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McCook mayor, Dr. Frederick M. Karrer

Monday, September 20, 2010

Dr. F.M. Karrer
During a medical career in Southwest Nebraska that spanned more than 50 years, Dr. Frederick M. Karrer of McCook witnessed vast changes in the practice of medicine. When he started his practice, in 1929, most of his work consisted of house calls, even surgery -- sometimes as far as 35 miles from his office. Doctors in those days did the best they could, with what they had. There were no X-rays, no penicillin, and few immunizations. Anesthesiology was still a new science, though drip ether had replaced chloroform as an anesthetic. What the doctor carried in his little black bag was aspirin, digitalis, morphine, and an assortment of bandages and tape -- little else.

Much of Dr. Karrer's early practice was obstetrics, since most babies were delivered at home. In his years of practice Karrer delivered some 1,300 babies. Usually, the first time he knew that a woman was pregnant was when he was called to deliver her baby -- and most of those calls came in the middle of the night. Physicians were forced to be self-reliant. In troublesome deliveries there was no one to call -- the nearest obstetric specialist was 300 miles away.

In the 1930s, before the age of penicillin, pneumonia was a particularly dangerous disease, as were the contagious diseases like measles, mumps, and whooping cough, which have been nearly eradicated through the immunization process. Dr. Karrer did not remember ever losing a patient to scarlet fever, but it did happen frequently in those days.

Dr. Karrer really began his medical practice in Palisade in 1929, as a senior medical student, when he came to help out Palisade's lone doctor, an ailing Dr. Fellers, for just a short time. After several months he returned to the University of Nebraska Medical School in Omaha to finish his degree.

Had it not been for the stock market crash of 1929, Dr. Karrer's career might have taken a decidedly different turn. After the crash, positions for new doctors in the city were not good. People had no money and very often doctors were unpaid. When Dr. Fellers offered him a chance to return to Palisade to begin his career it seemed like a very good idea. Rural people were more apt to pay their doctor, even though sometimes those payments might be in the form of eggs or chickens or fresh vegetables.

During World War II, since he was the only doctor serving Hayes County, Karrer was exempted from the draft and spent the war years serving his patients in Hitchcock and Hayes County. He was very busy in those years, with little relief, and at war's end he was exhausted. When Dr. Shank, who was forming a new clinic in McCook, approached him about joining his group, Dr. Karrer accepted, and with Shank and Dr. James, the three formed the new McCook Clinic, which began at a location on East C. St. A year or so later Dr. Batty and others joined that group.

When we came to McCook in 1957 Dr. James was referred to as "The Baby Doctor." Dr. Karrer handled most of the surgery, with Dr. Batty supplying the anesthesia, as well as the X-rays. On one occasion, Dr. Batty recalls that he and Karrer were called to Cambridge to perform a surgery with Cambridge's Dr. Minnick at the old, downtown Cambridge Hospital. It was a new procedure, one that called for placing a metal rod in a femur. To place the rod properly Dr. Karrer needed a surgical hammer, which the hospital did not have. "Don't worry," said Dr. Minnick. "I'll just run across the street to my brother's hardware store (The Minnick Hardware Store) for a hammer, and will be back in just a minute." Indeed he was. The hardware hammer was duly sanitized and the operation went forward, quickly and successfully.

In later years Dr. Karrer's life took on a new dimension. In 1956 he was elected to the McCook City Council. In 1958 he became mayor of the city, a position he held until 1965. During his tenure on the council a good many changes took place. It was a period of rapid expansion of the city, during the oil boom years. The popular RV Roadside Park, at the eastern edge of the city is named in his honor. Dr. Karrer also was instrumental in bringing the Electric Hose and Rubber Manufacturing Plant to McCook.

Dr. Karrer was known as a strong-willed individual, with quite a violent temper, which showed itself occasionally in his medical practice, and more often in his political career.

Dr. Karrer's political career ended abruptly in 1965 when he resigned his position as mayor and member of the McCook City Council, after a clash with government officials, over directives to the city that Karrer thought were high-handed and entirely unnecessary.

In retirement, in 1979, Dr. Karrer reflected on a long medical career, his own and that of his family. His father, Frederick William Karrer had been a member of the first class to graduate from the University of Nebraska Medical College at Omaha, in 1904. He practiced for 44 years at Benedict, Nebraska. Two of Karrer's brothers became doctors. Dr. Karrer's son, Dr. F. W. Karrer, was an Omaha Surgeon. His grandson, Frederick Merrill (Fritz) Karrer had graduated from the U. of N. Medical School in 1979. A display at the U of N Medical school paid tribute to the "Karrer Family's Four Generations and over 210 years of Service in Nebraska."

Dr. Karrer had been a boy of 13 during the 1918 flu epidemic and had many times driven the car on house calls to the country, so that his father could rest a bit between calls. He remembered that his father would go into a home where everyone was sick and take care of them, even sometimes fixing them a meal. At an early age, he saw the good connected with the practice of medicine and he saw as well the drawbacks. His father had never once urged that he should follow in his footsteps. "But I never wanted to do anything else. I've often thought what I would have done without medicine. I don't know. I just don't know. There is a great satisfaction in taking care of people, of helping people."

Dr. F. M. Karrer, 1905-1990, is buried in McCook's Memorial Cemetery


McCook Gazette Centennial Edition, 1882-1982. Conversations with Dr. John Batty

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Walt Sehnert
Days Gone By