Dr. Karl H. Wegner (1930 - 2014)

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Dr. Karl H. Wegner

Karl Heinrich Wegner died April 4, 2014, at the Dougherty Hospice House.

Karl was born January 5, 1930, the second son of Nell Norbeck Wegner and Lester F. Wegner. He grew up in Pierre, SD, attending Lincoln Grade School (except for the third grade at Mark Twain in Sioux Falls, SD), and Pierre Junior and Senior High Schools, graduating in the class of 1948. He was president of the student body, co-valedictorian of his class (along with his wife Margaret), a three year letterman, governor of Boys State, and represented South Dakota at Boys Nation in Washington, DC.

He received a Navy scholarship to attend Yale University in New Haven, CT, and spent summers as a midshipman in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, except for his senior summer spent with the Marines at Quantico, VA. He graduated in June, 1952, and was immediately commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps, serving as a line officer, field/platoon leader, then company commander, achieving the ranks of 1st Lieutenant USMC, and Captain USMCR.

He served 28 months, then received an early discharge after the Korean War because of his prior acceptance into graduate school and immediately entered Harvard Medical School. Following graduation, he also took internship and residency in pathology at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard's major teaching hospital. He served as Chief Resident, including a final year's appointment to the Harvard faculty.

In June of 1957, Karl married Mary Jo Waddell of Beatrice, NE, whom he met in Boston. A daughter Madeleine was born there in 1959. Karl and family returned to South Dakota in 1962 when he accepted the appointment of Chief of Pathology, Sioux Valley Hospital, as well as the opportunity to develop a private practice in pathology, and to join the voluntary faculty of the then two year basic sciences School of Medicine at the University of South Dakota.

Over the ensuing years the hospital position grew, his teaching time and academic appointments expanded from Assistant Professor of Pathology and Associate Professor of Medicine to Chair, Department of Pathology and Professor of Pathology. In August, 1973, Karl became Dean of the two year school at USD.

Meanwhile, Karl recruited increasing numbers of pathologist associates to join the Laboratory of Clinical Medicine (LCM), a rapidly expanding practice based in SD, MN, IA, and NE, and instituted a fully accredited four year pathology residency at what had become the largest then known private pathology practice in the United States.

Karl accepted the Deanship at the medical school and the Vice-Presidency of Health Affairs at USD on the condition that he would lead a final drive to convert the school into a full four-year-degree-granting program. The two-year school was facing increasing problems of inadequate funding, transferring its students to out-of-state institutions, and attempting to recruit new physicians to return to practice in South Dakota, which had the lowest physician to population ration in the country. University President Richard Bowen, the SD Board of Regents, Gov. Richard Kneip, the SD State Medical Association, and interest citizens and physicians who'd formed a special committee, the Citizens Concerned for Medical Education, all joined with a well-organized legislative study committee chaired by Senator Harvey Wollman to seek legislative approval for the degree-granting program. This succeeded in the passage of degree-granting legislation in the February 1974 session.

Dr. Wegner worked tirelessly in SD, in Chicago, and in Washington, DC, in obtaining necessary AMA and federal support for the new Program, then seeking provisional and final national accreditation, creating six new clinical departments and numerous specialty sections, recruiting both in SD and nationwide, in negotiating statewide support and participation of SD hospitals, and in initiating appropriate new residency training programs for the school on a statewide basis.

Two more children came to his family, Peter Norbeck in 1963 and Mary Nell in 19 65. Karl and Mary Jo bought the farm of his dreams in 1965 and raised purebred Herefords, then instituted a commercial cow-calf operation along with row crop farming, all in association with his cousin and wife, Dave and Avis Jennings. The farm was in operation over 40 years.

Upon retirement he was able to realize a long-standing ambition to hike and climb, often with more experienced friends. He began with Mt. Kenya and Kilimanjaro, later included mountains in the western US, and finally Cotopaxi, Cayambe, and Aconcagua in South America.

Following the death of his first wife, Mary Jo, in 2003, he married Margaret Ann Halla Cash, his old high school and college girlfriend, the widow of Dr. Joseph H. Cash, professor and Dean at USD. Together they pursued a common interest in hiking and traveling, including a 200 mile walk across England with USD friends, a 400 mile hike from Oslo to Trondheim in Norway along a primitive trail, and other trips to Europe, Mexico, South America, Antarctica, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Karl's male Sioux Falls Book Club and the Vermillion couples Book Group were especially important in his life as he, after finishing each month's selection, always said "and I read every word, enjoying them all."

Karl was especially proud of his family heritage in South Dakota. He was the great grandson of pioneer Norwegian Immigrants, including Rev. George Norbeck, who homesteaded in Clay County in 1868, served a geographically widespread congregation while also farming, serving in the Dakota Territory Legislature, in the South Dakota Constitutional Convention, and then in the first South Dakota legislature. Rev. Norbeck's son Peter Norbeck and Karl's grandfather went on to serve as a State Senator, Lieutenant Governor, Governor, and United States Senator, dying near the end of his third term.

Karl's paternal grandfather, Henry J. Wegner, founded the Wegner Auto Company in Pierre in 1907, the state's oldest automobile dealership and now the oldest Buick Dealership in the world under continuous operation by one family for over 100 years.

Karl's professional boards and membership included statewide, national, and international honors and responsibilities in the field of pathology, membership in the Council of Deans, American Assn. of Medical Colleges, and membership on the Advisory Council Under-graduate Medical Education, AMA. His significant awards included South Dakota Hall of Fame (1988), SD Philanthropist of the Year shared with Mary Jo Wegner (2002), American Pathologist of the Year, Alpha Omega Alpha, Boyston Medical Society (Harvard), Founding Dean USD (now Sanford) School of Medicine, Distinguished Professor Emeritus by SD Board of Regents, Karl H. Wegner Endowed Chair USD (also by Board of Regents), Distinguished Professor of the Year several times, SuperDean, a one-time award from the Medical Student Body, naming of the Karl and Mary Jo Wegner Health Science Information Center, Friends of the SF Community Foundation annual award (shared with Margaret), and Distinguished Service Awards from USD, and the SD Medical Association.

His community and state activities and boards included President, SD Board of Regents of Higher Education, President, Sioux Valley (now Sanford) Health Foundation, President, South Dakota Symphony Board, President, SF Area Community Foundation, member of the boards of the USD Foundation, the SD, Hall of Fame, Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, Sioux Valley Health System Alliance, SD Water Goals Program, Sioux Council, Boy Scouts of America, United Way, and Augustana Fellows.

Immediate family survivors are his wife, Margaret, his three children, Madeleine Jean (Harri Rinta) of Carver, MN, Mary Nell (Josiah Child III), Isabella and Sam of Providence, RI, and Peter Norbeck and his children, Walker, Theo, and Ivy of Berkeley, CA, and his step children and grandchildren, Sheridan Anderson (Robert B.), and Cash of Pierre, SD, Meredith Cash Weber (John P.), Joe and Emily of Rapid City, SD, and Ayla and Claudia Cash, and their mother Dr. Serpil Erzurum of Pepper Pike, Ohio. He was preceded in death by his parents, Nell and Lester, his only brother Peter Norbeck Wegner, and his first wife, Mary Jo Waddell Wegner.

Memorial Services will be held 11:00 am Tuesday, April 8, 2014, at Our Savior's Lutheran Church, Sioux Falls.

Memorials honoring Karl's life may be directed to the Karl H. Wegner, M.D., Chair in Medicine Endowment, USD Foundation, P. O. Box 5555, Vermillion, SD, 57069-5555.



Funeral Home
Miller Funeral Home
507 South Main Avenue
Sioux Falls, SD 57104
(605) 336-2640
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Published in The Argus Leader on Apr. 6, 2014
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