that time I had delivered 6,719 babies, many of which showed up for the event. The party was held at the Simek Recreation center. Even though the refreshments and hors d'oeuvres were free, a lot of people took the time to come and express their memories and warm feelings. What a wonderful night!
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