Wendell A. Riggs, MD
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Wendell A. Riggs, MD died at 4:37 a.m. Friday, December 20, 2013 at Creasy Springs Health Center. He had suffered from Alzheimer's disease for many years.
Dr. Riggs was born June 2, 1933 to Dr. Floyd and Freida Cromwell Riggs in Terre Haute, IN. He attended public schools and graduated from Wiley High School in 1951. He graduated from Indiana State Teacher's College, now Indiana State University, in 3 years, then graduated from Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis in 1958. He married Eleanor Cox on August 21, 1955 at St. Stephen's Church in Terre Haute and she survives.
Wendell and Eleanor went to Washington, D. C. where Wendell had accepted a rotating internship at Washington D. C. General Hospital. He joined the U.S. Naval Reserves in 1954, so he had to fulfill his commitment to serve at least two years on active duty. He spent this time as a proud medical officer lieutenant in Bainbridge, MD. His experience in Washington, D.C. and the US Navy medical corps made him an exceptionally good diagnostician, specializing in infectious diseases, allergies and asthma, and pulmonary problems. He followed that with time spent at the IU Riley Children Hospital in Indianapolis.
The Arnett Clinic of Lafayette invited him to join as a pediatrician in July 1963. He always felt grateful for their trust and belief in his medical skills. As his practice grew, he soon began to identify several areas where better health care could make a positive impact on the quality of life in Lafayette. Dr. Riggs worked with other physicians to create a rotating ""call system"" to make certain a doctor was available for pediatric emergency calls 24 hours a day. He volunteered to provide free school physicals to young people who couldn't afford it at the South Side Community Center. He also started a ""homeless outreach"" effort in coordination with nurses from the Health Dept. to visit homeless shelters and jail inmates and provide much needed medical care as well as safeguard the greater interest in public health.
In the early 1960's, he volunteered to serve as a medical officer and consultant to the Wabash Center for the developmentally handicapped, where he established a still-existing protocol for medical screening and evaluation. In 1971 he became the medical consultant and school physician to the Tippecanoe School Corporation, which had him working with school nurses and visiting every TSC school and student in Tippecanoe County for 17 years. In 1975 he was elected President of the Tippecanoe County Health Dept. In April of 1984 he originated Tippecanoe County's first Women, Infants & Children (WIC) program to provide healthy food and nutrition counseling for those without financial resources during pregnancy and up to five years after a child's birth. And at different times, Dr. Riggs was Chief of Pediatrics at both Home & St. Elizabeth Hospitals and served as Vice-President of Arnett Clinic. He and fellow pediatrician Dr. Glen Cartwright were instrumental in creating a neonatal intensive care unit for high-risk infants at Home Hospital – the only neonatal ICU between Chicago and Indianapolis. The Tippecanoe County infant mortality rate soon became among the lowest in the State.
In 1985 Dr. Riggs became the Tippecanoe County Health Officer. This provided him a position as a public official to address even larger health care issues in our community. He worked with IN State Sen. Mike Gery and IN State Rep. Sheila Klinker to merge 3 health departments in our county into one cohesive County Health Department, saving thousands of dollars yearly and streamlining the delivery of necessary public health services in our community. Shortly, Tippecanoe Co. reported the highest percentage of immunized children in the entire state. He also organized efforts to inspect restaurants, and swimming pools in addition to managing other Health Department functions.
Dr. Riggs had tremendous vision in being able to see what our community needed, and then being willing to do what was necessary to fulfill the need. The best example is his idea that Lafayette needed to provide necessary medical care to those least able or simply unable to afford it. He strongly believed a healthy community benefits everyone. This vision was realized with the creation of what is now called the Riggs Community Health Center (Riggs CHC).
In 1984, with a grant from the state of Indiana, plans were made to start a low income clinic near St. Elizabeth Hospital. In 1988, after years of effort, it opened with two part time nurses, five volunteer OB/GYN physicians, one clerical worker and Dr. Riggs as the volunteer Medical Director. On May 21, 2009, the clinic was renamed Riggs CHC in honor of Dr. Riggs. From this modest start, Riggs CHC is a federally qualified health center and not only a leading provider of health care services in our community, it is also a part of the Indiana Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIPS) and a model program for other communities throughout the nation. Riggs CHC now has three locations and serves over 12,000 patients yearly, most of them single mothers and children, or under-employed or unemployed local residents. Dr. Riggs believed all people were entitled to quality health care, and all patients should be treated with dignity and respect.
Dr. Riggs was also active and served the greater Lafayette community in many other ways. He served on the Board of United Way, North Central Health Services, and Community Foundation of Greater Lafayette. He was also a 50 year member of First Baptist Church, where he was on the governing Board of Deacons, a member of the choir, and a part-time substitute Sunday school teacher. On November 11, 2006, Dr. Riggs was awarded the 2006 Certificate of Advocacy for American Baptists in the USA, the highest honor given to a lay person in the national Baptist congregation.
Dr. Riggs other activities and awards are: Eagle Scout, member of the American Academy of Pediatrics; American Medical Association; the Journal & Courier ""George Award"" in 1994 for creation of Riggs CHC; a Rotary Four Star Award in 1996 for community service; the March of Dimes Award for development of the Neonatal Unit at Home Hospital; a life member of the Indiana University Alumni Association, the John Purdue Club, and Kiwanis; the ""Marquis de Lafayette"" for outstanding local leadership; the Tony & Mari Hulman Health Achievement Award in Indiana for 1999; the ""Unsung Hero Award"" in 2003 for selfless actions to improve the quality of life for the people of Indiana; and from the Governor of the State of Indiana, Dr. Riggs received two separate ""Sagamore of the Wabash"" awards, the highest honor given to an individual in the State of Indiana.
Dr. Riggs loved his job. Occasionally, he even made house calls. He believed, as the saying goes, ""I shall pass through this world but once; if therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do, let me do it now, for I shall not pass this way again."" He also wanted to pay a special tribute upon his passing to all the nurses he worked with over the years.
Dr. Riggs is survived by his wife, Eleanor, three sons, Steven, David Cox and Andrew Cromwell Riggs. He had only one sister, and she survives, Marian Stamper Ullrich of Zionsville, IN. Also surviving are eleven grandchildren, Maria, Amber, Melanie, Emilie, Daniel, Anna, Andrew ""Drew"", Robbie, Sam, Isabella, and Jack Wendell Riggs.
The family will receive friends from 4-7 p.m. Monday, December 23, 2013 at First Baptist Church, 411 N. 7th Street and one hour prior to the 10 a.m. Tuesday, December 24 service in First Baptist Church with Pastor Ryan Donoho officiating. Burial to follow at Spring Vale Cemetery. The family suggests memorial contributions be made to the Riggs Community Health Center or First Baptist Church.
Hippensteel Funeral Home entrusted with care. Share memories and condolences online at www.hippensteelfuneralservice.com
Published in the Journal & Courier from Dec. 20 to Dec. 23, 2013