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February 04, 2015
SMALL TOWN LIFE
Rewards of a job well done
Dr. Merle Keithan gives family heirloom carving to Jim Erickson
|Jim Erickson shows the hand painted Norwegian memorial given to Keithan’s mother. Submitted photo.|
|Carolyn Van Loh photo|
WESTBROOK, Minnesota (STPNS) -- Jim Erickson, retired well driller, enjoys showing off his treasures and telling a related story or two about them. Dr. Mearl Keithahn hired Erickson in 1974 to drill the well for her new house north of Storden. That well job led to a lasting friendship and Erickson's newest treasure.
Residents in Westbrook, Tracy, Tyler, Balaton, Lamberton, Storden and Jeffers will remember Dr. Keithain who specialized in obstetrics and gynecology but worked as a general practitioner in southwestern Minnesota for many years. She arrived in the area to practice medicine in the Ambulatory Care Center of Lamberton in 1973.
Mearl's medical career began in India. Her mother, Dr. Mildred McKie, was a missionary/medical doctor, and her father, Dr. Ralph Keithahn, who worked his way through college, seminary and Yale divinity school, spent most of his adult life in India.
“Daddy was a missionary in India 1925 - 1930,” wrote Mearl to Erickson. “The English Collector insisted that the mission send Dad back to the U.S., as he had an Englishman, active in India's freedom movement, as a guest in his home.”
Ralph married Mildred McKie upon his return to the U.S., and in 1935 they took two-year-old daughter Mearl and one-year-old son Richard with them to India. A second daughter, Ruth, was born in India.
“Mom and Dad were active in the Indian Freedom Movement,” wrote Dr. Mearl. “Mom, on Gandhi's advice, worked on Indian food and nutrition-a well-balanced, cheap diet including ragi and kambu that poor people could afford.”
The tense situation with WWII resulted in the family being deported from India in 1944 because the normal-woven clothing Dr. Ralph wore symbolized rebellion. They were able to return to their adopted land in 1947 after the country received its independence from British rule.
Mearl grew up in India and finished high school at a missionary school. She studied the Hindi language for a year before attending college two years in Madras. She graduated from a Christian medical school in 1958 after six years of study in Vellore; an internship followed at Mysoe State Hospital. She returned to the U.S. with her mother in 1958 and completed her internship in Cleveland, Ohio. After getting her obstetrics residency in Chicago, Mearl spent three more years of residency at Women's Hospital in Philadelphia to receive her gynecology training.
By 1964, Dr. Mearl was ready to return to India where she worked at Presbyterian Mission Hospital near the Kashmir border of northern India. She was delivering babies while Pakistan and China were dropping bombs on North India. She returned to the U.S. in 1970, arriving in Minnesota a year later.
After working two years in the obstetrics-gynecology department of a pre-paid health organization in St. Paul and having to battle the hustle and bustle of city traffic, Dr. Mearl was ready for a change. The opportunity to practice in Lamberton provided a fringe benefit—she met her husband of fifteen years, Lewis Highby.
Remembering Lewis' health battles, she recalled, “I was glad to be able to care for Lewis with Dr. Cassel's able assistance. Lewis' family were with him when I went to work in the afternoon.”
Recalling her years of medical service in southwestern Minnesota, Dr. Mearl recently wrote, “The people of the area have been so kind to me. It was a privilege serving the area. Never counted the babies-maybe 500-1000.” In 1978 she delivered Tracy's first baby of the year on January 10 to Mr. & Mrs. David Sogge (Balaton). On January 14, she delivered Mr. & Mrs. Bruce Horkey's (Jeffers) baby at Westbrook's Hospital. Then in March, she delivered Jackson Hospital's “first baby.”
Dr. Mearl recently moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to live with her sister Ruth, a retired pediatrician. As she was sorting, throwing and packing to move, Mearl gave Erickson a special gift. The accompanying photo shows him holding the hand painted Norwegian memorial she had made honoring her deceased mother. A young man in Wisconsin carved the wood, and Elvira Bisbee painted it. Dr. Mearl gave Erickson the piece because she knew of his fondness for anything Norwegian.
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