If life is indeed, as has been said, like a river, then for Dr. C. John Stechschulte, its source would be St. Rita’s Hospital where he was born into a world about 15 months after the great Stock Market Crash of 1929.
And, while that river had changed its course several times following his 1948 graduation from St. Rose High School as he completed his education and military obligation, that river somehow doubled back on itself, back to Lima by the early 1960s.
And, over his three-plus decades treating patients and helping his wife Susie raise their seven children, he became known to so many in this area for his knowledge, skills and compassionate demeanor.
Despite a retirement that began with that move to Florida over 25 years ago, the memories of Dr. Jack remain so very strong for many.
For Jack and wife Susie’s first-born, John, a now-retired ophthalmologist, the influences of his father first prompted him to pursue a career in the medical field, initially, like his father, as a pediatrician. However, early in his clinicals, he saw the emotional toll on pediatricians that frequently have to treat severely ill children.
Says John, “I’m not sure how Dad ever got over the loss of a sick or injured child as all pediatricians inevitably must contend. It’s my belief that in the medical field, men like my father are rare. Pediatricians really are the most revered and trusted of all who are physicians.”
Recalls middle son Tom, “My father’s ability to build lifelong patient relationships is what I will never forget. During the occasional times we all went out to dinner, I watched Dad walk around the room visiting with everyone who recognized him and wanted to say hello. Really, it was my earliest lesson on the importance of marketing and networking, something later when I went into business I realized was so important.”
Recalls Sandy Gehring, who considers it an honor to have been Dr. Jack’s office nurse for 25 years, “What I remember most was the respect and compassion he had for each patient he treated and their families. And that caring and comforting demeanor was even more evident when the patient was a seriously ill child.”
For former Lima resident Parker MacDonnell, well, he considers Dr. Jack a lifesaver.
“I believe he honestly saved my life. In 1966 I returned from a Boy Scout camping trip with a high fever. While my family doctor prescribed aspirin and bed rest, when I wasn’t getting any better, my dear mother took me to Dr. Jack, who knew the right questions to ask. His diagnosis of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever was spot on, and he prescribed the right antibiotics.”
Dr. Jack’s youngest daughter Sarah was just 5 years old when, at her father’s suggestion, she was selected to give a basketball to Matt Winkler, who, thanks to her father’s treatment, became the first patient ever to survive the rabies virus.
Recalls Sarah, “My senior year in college, I brought my boyfriend home to meet Mom and Dad. Dad started asking him some questions, and the next thing you know, he was giving him a much-needed booster shot. That boyfriend is now husband of 27 years.”
For daughter Ann, who lives with Mom and Dad in Ocala, Florida, her most salient memory of her father is the first time she ever saw him in the hospital so gently and ably handling those tiny newborns.
Recalls youngest son Mark, a retired gastroenterologist, “I chose medicine in large part because I wanted to emulate my dad. Dad’s quest for learning was insatiable, as evidenced by what I saw. Night after night, he would sit in our family room reading the latest medical journal. He made frequent house calls and even treated patients who came at night and knocked on our door.”
Continued Mark, “One Christmas in particular, just when the fun was really just beginning, Dad got a call from the hospital and went in to care for a very sick baby. He was there pretty much the entire day and most of the evening, missing all the family fun, staying with that child until he was out of danger.
“Starting the next year and for many years after, every Christmas morning at 9 a.m., the phone would ring, and it was the father of that newborn thanking my father for saving his boy and wishing him a Merry Christmas. That kind of memory tends to stick with you.”
Recalls Mark’s cousin and Dr. Jack’s nephew, Jim O’Neill, who retired a year ago after his distinguished career as an orthopedic surgeon, “Uncle Jack definitely influenced me in choosing medicine. He was so gentle, soft-spoken, really smart and what I would call sweet.”
I’ve heard from so many via email this month that shared recollections of Dr. Stech, his wife Susie and their passel of seven children that I’ve little doubt my series could probably continue through March. But, as we know, even all that is good must end, except, of course, in this case the endearing memories of a wonderful family so deeply woven into the fabric of Lima’s history. And, that’s especially true, for a doctor whose love for his little patients as well as the concerned mothers and fathers who brought them to him extends far beyond both the physical boundaries of any exam room and the metaphysical limitations of time.
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.