Elmwood area mourns loss of Dr. Frank Springer
Dr. Frank Springer spent much of his life taking care of the people in Elmwood and his presence will be greatly missed by family, friends and former patients who all cared deeply for a man that showed an entire town his compassion and love. He died after a short illness Dec. 22. He was 94.
Being a doctor was a calling for Dr. Frank (as he was commonly known) and a profession he thought would make his mom proud.
"He always told me that his mother held doctors in high regard," said his granddaughter Vera Jennie Springer Keith. "And it was because of this admiration that prompted him to be a doctor. But he just had a natural inclination for it, too. It suited his talents."
Dr. Frank had not planned to spend his career in his hometown of Elmwood, but some say practicing in his hometown was the plan for Frank all along.
According to his obituary, Dr. Frank attended medical school at the University of WI-Madison. He served as a medical doctor for the Navy during WWII in China and the West Pacific.
"For him landing back at his hometown to become a doctor was sort of by fate," said his youngest daughter, Jennifer Springer-Weber.
Springer-Weber said her dad had stopped at Dr. A.L. Breed's office one day to visit, but Dr. Breed was sick and asked her dad to fill in. So he filled in and saw the lobbyful of patients that day.
"And that was the beginning of the rest of his life," Springer-Weber said. "Dr. Breed never returned. Dad had told me often that 'that was his destiny.'"
While his early ambitions were not to practice medicine in his hometown, he found it to be exactly where he wanted to be.
"His first ambition was to become a neurosurgeon, but it didn't take him long to realize that he just couldn't do it," said his second daughter, Mary Springer. "Trauma to the brain rarely has a good outcome and dad needed to have happy endings. He needed to see people get better and was lucky enough to spend his entire life watching them do just that."
Many people credit Frank's success as a doctor to his true compassion and love for people. To Frank being a doctor wasn't just his profession, but his life.
"It's difficult to choose one quality that made Frank the amazing doctor he was, but foremost would be his love of people," said Steve Brown, who first worked with Frank in 1975 at the old Memorial Hospital in Menomonie. "I don't know anyone who took more pleasure in simply talking to people. Because of this, he got to know his patients intimately, which is half of knowing how to treat them."
Reece Fullerton, one of Frank's granddaughters, said what made her grandpa a great doctor was "the true compassion and caring nature he had for each and every one of his patients."
Mary Springer said she worked with her dad at his office from 1970 until her dad retired in 2001. During this time she said she watched her dad's dedication for his patients shine.
"Dad would have people come in far more often than they needed to, simply because he wanted to watch them heal, to see them get better or in some cases, get worse," Mary Springer said. "This is how he learned and it was never an inconvenience (at least to him anyway) that he worked 10-hour days with no breaks, going on house calls at all hours of the night, having someone knock on our front door at 3 a.m. with a sick child. This was just how it was done."
House calls were a common part of Dr. Frank's practice. This also provided some good memories for his family.
"[One of my memories] was when I was 13 he used to come to me on a cold winter blustery night and asked me if I wanted to go bucking snow drifts to see a patient on top of the hill," Springer-Weber said. "I can still feel our vehicle going through those snow drifts."
Whether he was seeing patients in the office or at their house, Frank always took the time to find out what was wrong. And when he couldn't figure out what was wrong with a patient, he continually tried to find out.
"I remember him [telling] me of one of his older female patients who had been in bed for two years and could not walk," said eldest daughter, Sue Keith. "He was always in the back of his mind trying to figure out what she had and what he could do."
While he couldn't figure out what was wrong, he continued with his practice and constantly looked for a possible cure. Keith said while her dad was at a conference at Mayo Clinic he heard about a new medicine. He decided right then that the medicine could help his patient so he got a sample of it and left the conference early. He administered the drug to his patient who was able to get up the next morning and resume working.
While he was known throughout Elmwood for his caring and compassion as a doctor, his family and friends will miss how he always had time for them. Even when he was busy with work, Dr. Frank took time for his family and friends.
"My favorite memory of dad is him joining me and my husband Curt on our back deck with a glass of wine, wonderful conversations, and then his favorite meal—hamburgers, Old Dutch potato chips, pickles and a glass of milk," Springer-Weber said. "And with those visits we would learn a new story every time."
Spending time with his children and grandchildren was something Frank enjoyed and led to many good memories.
"[My favorite memory of him was] our night-time rides around the countryside of Elmwood where we'd catch up on life, be quizzed on whatever subject it may be, look for UFO's and enjoy the sounds of the night," said Fullerton.
Having similar interests with his grandchildren created some great memories with Frank's family. Kristy Stewart, one of Frank's granddaughters, shared her grandpa's love of classical music.
"My favorite memory of Grandpa would be sitting in front him countless times playing Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A Major," Stewart said. "I loved to make my grandpa happy and my ultimate life goal growing up was simply to make him proud of me. Perhaps that is why this is my favorite memory. It was something special he and I shared."
Frank's love of Elmwood helped him serve the community he loved so much. According to his obituary,"He became a well-renowned doctor for delivering babies, making house calls in blizzards, treating 50 or more patients a day, getting paid with pies, bags of tomatoes and kittens or foals."
"His impact on our small community of Elmwood was probably one of the greatest impacts in that little town," said Springer-Weber. "He made people feel comfortable, welcomed, most of all a part of his family. There was never a time that someone did not leave his office feeling better than when they went in. His reassurance and laughter was one of his best prescriptions."
Making people feel better came naturally to Frank because he loved his community. He practiced medicine for 67 years.
"Grandpa valued the people he loved most in his life," said Stewart. "It was that simple. If he loved you, he would do anything for you. He loved his family, but also every friend and every patient he took care of."
While Frank didn't want to practice anywhere else, some admit he could have been destined for a career at a bigger hospital.
"The fact that he was not only content, but loved living and practicing in the little town of Elmwood, where he was born, was what made him a great man," Brown said. "He probably could have been on the staff of just about any prestigious hospital in the country, if he'd chosen to do so."
But Frank was happy to be in Elmwood.
"He loved Elmwood," said Springer Keith. "According to his stories, small town life was never boring. There were adventures everywhere. He would tell stories about the train coming through Spring Valley, of the first cars and taking the car up to the Cities, of the tornado that came up main street, of life's eccentricities, they could be found everywhere, for this was the UFO capital of Wisconsin."
A celebration of life was held Friday, Dec. 29 at Welcome Home Assisted Living in Elmwood.
Another celebration of Frank's life will be held Jan. 21 at 3 p.m. at First Unitarian Society Meeting House at 900 University Bay Drive in Madison.