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'A Working Man's Doctor'

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Dr. Robert Fryzek Retires After Serving Community For 54 Years

By Joe Foreman, Editor

He enjoyed science and biology classes in junior high and high school, but as a child Robert Fryzek never envisioned a life devoted to practicing medicine.

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“When I was in the eighth grade, they had us write down what we wanted to be. I wanted to be a conductor on a train,” the 83-year-old and soon-to-be retired Glenwood physician recalled during a recent interview. “I was in the Boy Scouts for one year in the ninth grade. I only got one merit badge and that was for safety and health, so it must have been in the back of my mind.”

Dr. Fryzek grew up in South Omaha, in the shadows of what was known then as Riverview Park Zoo. He was a talented gymnast (competing on the trampoline) and graduated from Central High School in 1952. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Creighton University, he was accepted to medical school at both Creighton and the University of Nebraska.

“The tuition was $500 at Nebraska and $1,000 at Creighton, so I went to Nebraska,” Fryzek said.

Dr. Fryzek was awarded his medical degree in 1960, just a few days before marrying the love of his life – Barbara Jean Soe, a nurse from Council Bluffs.

Shortly after their marriage, the newlyweds moved to Wichita, Kan., where Dr. Fryzek did a one-year internship at Wesley Hospital while Barbara worked as a surgical nurse at another hospital. While in Wichita, Dr. Fryzek was drafted for military service.

“I thought I would just be doing physicals in the service and I wanted to do something more fruitful for my education,” he recalled. “I talked to a friend and he said I should apply with the Public Health Service, so I took a test in Kansas City and apparently passed it.”

The Public Health Service assigned Dr. Fryzek  to the Western Shoshone Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Owee, Nev., on the Idaho border. The closest town with groceries or supplies, Elko, Nev., was more than 100 miles away.

“It was really an eventful experience,” Dr. Fryzek said, noting that Barbara traveled to Elko about once a month with other colleagues to purchase food and supplies. “She had to get groceries for us, the dentist, the other doctor on the reservation and the hospital, so they took the ambulance because it  was the largest vehicle available.”

At the time Dr. Fryzek was working on the reservation, many of the 2,000 residents were reluctant to see him for treatment of their illnesses. Instead, they would first pay a visit to their local Medicine Man. If the Medicine Man couldn’t make them feel better, they’d come see Dr. Fryzek as a last resort.

He served on the reservation for two years, but as his commitment was almost up, he began looking for an opportunity to return home to the Omaha-Council Bluffs area where he and Barbara were hoping to raise a family. They had two young sons at the time – Robert Jr. and Jon.

“Barbara missed Brandeis (department store) and her momma,” Dr. Fryzek said with a smile. “In the back of the AMA Journal, they had ads for different places doctors were wanted. Dr. (Charles) Stinard had been here about five years and put an ad in for a doctor to come to Glenwood. In the winter of 1963, we drove to Glenwood, met with Dr. Stinard and looked around. I had only been in Glenwood twice before. I came once as a child for a picnic at the park. We were impressed with the community and decided I would take the job.”

Dr. Fryzek began practicing family medicine in Glenwood in August 1963. He practiced with Dr. Stinard for a few years before buying out the practice for himself and has served the Glenwood community ever since. His first office was located adjacent to Glenwood State Bank. He later relocated next to Mintle’s Furniture Store  before eventually settling in at his current location at 14 N. Walnut St. on the west side of the square.

Once the Fryzeks came to Glenwood, there was never any thought of going somewhere else.

“I didn’t really think about it. Barbara’s relatives were all in Council Bluffs and mine in Omaha. I had a good practice and we love the town,” Dr. Fryzek said.

Over the years, Dr. Fryzek has earned the trust and loyalty of his patients – working seven days a week on a regular basis. He offered weekend office hours – Saturday and Sunday - and spent time treating patients at local nursing homes on his afternoons off. He served as the county medical examiner for many years and volunteered his time as the team doctor for the Glenwood High School football team. It wasn’t unusual for Dr. Fryzek to meet a patient at his office or in their home to treat an injury or deliver a baby in the middle of the night.

“If anybody had an emergency, I told them to come in,” he said. “I hated to have to see somebody go to the emergency room and run up a big bill just to get a shot or a dressing change.”

Dr. Fryzek recalls being summoned from a New Year’s Eve party one year to go deliver a baby at his office.

“George Peterson, the funeral director, was at the party, too, and he was also the ambulance service, so he came with me,” Dr. Fryzek said laughing. “While we were delivering the baby, George was up front with a cigar and nervously pacing back and forth like an expectant father. We delivered the baby and then George took it up to the hospital.”

Dr. Fryzek recalls another time when he showed up at a home to deliver a baby and was greeted at the house by the fire chief.

“Willard Stivers had an apron on and gloves up to his elbow in case I didn’t show up,” he said.  “The baby was close to coming when I got there and just popped out. I really didn’t do much.

“They brought the baby in the office the next morning and Martha Fasnacht came back and said they wanted to know how much they owe. I said, ‘$10,’ so they paid the $10 and as they went out through the waiting room, the guy said ‘Now, there’s a working man’s doctor.’ That was worth a thousand dollars in advertising.”

Dr. Fryzek’s commitment to his patients never stopped, even when he was on “vacation.” Only once in the past 54 years has he taken more than a 5- or 6-day mini vacation. And when he was out of town, he checked in with his office staff regularly.

“I always felt I had to be here in Glenwood in case something happened to somebody,” he said.
Many of Dr. Fryzek’s longtime patients have remained loyal, even after moving away from Glenwood. One of his patients was coming in for check-ups from Los Angeles and Dr. Fryzek told him he appreciated his loyalty, but recommended the man try to find a doctor in California.

Dr. Fryzek’s been the doctor for six generations of some Glenwoood families.
In their marriage, Dr. Fryzek and Barbara have been blessed with five children and nine grandchildren. Their oldest son, Robert Jr., died at the age of 37 from cancer.

Jon and his wife Nancy live in Gaitherburg, Md. They have two children, Madeleine and Sam. Jon is an epidemiologist and is the co-owner of EpidStat, an epidemiological consulting firm.

Todd and his wife Denise live in Edina, Minn.  They have three children, Kaitlyn, Anita and Nathan.  Todd is an environmental engineer/geologist and works for Wenck Associated, a consulting firm.  

Jana and her husband Mike Roy live in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. They have two children, Claire and Nick.  Jana is an oncology nurse.

Matt and his wife Michelle live in Omaha, Neb. and have two children, Christopher and Katelyn.  Matt is an Internist in private practice in Council Bluffs.

Dr. Fryzek will officially begin his retirement on Jan. 1. His office will remain open for a few months to allow patients to retrieve their medical records and for staff to tie up some loose ends.

Dr. Fryzek and Barbara have been actively involved in many organizations and activities during their 54 years in Glenwood and will continue to give back to their community in some capacity after his retirement. They’ll also find more time to spend with their family.

There is no doubt that Dr. Fryzek’s retirement will leave a void in the Glenwood community, but it will also leave a void in the heart of a one-of-a-kind doctor who for more than five decades, went above and beyond for his patients and his community.

“I’m sure I’ll miss it,” Dr. Fryzek said. “I more or less got to the point where I thought of my patients as my family. I always tried to do the best I could for everybody.”