Dr. Darold A. Treffert
Fond du Lac - Leaving this world a much better place simply by being himself, Darold A. Treffert found rest in the arms of God on December 14, 2020. If ever there was a good and faithful servant, it was he. Darold was born March 12, 1933 to the late Walter and Emma "Mary" (Leu) Treffert at St. Agnes Hospital in Fond du Lac- it was there he died at the age of 87.
Knowing he wanted to be a physician from early on, he followed his dear father's advice to "get that piece of paper"- thus began a journey that would have global impact and touch countless lives.
At Bethany Lutheran College, Darold met the woman who has truly been the wind beneath his wings - the lovely Dorothy M. Sorgatz. They were married on June 11, 1955 in Faribault, MN.
Darold graduated from the University of Wisconsin Medical School in 1958, interned in Eugene, Oregon, and completed a residency in Psychiatry at University Hospitals in Madison, Wisconsin. In 1962, he developed the child-adolescent unit at Winnebago Mental Health Institute and in 1964 was named superintendent. It was there he met his first savants, sparking an unquenchable curiosity that would last over 50 years. Dr. Treffert often noted that while medical science could explain many things, there was so much yet to be explored about the human brain and its potential. And until we could understand the savant, we couldn't truly understand ourselves. In 1979, he began dividing his time between the private practice of Psychiatry and a position as executive director of the Fond du Lac County Health Care Center. He was also medical director of the Alcoholism Rehabilitation Unit of St. Agnes Hospital. In 1991, he retired from those positions but continued to write, conduct research, and offer guidance and encouragement to countless families around the globe.
Dr. Treffert served as president of the State Medical Society of Wisconsin in 1979-80 and chairman of the Board of Directors from 1981-87. The Wisconsin Medical Society Board of Directors recognized his contributions by awarding him with its highest honor - the 2019 Director's Award. He also served as president of the Wisconsin Psychiatric Association and the American Association of Psychiatric Administrators. He was a member of the Controlled Substances Board of Wisconsin from 1970 to 1982, and reappointed to that Board by the Governor in 2004. He was a member of the Wisconsin Medical Examining Board from 1995 to 2003 and served as chairman in 2002.
Dr. Treffert spoke and wrote extensively on several mental health topics and advocated tirelessly for the rights of the mentally ill. He became an internationally-known researcher in the areas of savant syndrome, autism, and hyperlexia, and was a consultant to the movie Rain Man. He made many television appearances, participated in documentaries, and published numerous articles. His first book, Extraordinary People: Understanding Savant Syndrome has been translated into a dozen languages. This was followed by Islands of Genius: The Bountiful Mind of the Autistic, Acquired and Sudden Savant, which summarizes his years of interest and research.
Dr. Treffert leaves behind a wonderful legacy through Agnesian HealthCare's Treffert Center, established in 2016, which invites individuals, families and communities globally to explore the potential of the human mind, focusing on strengths rather than limitations. He firmly believed in finding and nurturing the "islands of intactness" in everyone. He wanted the Treffert Center to be a place of "happiness and hope" - and in such a short time it has become a dream realized, exactly where he wanted it to be - in his hometown. In 2019, the Treffert Approach was further expanded to public education through the Treffert Way for the Exceptional Mind, a partnership with the Treffert Center and the North Fond du Lac School District.
Dr. Treffert was a kind, humble, gentle soul who saw and nurtured the best in those who had the honor of meeting him. A man of unwavering principle, to know him was truly to love him. He was brilliant and wise beyond measure, yet incredibly caring, down-to-earth and approachable. He was a mentor to people of all ages, and would give equally and generously of his time to both elementary school science projects and complex research studies - his interest was genuine, his enthusiasm often life-changing. He took particular pride in inspiring a generation of "fresh, new explorers" in the area of neuroscience. He spent hours each day at his home office, writing to parents who reached out to him for answers - and ultimately for hope. He kept in touch with many of these families for years, following the individual journeys of children as they grew into young adults. He understood the importance of supportive families and caregivers, noting frequently that "love is a good therapist, too."
But above all, Darold was a family man - a thoroughly devoted husband, the best father to his children, and a fun-loving grandfather and great-grandfather. It was a complete privilege to call him husband, Dad, or Grandpa D. In his last years, he could slow down and do what he loved the most - spending precious time with his beloved Dorothy. He loved to walk his land and point out the beauty of the waterfall, especially right after it rained. Though he was known around the world, he never wanted to travel very far from his home in the Holyland. His warm, welcoming presence filled every room, and it was a comfort to hear his voice - especially his laughter. He was always there for his family. He was always home for dinner. He always listened, always encouraged, always loved. And that, to quote him, was "as good as it gets."
Darold is survived by his devoted wife and best friend, Dorothy; four children, Jon (Kathleen) Treffert; Joni (Rodney) Stine; Jill Treffert and Jay (Cecilia) Treffert; seven grandchildren, Lorna Treffert, Hilary (Jared) Keahey, Greg Stine, Trevor (Kelsey) Stine, Evan Kosik, Kirsten and Mikaela Kosik and two great-grandchildren, Floyd and Audie Keahey. He is further survived by two sisters, Phyllis (Warner) Sell and Gail (Al) Brown and one brother, John (Patricia) Treffert.
He was preceded in death by his parents.
Private family services have been held. A Celebration of Life will be held at a later date.
Memorials may be directed to the Treffert Center in Fond du Lac.
Online condolences may be shared at www.zacherlfuneralhome.com
Published by Fond du Lac Reporter from Dec. 18 to Dec. 20, 2020.