Our Dad passed away on 8/21/2019. He had been ill for several months, and he passed peacefully at home. Heidi got him up, helped him to his favorite chair with a cup of coffee, and he drifted quietly off to sleep. Dad was never too comfortable with drama, and it didn’t surprise anyone that he quietly slipped away at home.
Dad was born in Oakes, North Dakota in 1933, a community that still remembers his family since there is a Hockenberry Park on the edge of town. Sometime during his childhood, no one is really too sure when, the family moved to Valley City, North Dakota. There he attended High School where he was a track star, setting several North Dakota records in the hurdles and the 100 and 220 yard dashes. He also excelled at football, where his coach insisted he play wide receiver. He told us kids about his football years when we were young, and he said he always wanted to run the ball, not catch it. His coach told him he was too tall and lanky to be a running back, as he was almost 6 feet, and weighed just over 130 pounds. An interesting thing about Dad, though, and something that really doesn’t come as much of a surprise to those who knew and loved him, is that he falls somewhere between stubborn and incredibly stubborn. He studied the fullback’s plays, and waited. One game the fullback got injured, and Dad convinced the coach to put him in for a few plays. He ran for a touchdown on the first play, and was the starting fullback for the rest of High School.
During High School Dad, who had acquired the lifelong nickname “Huck,” was inseparable from his best friend, Jim Brainard. As High School progressed, he became inseparable as well from Jim’s little sister, our Mom, Janice Brainard. They started dating and never stopped. Dad Graduated 2 years ahead of Mom and went off to the Navy, where he was trained as an aircraft mechanic in Point Mugu, CA. They carried on a long distance relationship for 2 years, and, although none of us have ever read any of them, Mom told us Dad wrote the most beautiful letters that pulled at her heart strings. He actually hitch-hiked from the southern California coast to Eastern North Dakota and back any time he got a week off. He was never late getting back to the base, but he said it was pretty close a few times. Once he was on the last leg of his trip, he fell asleep in the passenger seat, and the gentleman who picked him up just kept driving to deliver this exhausted young sailor back to his base in time, driving 150 miles out of his way.
Mom and Dad were married just after Mom graduated from High School in July of 1953, the first year the Corvette was manufactured. They finished up with the Navy after another 2 years, then moved to Grand Forks, ND, where Dad went to college to get a degree in Chemistry. Jim and Cindy were born in these first few years, and after graduation, Mom and Dad moved to McVille, ND, where Dad was a high school Chemistry teacher. He realized he wanted to be a doctor, however, and applied to Med School at UND back in Grand Forks. When they were accepted, they moved back and Tim was born during his first year. After 2 years there, Dad transferred to Kansas University for the last 2 years, as UND was a 2 year program at the time. After graduation, they moved to Sioux Falls, SD where Dad did an internship at McKennon Hospital and Steven was born. Finally done with his formal education, our family moved to Oakes, ND where Dad joined Dr. Walt Craiche in private practice. After a few years, there was more of a need for a doctor in Britton, SD, and we moved there for the next 12 years where Heidi and Heather were born and Jim, Cindy, and Tim attended High School. While in Britton, Dad engaged in his only real hobbies. He was a private pilot, and owned 2 different airplanes. He flew any time he could, and took several trips as far away as the Virgin Islands. He loved to sail, and built a sailboat we kept at our lake cabin on Clear Lake, in northeastern South Dakota. He also loved to ski, and he and mom made many trips to Lake Tahoe and Vail. He never developed any other hobbies, such as woodworking, model airplanes, etc, as most were too time consuming and boring for someone pathologically unable to sit still.
In 1978, Mom and Dad celebrated their Silver Anniversary, and Dad surprised Mom with a new Silver Anniversary Corvette, since they were married the first year the Corvette was manufactured. A few years later, Dad was called emergently to the hospital, and since we lived 8 miles from Britton, it is possible he was exceeding the speed limit slightly in Mom’s Corvette as he rounded the first curve at the bottom of the hill below our house. He hit a skunk, lost control of the car, and went into the ditch, taking out 60 or 80 feet of barbed wire fence and posts. The car was still functional and he was OK, so he drove out of the ditch and to the hospital. He was busy all night, and in the morning when he came out to the car, he found it covered with gauze and bandages!
In 1979, Mom was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, and she felt she would do better in a dry, warm climate, prompting the move to Fallon in 1981, where Steven, Heidi, and Heather attended and graduated from school. Dad opened his clinic and was immediately welcomed by the community. He in private practice from 1981 until the early 2000’s, covering the Emergency Department, admitting patients to the hospital, running his private clinic, and delivering hundreds of babies. Dr. Galen Reimer came to Fallon in the early 80’s, and his Son, Tim, joined his practice in 1990. Dad was a wonderful mentor, both as a source of information and as an example of how a physician works and behaves for both of these young physicians. Dr. Reimer told me he feels blessed that he had Dad as a mentor, and I echo that sentiment. One specific example comes immediately to mind when I think of how valuable an older, more experienced physician is to have around. I once had a young child in the hospital with a respiratory infection. I couldn’t figure out why she was so ill. Dad walked into the building, stopped outside her room when he heard her cough, and came over to the nurses station and said “Who’s taking care of that baby with Pertussis?” Pertussis is Whooping Cough, and I had never actually heard the characteristic cough, since the vaccine is so effective and widespread. I said “That baby doesn’t have Pertussis…” He said “She has Pertussis, and you better get her on some Erythromycin or she’s going to be sick for weeks.” I found myself looking in my pediatrics manual for the dose of erythromycin for a baby. I had completely missed it, and he made the diagnosis in 10 seconds from outside the patient’s room! The nurses at the hospital who knew him well will tell you his best quality was that he was always available. He gave his home number to his OB patients, and he would always come to help when he was called, whether it was to take care of a newborn that wasn’t doing too well, or there was help needed in the Emergency Room, or an extra pair of hands was needed in the Operating Room, or if one of us just needed a second opinion. He never said “That’s not my patient,” or “I’m not on call.” He just responded and helped no matter what the situation.
In the early 2000’s, Dad started having some trouble keeping up with the fatigue and sleep deprivation that comes along with small town medicine. He felt tired all the time, and he thought he just couldn’t do it anymore. Instead of consulting a physician, he decided to retire. He didn’t improve. He went to talk to Dr. Reimer about it, and it turned out he had critical aortic stenosis, a heart valve problem that limits how much blood the heart can supply to the body. He underwent a valve replacement surgery, and felt great. After sitting around bored for a few months, he decided to return to work, but this time as an employee of Banner Churchill Community Hospital, which relieved him of the responsibilities of private practice such as running a clinic, having employees, buying malpractice, etc. He lasted a few years, but just couldn’t stand the way computers and electronic medical records were changing the practice of medicine. He retired for a second time in the mid 2000’s. He sat around bored at home, and drove Mom crazy. He had been used to Mom doing the shopping, housework, cooking, and basically all the tasks needing to be done to run a household while he was at work. Mom had always had everything done when he got home, and she spent the evenings sitting with him watching television, talking, and just generally paying attention to him. After he retired, he was bored. He told me once “Tim, if anyone ever asks you about retirement, tell them not to do it. If they insist, tell them to retire in the spring.” He retired in the fall and closed up his pool, shut off his sprinkler system, the leaves all fell off the trees, and the grass went dormant. He was bored stiff, having never really developed any hobbies beyond skiing, sailing, and flying, all of which he felt too old to do. One day, Mom was in the shower, and he went back to the bathroom and said “Are you going to be much longer? I’m all alone out here!” Mom said she knew right then and there, it was time for him to go back to work…. In fact, Linda, his youngest sister, told me that the Christmas after he retired she got a card from my Mom. It said “It’s your turn to have your brother.” He got a job with IHS, and worked at the clinic at Pyramid Lake to keep himself out of trouble at home, since they didn’t use electronic medical records. He finally retired for the third and last time in 2008.
We lost Mom in 2013, which broke Dad’s heart, although he handled it better than any of us would have predicted. Dad spent his time caring for his yard and house, and spending time with his kids and grandkids after that. Learning how to do laundry, run a vacuum, and cook for himself were difficult tasks for an old guy, but he was able to figure it out with a little help from his family. His health declined over the last several months, and he passed away peacefully as mentioned above, with an ever present cup of coffee at his side.
He was also preceded in death by his oldest daughter, Cindy Andrews of Blackfoot, Idaho. He is survived by his remaining 5 children and their spouses, Jim (Betty) Hockenberry of Jerome, Idaho; Tim (Janeen) Hockenberry of Reno, Nevada, Steven (Bill Todd) Hockenberry of Reno, Nevada; Heidi (Eric) Grimes of Fallon, Nevada; and Heather (Shelby) Hockenberry of Reno, Nevada. He also leaves behind his 3 siblings and their spouses, Pat (Hib) Hill of Montecello, MN, Linda (John) Greenaway of Gresham, OR, and Tom (Edie) Hockenberry of Mendota Heights, MN, as well as many nieces, nephews, grandchildren and great grandchildren. He will be missed by his family and friends as well as the many patients for whom he cared so deeply.
A celebration of life will be held at the Fallon Convention Center on September 17th, from 4 pm to 7pm. Coffee will be served, guests are asked to bring a dish to share since we really have no idea how many people to expect. In lieu of flowers, the family asks donations be made to the Hospital Auxiliary. Also, a dedicated email has been set up to email stories, short videos, anecdotes, photos, well wishes, etc. for inclusion in the running slide show ([email protected]). If Dr. Hockenberry has touched your life in some way over the last 50 years of medical practice, please let us hear from you.Read More