VeteranDr. Russell Dohner

Dr. Russell Dohner

Dr. Russell Dohner Dies at Age 90

It is with great sadness Culbertson Memorial Hospital announces the passing of Dr. Russell Dohner. Our beloved community doctor died peacefully in his sleep on Friday, Aug. 7, at 2:45 a.m. Dr. Dohner spent his entire adult life as a healer, psychologist and friend to families of Rushville. Each one of us not only grieves at the passing of a tremendous individual, but also for the loss his family suffers.

Dr. Dohner was born on a farm in Fulton County in 1925. He was a veteran of World War II. After serving in the military, he attended Western Illinois State College as one of the first pre-medical students and completed his education, using the GI Bill, at Northwestern Medical School. Dr. Dohner began serving the residents of Rushville and the surrounding communities in 1955.

He practiced medicine in Rushville for almost 60 years, where he routinely made house calls for $2 per visit, and was upset when he had to increase his fee to $5 per visit. His selflessness gained him national attention as he was featured in People Magazine, NBC Nightly News, the Today Show and other publications and media.

“If Dr. Dohner was ever tired, he never showed it. His jacket remained on, his tie was never loose and his fingers never shook, even if he had been up for 24 hours,” said Lynn Stambaugh, CEO of Sarah D. Culbertson Memorial Hospital. “Each time he entered an exam room he greeted his patients with a voice that is as warm as a comforting flannel.”

Most everyone in Rushville and the surrounding communities knew or knew of Dr. Dohner. He would routinely stop to chat with patients who weren’t even under his care at the time. And in a way, Dr. Dohner played a part in small town Americana that now only exists in people’s imaginations and in Norman Rockwell paintings.

Dr. Dohner will forever live on in a statue erected in his honor and sits on the square of his hometown of Rushville, across from the office he practiced in for 59 years.

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Sullivan Responds to the Passing of Dr. Russell Dohner

Longtime Rushville physician Dr. Russell Dohner passed away Friday morning, Aug. 7. Dohner had served the people of Rushville and Schuyler County from 1955 to 2013 when he retired at age 88.

“Dr. Dohner stood for everything you wanted to see in a doctor: He was hardworking, compassionate, thoughtful, humble and involved with the community. He touched the lives of generations and was a truly remarkable man. He will be deeply missed,” State Senator John Sullivan (D-Rushville) said.

Dohner received national attention for his long career and for his practice of only charging $5 per visit regardless of his expense. He didn’t take appointments, saw patients on a first-come basis and wouldn’t leave until every patient was seen.

Dohner was a World War II veteran and a graduate of Northwestern University Medical School. He was born in Vermont in 1925 and passed away at age 90.

In 2013, Dohner served as the grand marshal Illinois State Fair parade and made the simple statement, “I’m a general practitioner: I do whatever I can to help people.”

Dr. Russell R. Dohner, 90, of Rushville died at 2:45 a.m. Aug. 7, 2015, at Culbertson Memorial Hospital in Rushville.

He was born Feb. 8, 1925, at home on a farm outside of Vermont as the fifth child of seven to David Robert and Ethel May Rowland Dohner, and he grew up on that farm.

Surviving are two sisters, Doris (and Ronald) Cook of Industry and Lydia Goodwin of Rushville; 10 nieces and nephews, Sandy (and Jeff) Belden of Columbia, Mo., Barb (and Gary) Bray of Port Orange, Fla., Mary Ann Cook (and Joe Cusumano) of Clayton, Mo., Ramona Cook of Industry, David Dohner of Vermont, Mark Dohner of Ipava, Martha (and Lee) Fillingham of Table Grove, Jim (and Eva) Garrabrant of Dunlap, Marilyn (and Garry) Johnson of Macomb and Linda (and Michael) Kuehl of Elgin; 13 great-nieces and nephews; and 14 great-great-nieces and nephews.

He was preceded in death by his parents, David and Ethel Dohner; one brother, Robert Dohner; three sisters, Clarice Dohner, Norma Dohner and Beula Garrabrant; three brothers-in-law, Wendell Copes, Bob Garrabrant, Lester Goodwin; one sister-in-law, Beulah Gibble Dohner; and one nephew, Michael Garrabrant.

He graduated from Vermont High School in 1943. His father had hoped he would take up farming, too, but Russell knew since he was a young boy, inspired by the town doctor who’d treated him when he had seizures as a child, he wanted to be a doctor. He stayed and farmed after graduation from high school until drafted by the Army in the spring of 1944. During 1944-46, he served in the U.S. Army military police unit, guarding the Pentagon (seeing such notables as President Harry Truman and General Dwight D. Eisenhower), then was placed in the medical detachment of a battalion where he became a Staff Sergeant. In 1946, he became one of the first four Pre-Med students at then Western Illinois Teacher’s College, now Western Illinois University (the only one of the four who became a doctor — so he was the first doctor produced by WIU). While attending WIU 1946-49 on the GI Bill, he lived and worked at Dodsworth-Piper-Wallen Funeral Home in Macomb. He then graduated from Northwestern University in 1953 with his medical degree, having saved his Army pay of two years plus working in Chicago area doctors’ offices to pay his way through Northwestern. He served as Cardiology Internist at St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago in 1954, and came to Rushville in 1955 to practice medicine which he did for 58 years until Oct. 31, 2013.

He was briefly married in the late 1950s to a woman he had met in Chicago but his young wife didn’t want to stay in such a small town so their marriage ended. He never remarried and instead dedicated his life to his work, only leaving the Rushville area for medical conferences over the years, never taking a true vacation. He attracted national notice beginning in the early 1970s due to his $2 office visit fee which at that time was revised to $3 and later raised to $5 per office visit (which remained his office fee until his practice concluded in 2013); the fact he regularly did house calls; in addition to visiting his patients at Culbertson Hospital, he also regularly visited patients in Astoria, Beardstown, Mount Sterling and Rushville nursing homes; no appointments were taken at his office — names went on a list and he would see patients in sequential order until everyone had been seen (and if a patient was feeling really sickly, they came through the back door for quicker attention); and, he also would see patients who came to his home.

He appeared on NBC’s “Today Show” (1970 and 2012 with Kevin Tibbles, and 1983, early 1990s and 2010 with Bob Dotson); on CNN (twice in 2012 — once with Sanjay Gupta and once with Piers Morgan); and was featured in People Magazine (1983 and 2012). The stats say he delivered more than 3,500 babies in Rushville and donated at least 10,000 trees to Rushville. He encouraged many young people to enter the medical field, including the current CEO of Culbertson Memorial Hospital Lynn Stambaugh (whom he also brought into this world).

He was a regular church attendee at United Methodist Church in Rushville; was a member of Rushville Rotary (with a 37-year perfect attendance pin and was a Paul Harris Fellow); and was a member of the Masons. He enjoyed singing at church and at Rotary; growing flowers and trees; and, fishing at his cabin lake. For years, his Rushville home or his cabin located outside of Rushville was the hub of social events for family and friends. Family were important to him. He purchased two farms, one for each of two siblings to assist in their livelihood, and two of his sisters regularly accompanied him to social events. As part of his family, he included his patients, his office staff — Florence Bottorff, Rose Busby, Edith Moore, Susan Park, Dixie Prather and hospital and nursing home staff members, the town of Rushville and community members and best friends Bill and Margie Bartlow (his friendship with Bill began during his days at WIU). He also had a special kinship with Dr. Donald Dexter of Macomb, and with Lynn Stambaugh and family, John and Dianne Snyder of Snyder-Vaughn Haven Nursing Home, Clark and Garry Moreland and Bill and Jim Devitt of Moreland & Devitt Drug Store. He expressed great confidence in Rushville State Bank Vice President Linda Butler and Attorney Charles Burton. He would say that though he never became a farmer, the farming life made it possible for him to maintain his practice, his way. He contributed many of his Dohner family heirlooms to the Schuyler County Jail Museum.

Dr. Russell DohnerHe received awards and recognitions over the years — Western Illinois University Alumni Achievement recipient (1982); Western Illinois University Distinguished Alumni Award recipient (1990); Illinois Public Health Association Distinguished Service Award (1998); Illinois Pfizer Quality of Care Award (2002); Rushville celebrated “Dr. Dohner Day” honoring his 50 years of service to community (2004); second runner-up in the “Country Doctor of the Year” national award (2004); Illinois “Doc Hollywood Award” (2005); Western Illinois University Honorary Doctorate Award (2006); inclusion in Bob Dotson’s book, American Story: A Lifetime Search for Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things (published in 2013). At the invitation of Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, he served as the Grand Marshal of the Illinois State Fair Parade in Springfield (2013); was honored by Rushville with a ceremony and a bronze statue with his likeness located in the Rushville Central Park Square (2013); was the recipient of the Illinois Department on Aging’s Hall of Fame award presented at the Governor’s Mansion in Springfield (2013); was the subject of the U.S. Congressional Record, Volume 159, Issue 180, titled “Tribute to Dr. Russell Dohner” by Senator Dick Durbin (2013); and received Northwestern University’s Service to Society Award (2015). While he valued all of the above, Dr. Dohner, a man of humility, would say what he valued most was providing service to others, and his most cherished “prizes” were the home grown, canned, baked and crafted items including cards, letters and children’s crayoned notes that were shared with him over the years by patients.

A funeral service was held Tuesday at Rushville First United Methodist Church with Rev. Grant Armstrong and David Haney officiating. Burial was with military honors by a U. S. Army Honors Detail and Schuyler American Legion Post #4 followed at the Astoria Cemetery in Astoria.

Memorials be made to Culbertson Memorial Hospital Foundation, Rushville First United Methodist Church, Rushville Parks, Do Something, Inc. in Vermont, Vermont Parks and Cemetery, Astoria Parks and Cemetery or WIU Foundation.

Condolences may be sent to www.worthingtonfh.com.


Published in the Astoria South Fulton Argus on 8/12/2015

Current Obituaries in the Astoria South Fulton Argus