With the death of Dr. Charles (Chuck) Pelzl on Feb. 7, the Pine River community lost a piece of its own medical history that started in August 1956 with his arrival in Pine River, where his plans to practice medicine for a year or so - spanned 41 years.
Upon Pelzl's arrival, the clinic in Pine River was merely six years old, having been constructed in 1950. Pelzl had previously finished his residency at Sacramento General Hospital in California. At first, Pelzl had a partner, Dr. Dennis Lofstrom, who had interned alongside Pelzl in Duluth.
Loftstrom left the practice in 1958 for four years before leaving permanently shortly after, leaving Pelzl to practice medicine alone for several years. Pelzl spent years mentoring new medical students and providing them housing as they worked in Pine River. One such student remembers him well from his month of mentorship in 1986 and the years that followed working alongside Pelzl.
"I think it was a month up in Pine River as a resident during my last year of residency and to kind of get to know the community and see if I wanted to work there," said Dr. David Laposky, of the Cuyuna Regional Medical Center, Longville Clinic. "He let me stay in his house while he went to his cabin for the summer. That was my first introduction to Dr. Pelzl."
Pelzl was a very practical, but hands off instructor.
"He was kind of one of my teachers that month I was up there. They pretty much turned me loose with a long leash to kind of experience what it's like to be in a small town. He gave more freedom than maybe you would normally get in a residency in a bigger city. It was kind of a fun experience," Laposky said.
They got to know one another fairly well.
"When I first met him, he had kind of a solemn demeanor. He was very quiet and you kind of wondered about the guy. You didn't know what to expect. I started to see what I guess was a quiet dignity and how he was a commonsense, practical doctor and the kind of doctor I always kind of envisioned being."
— Dr. David Laposky.
"When I first met him, he had kind of a solemn demeanor," Laposky said. "He was very quiet and you kind of wondered about the guy. You didn't know what to expect. I started to see what I guess was a quiet dignity and how he was a commonsense, practical doctor and the kind of doctor I always kind of envisioned being."
Laposky still laughs about how that practicality would come out in note taking. For different procedures, for example, doctors are expected to keep long and detailed notes, even for simple visits, but Pelzl wouldn't always expound on a procedure if he didn't think it was necessary.
"A patient coming in had a wart and for the whole office visit all he wrote was, 'zapped a wart'." Laposky said.
Pelzl was known throughout Pine River as having been a very hands on, very personal doctor who for many years performed house calls and sped to reach his patients in need. His obituary recounts the rumor that he was given a special license for driving to medical emergencies after being caught speeding a number of times.
"He wasn't the most vocal of people, but when he talked, we listened. He was very wise."
— Dr. David Laposky.
Laposky commended Pelzl for being able to work on his own for many years, a challenge now, but likely even more so when specialization was less common and a small town doctor did everything.
"In the old days he used to do everything," Laposky said. "All the general surgery being done now by surgeons, he was doing it. And he was seeing patients in the clinic and he was delivering babies."
Laposky always admired Pelzl's deft, steady hands.
"He was a very skilled surgeon," Laposky said. "I used to assist in a few procedures in the clinic there. I noticed how good his hands were."
He also remembers Pelzl's personality.
"He had a good sense of humor, even though he was quiet," Laposky said. "He would have this little smile and I think he really enjoyed what he did. He wasn't the most vocal of people, but when he talked, we listened. He was very wise."
There are surely others whom Pelzl mentored who will miss him and remember him much the same.
"He gave me my first shot as a small town doc," Laposky said. "And I learned a lot from him. We're going to miss him."
Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Travis.