The Country Doctor: C. E. Lommen

by

Mark Lommen

The tasks of a country doctor in the Red River Valley duringthe first half of the twentieth century were very great. The doctor oftenhad to travel long dis-tances to aid people who were suffering from sometimesvery serious and sometimes very minor illnesses, he had to brave bad weatherand lack of help and many times all of his efforts were in vain, but hekept on working. Often the doctor was not paid at all, and sometimes hewas paid with the little livestock or produce the patient had to give, butmost of though time he didn't get near enough to pay for his services. Doctor C. E. Lommen was this type of doctor.

Clarence Edgar Lommen was born September 28, 1883, at Fisher'sLanding, which is located about nine miles west of Crookston, Minnesota. (During this time period, Fisher's Landing was the leading shipping pointof the northern valley) Clarence was one of eight children born to EdwinEdgar Lommen, Senator to the Minnesota State Legislature, who had homesteadedin that area.

Clarence attended school at Crookston for all twelve elementaryand secondary levels. He was very active in such activities as football,honor society, basketball, lettermen's club, and a few others. He was avery good writer and he often wrote short stories and articles. Usuallyhe wrote under a pen-name, Jerry Scribbler, which he did not reveal untiljust before his graduation when he wrote his class's prophecy. He graduatedfrom Crookston Academy an honor student and he accepted a scholarship toplay football at Hamline University in Minneapolis. The Crookston Academyfootball team during his senior year, was undefeated and unscored upon inevery game. They even won in a game against the University of North Dakotain Grand Forks. At Hamline, Clarence took up mechanical engineering, butafter one year he decided to transfer to the University of Minnesota andwork toward a medical degree. He worked very hard and diligently, thoughhe continued to make a name for himself as a football player, and he graduatedin 1909 with honors.

After graduation, Dr. Lommen served one year as internat Luther Hospital in St. Paul, where he assisted the well-known Dr. EdwardBookman. He then moved to Mayville, North Dakota, where his parents thenlived, and he practiced for two years under the late Dr. McIntyre. Whilehe was working in Mayville, he met Miss Koziah Johnson and in 1910 he marriedher and began to look for another job. On the first of January in 1912,Dr. Lommen, his wife, and their one son moved to Fordville, North Dakota,the place where, though he did not realize, he was to live for the restof his life.

Fordville was a railroad town with many "small farm"farmers. Most of the people near Fordville, were of Scandinavian descent,though there were some Polish and Czechs in the community. The land aroundFordville was generally good, but there were just too many farmers per acreof land.

Dr. Lommen had an area of about a 35 mile radius wherepeople came to see him. Besides Fordville People came from such towns asDahlon, Inkster, Adams, Lankin, Pisek and Orr (all North Dakota towns) forattention. Many times it was impossible for his patients to come to himso he often had to travel by carriage, sleigh, or whatever the occasioncalled for, many miles to deliver a baby, set a broken arm or leg, and sometimeseven perform a major operation. In 1917, the Fordville vicinity suffereda flu epidemic. The doctor was constantly on the move for several months,He not only gave aid for the illness, but sometimes he even had to do choresand other work for people who were real ill. Although he worked very hardduring this time, many lives were lost and many people got so far behindin their work that they never did catch up completely.

Dr. Lommen worked alone, for the most part, in his yearsof service to Ford-ville. But, he did have an aide during his last years.Mrs. Lillian Henry, who was a neighbor and good friend of the Lommens, workedwith The doctor for 19 years. Fordville had no hospital, so when someoneneeded aid where it was necessary that they stay in bed for a period oftime, they were usually brought to Mrs. Henry's home. Before this, theyhad to be taken 50 miles to Grand Forks and that trip was sometimes fatal.Mrs. Henry was most helpful in delivering babies. She helped Dr. Lommendeliver about 400 of the more than 1,600 that he delivered in Fordville. She was of great service to Dr. Lommen and the town of Fordville.

Being the only doctor in a large poor community such asFordville, caused many problems. Some of these problems, however, werecaused not by natural surroundings, but by the peoples attitudes. In Dr.Lommen's district there was a large settlement of Hutterites. Because oftheir religion, these people did not believe in doctors or any modern medicalmethods of that sort, One time, Dr. Lommen heard about a woman from thesettlement who was very seriously ill. He went to talk to her and afterexamining her, found that if she was not operated on im-mediately, she woulddie. Although he knew that the other people of the settle-ment would notagree, Dr. Lommen got her consent and he performed the operation. His operationwas successful and the girl lived, but this did not help in making theseHutterites to change their ways. Hard times were always abundant in thatarea during that particular time period, but the long cold winters werealways the worst times for everyone. Dr. Lommen had to have several teamsof horses station-ed at different farms and towns in his area so that hecould shuttle them while he went from place to place in his cutter.

The doctor had very little spare time, but what he didhave he usually spent reading or working in his flower garden. He read almosteverything and his library contained several hundred books. His flowergarden was so large that it covered much of his huge lawn and it was wellknown throughout the community. He was also an active outdoorsman. Wheneverhe could spare a Sunday afternoon he could be found swimming or fishingwith his wife, five sons and one daughter at the Fordville City Park. Heliked to hunt and camp too, though it was very hard to find time for thoseactivities.

Although his business work kept him very busy, Dr. Lommenwas active in civic affairs. G. K. Ness, the editor of The Tri-County Sun(the Fordville weekly newspaper) said this about the doctor: "Dr. Lommenwas a member of the Masons and Odd Fellow Lodges, Woodmans Camp and TheLutheran Church, He could always be found in the front ranks when civicwork was to be done." (1) During his residence in Fordville. Dr. Lommenwas active chairman for The Village Board for several years, treasurer ofthe Fordville School Board for 43 years, and secretary of the FordvilleVolunteer Fire Department for 42 years until his health began to fail himand he was unanimously voted as an honorary secretary. He was active inRed Cross work and for 40 years he was chairman for the local branch. Heserved as chairman of the commercial club and was a member of both the AmericanMedical Association and the Grand Forks Medical Society.

Importance wise, the greatest credit that Dr. Lommen everreceived was the Presidential Achievement Award in Medicine, which he receivedfor his work fight-ing against the flu epidemic in 1917. But, for him,the proudest and most en-lightening thing that could ever happen to a personoccurred in June of l948. The people of Fordville set up a surprise Dr.Lommen Appreciation Day. Everyone in the community worked and planned tomake the occasion one which the doctor would never forget. They invitedguest speakers, bands from two near by towns and anyone whom the doctorhad ever aided through The years. Most of the people could not afford togive many gifts throughout the years, and many had never been able to fullypay their bills for The services they had received. On This special day,a purse of $1,800 was presented to Dr. Lommen and his wife as they sat ashonored guests on a platform in the park surrounded by friends. At the endof the day, Dr. Lommen summed up his feelings and gratitude in the closeof his speech which he gave that afternoon:

"If anyone has any reason to feel proud--it is mywife, for if it had not been for her help and encouragement, there certainlywould not have been any Dr. Lommen Day. . To some it might be of interestif I told of some of the hardships of this country doctor, but they areno different than any. other country doctor. So, without more adieu, Iwant to thank you all for everything."

In l954, Dr. Lommen's health began to fail him. He becameso ill that he could only be at his office part of the time, though he stillencouraged people to come to his home where he could give what aid and advicehe was able to. Without him, the people of Fordville had to travel 40 or50 miles to the next nearest doctor.

Kate Louise Roberts, a noted poet and writer, once wrote:"By medicine life may be prolonged, yet death will seize the doctortoo." (3) On February 21, 1956, Dr. Lommen passed away at theage of 72. He had practiced medicine right up until his death. The peopleof Fordville were all very sad. They had not simply lost the only doctorthat they had or ever will have, they lost a great friend, leader and citizen.

 

(1) G. K. Ness, The Tri-County Sun, February 23, 1956,Fordville, North Dakota.

(2) Roberts, Kate Louise, Hoyts Encyclopedia of PracticalQuotations, (New York: Funk & Wagnals Company Inc., 1922).

(3) Lommen, Dr. C. E., Excerpt from speech written forDr. Lommen Appreciation Day, June 20, 1948
Company Inc., 1922).

(3) Lommen, Dr. C. E., Excerpt from speech written forDr. Lommen Appreciation Day, June 20, 1948