By Linny Mae Siems
I can remember my doctors at Children’s Hospital. Maybe because I was there for a long time. They were Dr. Long Tie, Dr. Bow Tie, Dr. Crew Cut, and Dr. Good Looking. I was often sick as a child. My parents brought me to different doctors and specialists over the years. None of them found any reason for my ongoing illness. When I was five years old, I was a patient at Children’s Hospital of Minneapolis. The doctors there removed my appendix and performed exploratory surgery on me. Again, nothing.
With growing concern, my parents took me to see Dr. Schimelpfenig. He asked them, “What is your home environment?” This is what they told him. My parents owned a bar in Cumberland, Wisconsin. They lived in one of the two-bedroom apartments above the bar. My mom and dad had their room, and my older sister had her room. My dad lost his mother in childbirth with his youngest sister. Never really knowing his mother, on the day of his father-in-law’s funeral, he said to his mother-in-law, “Sophie, you’ll always have a home with us.” He had never consulted my mom before offering this invitation. My grandmother sold her home and moved in with our family. My sister lost her bedroom at the age of three, my mother was grieving the loss of her father, living with her mother by default, and one month pregnant with me. After I was born, I shared my grandmother’s room, and her double bed when I was older.
My grandmother had been through a nervous breakdown, electric shock treatments, and was depressed. She had a habit of favoring one child in each family, and she chose me in our family. Like her husband, I had red hair, and this had a lot to do with her strong attachment to me. We were inseparable. Her friends were pretty much my only friends. I served them tea at pretend tea parties, and she would push me in my stroller all over town. She was my second mother, and I loved her fiercely.
I’m empathetic to the point that we would sit in our respective rocking chairs, put our hands over our lower abdomens, and rub them back and forth as we rocked and rocked. I took her medicine at the same time she did, although a smaller amount. It was yellow liquid, and I bet I could pick it out in a taste line-up to this day.
Dr. Schimelpfenig said one thing after he heard the story: “Get her out of that room. Don’t come back to see me until you do.” To my parents’ credit, they made changes. They redid the layout of the apartments, allowing us to have three bedrooms.
I do not remember Dr. Schimelpfenig, only hearing his name and the instructions he gave my parents. With COVID isolation and no work in over two years, I have been going through all the “piles” of paper that have collected over the years. I had saved an article in the Star Tribune from November 16, 2013, that mentioned a woman named Diane Schimelpfenig.
Finally, at age seventy-two, I saw his name in writing and knew how to spell it. Excited with my new find, I knew I needed to follow up on this lead—my only lead—and try to find my doctor. My search began June 16th. I called for Diane and learned from her daughter that they were not related to Dr. Schimelpfenig.
My Dad was from Chaska and my parents had lived in Shakopee before moving to Cumberland, so I started with Shakopee City Hall and Scott County Government Center. I needed a complete name and date of birth for these two places, and I had neither. Next, I tried Scott County Historical Society, where I could do a surname search if I came into their facility and did it myself, or they could do it for me and not charge if they found nothing. They would charge $15/hour for their search, which would be capped out at one hour before they contacted me to see if I wanted to pursue any further. It took two to three weeks to search requests. I agreed to their conditions; they sent his obituary, and an article about the hospitals and boards on which he served.
Trying my luck online, I typed in Schimelpfenig and came up with quite a few possibilities, the best of which was a woman named Krista Schimelpfenig. She was not related either, but knew of a park named after him in Chaska. When I googled Schimelpfenig Park, the first article written pointed me to a second article, which mentioned Chaska Historical Society. BINGO! Barb at the Historical Society knew of him, that he had practiced in Chaska, and that Tracy would know if there were any living relatives. Barb sent her a message.
Finally, I was given his information: George Theodore Schimelpfenig, born March 4, 1903, died March 13, 1990; daughter, Kathryn. I was given her mailing address in Chaska. Armed with her mailing address, I sent Kathryn a two-page, hand-written letter about how, after
seeing several doctors, her dad was the only one that actually helped me get well. I pulled out all the stops and told her the Chaska address of where my dad’s family had lived, my aunts’ names and their occupations, and the names of my cousins who might be more her age.
This time I waited less patiently for a reply, because I felt so close. After one month I called Barb again, and was given the phone number of the facility where the daughter lived. The staff there told me that Kathryn was in assisted living and was quite capable of responding to a letter or phone call, and would I like her direct phone number? I could barely believe my good fortune.
Kathryn was a delight! Though 91, she had a lovely, youthful laugh and was very upbeat. Shereceived my letter and was sorry she had not replied; she had meant to, and her life got carried away. She was in a wheelchair and not able to get out. Her son was in the background helping her with words. She would love to meet me! Please come out to Chaska so we can talk, she said. Her dad died over thirty years ago, and she couldn’t believe it. Life keeps going on, doesn’t it? And she thanked me.
We met on September 16, exactly three months after my search began. Her son David and my daughter Willie joined us. We were all together for two hours, the time flew by, and we covered a gamut of topics as if we had always been close friends. Kathryn’s family and my dad’s family lived across the alley and one house down from each other! One piece of the puzzle fell into place: how my parents found him in the first place.
My Aunt Helen was an excellent cook and baker, and she brought loaves of bread to Kathryn’s home. Kathryn remembered that my Aunt Louise taught at the Lutheran school and was an excellent seamstress. She knew my cousins; our families were close!
Dr. Schimelpfenig was chief of staff at Eitel Hospital in Minneapolis, had a practice in Chaska,
and was on staff at the hospital in Shakopee (Chaska didn’t have a hospital). Being a doctor
truly was his vocation and calling. He cared for patients into his eighties out of his house, and made house calls on New Year’s Eve. He was empathetic with patients. He had a dry sense of humor and was a vaudeville kind of guy. He went out of his way to get children to laugh when he worked in pediatrics, showing pictures of totally unrelated subjects or objects to distract the kids from what he was doing. Dr. Schimelpfenig loved a deal. One day he saw a four-foot stuffed dog on sale that he got for his grandson David who had stepped away. As Grandpa sat in a waiting area with the dog in the seat next to him, people gathered around. When David came back and saw the huge crowd around Grandpa, he thought something bad had happened. Turned out that all the people were Dr. Schimelpfenig’s patients! One man had his pants pulled down and was showing Grandpa the scar on his upper leg, “Do you remember this, Doc?”
My daughter and Kathryn’s grandson asked me why I had contacted her. My heart has been
needing to express deep gratitude to all those who cared for me and helped shape who I have become. Once I saw his name in print, everything in me focused on finding a living relative to whom I could offer my profound thanks. I can’t know what my path might have been if my parents had never gotten his counsel.
He was holistic in his approach to health and well-being, and he saw me at a very critical time in my life. His wisdom helped me to know what I know about energy and the transference of energy from spending so much time with my grandmother, and about the critical part environment played in family dynamics and medical practices.
With my daughter as witness and a part of this gathering, meeting his living relatives, crying and laughing with them, finding our less-than-six degrees of connection, taking pictures, and
honoring Dr. Shimelpfenig by thanking them in person, a huge weight was lifted from my heart. While I hugged Kathryn, her grandson David told my daughter Willie that Kathryn was in hospice. My hand-written letter to her was there in her living room, and he said how much it had meant to her to receive it at this time. There are no coincidences.
Note from Linny:
Much of the impetus for researching and writing this story comes from years of loss with my
husband, Bill E., and the accompanying, growing recognition of how grateful I am for his loving me and choosing to spend his life with me, and how much my life changed from that relationship. This doctor was another person that I wanted to recognize, acknowledge, and thank for helping to change my life.
Editor’s note: Linny Mae was just in time. Kathryn, Dr. Schimelpfenig’s daughter, passed away peacefully on January 15, 2023 at her residence. Perhaps she needed to hear just once more how much of a difference her family has meant to Chaska?