Dr. Dohner Will See You

There was an envelope of cash in Dr. Russell Dohner’s office.

The cash was in a drawer, which was in a desk, which was in a red brick building in Rushville, Illinois. Population 3,200. A lot of them had been delivered by Dr. Dohner.

From 1955 to 2013, Dr. Dohner’s one-man family practice was in that red brick building on Congress Street across from Moreland & Devitt’s Pharmacy.

His office was open seven days a week, had wood-paneled walls and rotary phones, patient records on index cards. His fee was $5. And it had been since the 1970s, when it was $2.

There were no appointments with Dr. Dohner. You just came on in his front door. You might have to wait an hour; most of Rushville went to him. But if it was a medical emergency, you’d go in the back door.

And if you couldn’t get to the doctor’s door, the doctor came to yours, wearing a tie (never loose) and his trademark fedora.

Dr. Dohner grew up on a farm about 20 miles up the road from Rushville. He had seizures as a kid.

“I remember waking up and seeing the doctor there and thinking, ‘THAT is what I want to do,'” Dr. Dohner told a reporter.

Which he did. He delivered over 3,500 babies. Many of whom took their babies, then their babies’ babies to him for check-ups and busted knees and high fevers. Nightly closing time for Moreland & Devitt’s Pharmacy was whenever Dr. Dohner called them to say his last patient of the day was coming over.

He had no children. His wife had left him; small-town life wasn’t for her. He loved trees, donated over 10,000 to his small town. And fishing, which he did on the occasional Thursday afternoon.

Dr. Dohner never got rich; he had to support his practice with income from his family’s farm. Which was okay. He didn’t go into medicine to make a lot of money. He went into it, he said, to care for people.

Even people who couldn’t pay $5. Which is what that envelope of cash was for. Filled by office staff, maybe some patients, to cover costs for those who couldn’t cover the cost.

Dr. Dohner closed his doors – front and back – when he was 88. Died when he was 90.

And he lived most of those 90 years in that small town. Which was made bigger by his time in it.

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