For retired Lima pediatrician C. John Stechschulte — following that teenage operation to address an injury sustained chasing a fly ball, an operation that left him bedridden and in a cast from the waist down for the entirety of his junior year at St. Rose High School — his education pretty much had to come to him since returning to the classroom was not an option.
During his tutoring sessions, there was one silver lining in what otherwise was a very dark cloud of inactivity. And some would call it somewhat of a career-choosing epiphany.
Recalls the 90-year-old Stechschulte, “Mr. Cohen, a science teacher, was a big influence on a career decision I needed to make as my high school years were coming to a close. He actually wanted to be a doctor, but, like many, the Depression forced him to abandon that thought and he wound up going into teaching. Because of him, I began thinking seriously about medicine.”
Once Jack Stechschulte returned to school for his senior year, he distinguished himself academically. He wound up sharing top honors for the Class of 1948 with classmate Susie Cooney, someone at that point in time he surely couldn’t have known would become his wife and the mother of their seven children — John, Susan, Ann, Tom, Mary Ellen, Mark and Sarah.
Over the next 12 years, Jack Stechschulte prepared himself for his 30-plus years as one of this area’s most prominent and beloved pediatricians.
Those years would include an undergraduate scholarship to Xavier to study pre-med. When the Korean War broke out, Stechschulte enlisted but felt it best to defer his military service when he was accepted to St. Louis University Medical School.
An impacted wisdom tooth then played a role in finding the love of his life. That dental distress led to surgery at St. Rita’s in Lima, where a certain nurse-in-training began looking in on Jack during his post-op recovery. It turned out that Cooney also was attending St. Louis University to earn her RN degree.
It was during those St. Louis years when Jack was in medical school that they began dating, fell in love and eventually married during Jack’s third year in medical school in 1954.
Following medical school, the young couple and their first two children, John and Susan, lived in Dayton, where there was an internship for Jack at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. While at St. E’s, he became interested in surgery. He performed an appendectomy and delivered his first baby, one he still remembers, weighing a whopping 14 pounds.
When Jack was summoned to serve by the Air Force in the spring of 1956 with a report date not until the fall, he decided to accept a surgery residency at St. Rita’s over the summer months and moved his family to Lima, living above C.J. Zerante’s Carryout on the corner of North and Cole streets.
While during Stechschulte’s Air Force training at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, he and his family were separated for the first time. Once he was ready to report to Niagara Falls Air Force Base, the family reunited, and Stechschulte found his medical specialty, or, as he recalls, it actually found him.
“I had a few months of surgery training, so I expected to do that. But, when I arrived at the hospital, the commander said, ‘You will be the pediatrician,’ so I was, as well as the medical officer, then the acting flight surgeon and eventually the hospital commander.” During those two years in the Air Force, the Stechschultes also welcomed their third child, Ann.
Following those military days, it was on to Columbus and a residency at Children’s Hospital in pediatrics. It was there that the demanding Dr. Warren Wheeler, chief of pediatrics, was so influential.
“It was from Dr. Wheeler that I really learned bacteriology. He expected you to be fully prepared. He made rounds with all the residents, and God help you if he asked a question and you didn’t know the answer!”
During their time in Columbus, Jack and Susie also continued building their family, adding their fourth and fifth child, Tom and Mary Ellen.
While the Columbus years completed his initial training, Jack, or C. John as he would come to be known professionally, for the rest of his professional life, never stopped reading medical journals and absorbing as much knowledge as possible to help the children he would treat.
The big decision arrived as to where to set up practice, That decision, one actually made for meteorological reasons, is where I’ll start next Wednesday.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.