REUBEN B. WIDMER
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Reuben B. Widmer, M.D. made his transition peacefully in his sleep on Jan. 9, 2014, at La Via in La Posada. He was 97 years old and lived a full and amazing life, moving from a curious, creative Mennonite farm boy to a professor emeritus at the University of Iowa Medical School.
Reuben was born June 29, 1916 at the home of his parents in rural Wayland, Iowa. Following his duty in the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Public Health Service, he and his family returned to Iowa for the rest of his career. He and his wife, Annabel, lived in Green Valley since 1986.
Reuben was a storyteller his whole life. As a child he loved to read but only had access to three books: the Bible, the History of England, and "David Copperfield." He had them memorized early and was able to tell their stories to others. His children loved his "embellished" Bible stories. In Green Valley he told many anecdotes from his life as a country doctor, but his favorite was describing the adventure of delivering triplets at the Henry County Hospital in Iowa. He often shared adventures of himself as a "farm boy." He and his brother Glen created a new way to make homemade ice cream by jacking up the Model T Ford and tying the crank handle of the ice cream maker to a spoke in the wheel. He slowly ran the car engine to move the wheel, and soon the ice cream was ready.
Reuben was a member and supporter of Valley Presbyterian Church in Green Valley., where he enjoyed the adult Sunday school class discussions. His relationship with God was an important beacon for his life, and he taught by his example. He helped to set up a resident health committee at La Posada and enjoyed attending a monthly doctor's professional forum to discuss journal articles. He was affiliated with the American Medical Association, Iowa State Medical Society, Henry County Medical Society, American Academy of Family Physicians (charter fellow), Iowa Academy of Family Physicians, Iowa Heart Association, Society of Teachers of Family Medicine, Johnson County Medical Society, Society of Prospective Medicine, North American Primary Care Research Group, and American Medical Society on Alcoholism.
Reuben was the seventh of nine children born to Christian G. Widmer and Elizabeth Rediger Widmer, both immigrants from Switzerland. The family spoke Swiss German at home and Reuben learned English from his older siblings and in the one-room school. He explained he often listened to the older children's recitations and wanted to enter into the discussions. His father expected Reuben to finish eighth grade and then become a farmer per European tradition. With help from older sisters, Reuben persuaded his father to let him walk the two miles to Wayland to attend high school. Once he graduated he achieved a teaching certificate from Iowa Wesleyan College summer school, which enabled him to teach in a one-room school. At 21, he fulfilled a financial obligation to his father, which incidentally helped to save the family farm during the depression. Reuben was then free to attend Goshen College in Goshen, Ind., where he received his undergraduate degree in chemistry. He married Annabel Raber on Aug. 1, 1939, and they became partners to get him through medical school at the University of Iowa by 1943. He interned at the U.S. Marine Hospital, Norfolk, Va., and served with the U.S. Public Health Service, the medical arm of the U.S. Coast Guard. Following his discharge from the military, Reuben worked in Florida with Tuberculosis Control in the public health service. In 1948 the Widmer family moved to Winfield, Iowa where Reuben set up his general private practice. He was on call 24/7 and made house calls. For 25 years he served this rural community, always with wisdom, good humor and integrity. From 1978 to 1980, Reuben served as a medical consultant for the Oakdale Rehabilitation Center, Oakdale, Iowa, where they were setting up a family practice teaching clinic for residents in family practice. In 1972 Reuben and Annabel moved to the Iowa City area where he became an assistant professor in the Department of Family Practice. In order to stay in academic life, Reuben had to publish research. He created research, using his former patients as a laboratory for primary care. Areas of research included: delivery of primary health care in rural Iowa; prevention and treatment of senile depression in primary care; depression in primary care involving its development, prognosis, and effects on family members. Reuben had numerous other academic appointments from 1972 through 1988, which he referred to as "the frosting on the cake" of his career. He also received numerous honors and awards including "Outstanding Teacher of the Year," by the family practice residents, 1977 and "Educator of the Year" in 1982. He received a "Best of Field Award" for his presentation of "Depression in Primary Care: Changes in Pattern of Patient Visits and Complaints during Developing Depression, from Teachers of Family Medicine, spring conference, San Diego, 1978. He was awarded the American Academy of Family Physicians Merit Award for work with the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology on Adolescent Pregnancy Task Force, 1980. Reuben spoke at various medical conferences presenting his research papers. Reuben's greatest honor was having the medical library/electronic learning center at the Department of Family Practice named for him. Reuben accepted all these honors with humility and a reminder that his dad always said "pride goeth before a fall." Reuben never had a "haughty spirit."
Reuben Widmer was preceded in death by his wife, Annabel (2008), an infant daughter, Rebecca (1941), his parents and seven brothers and sisters. He is survived by his descendents: Charlotte Widmer Lilliedahl (John); Catherine Widmer Wilterdink (Richard); Frederick Widmer (Paulette); Philip Widmer (Debra); 9 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren. His greatest legacy are the many stories he left behind.
Reuben's life will be celebrated in a memorial service at Valley Presbyterian Church in Green Valley, on Tuesday, Jan. 14, at 10:30 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, Reuben asked that any donations be made to Valley Presbyterian Church.
Published in Green Valley News & Sun on Jan. 12, 2014