If any man truly loved his chosen profession, it was “Dr. Bob” Heavenrich—and his patients and their parents loved him for it.
He was born in 1913, as the second son of one of Saginaw’s great retail families (see Max Heavenrich). His mother, Minna, established the Visiting Nurse Association and helped to found the Saginaw Society for Crippled Children. She was an unstinting worker for the Children’s Home, the Red Cross and the Children’s Ward of St. Mary’s Hospital. She often took young Bob along on her visits and he learned about hospital routines and got to know the doctors. His interest in medicine and especially pediatrics appeared early. His most important models were Dr. Martha Longstreet and Dr. Rockwell Kempton, early pediatric specialists.
After attending Hoyt School and Central Junior High School, Bob studied at Andover, Massachusetts. He was graduated from Yale University in 1936 and received his M.D. degree from Columbia Presbyterian. He interned at New York’s famous Mt. Sinai Hospital from 1940-42 where he worked under Dr. Bela Schick, originator of the Schick Test to determine immunity to diphtheria.
From 1942 to 1946, he was a flight surgeon with the U. S. Army Air Force, and was discharged with the rank of major. He won the Soldier’s Medal for the heroism he displayed when an ammunition ship exploded in the port of Bari, Italy.
In 1946, he married the former Emily Schweitzer, a charming and capable woman with a soft Tennessee accent. She supported and encouraged him in his work and was highly regarded as the perfect doctor’s wife. They had three children: Robert, James and Polly. When the children were grown “Emmy” went back to school and became a social worker.
Bob came back to Saginaw and opened his practice in pediatrics in 1949. His colleagues regarded him as a superior physician who had a reputation for treating each of his thousands of patients with sensitivity, gentleness, caring and humor. He was never too busy to answer questions and friends remember that at most gatherings, he would find himself surrounded by young mothers, eager to talk about their children. It was a rare evening when he didn’t get several phone calls and he was often called to the hospital.
“He was very caring. He would do anything for the benefit of children.” said Dr. Donald Passals, director of pediatrics for Saginaw Cooperative Hospitals. “His concern extended far beyond the physical health of the patient,” added Passals, who worked with Heavenrich from 1979 to his retirement.
Bob Heavenrich was chairman of the Child Welfare Commission of the Michigan State Medical Society, a member of the Michigan Youth Commission, and a member of the board of directors and president of the Westlund Child Guidance Clinic.
He saw the advent of much medical technology and vaccinations for ailments he used to treat including whooping cough, diphtheria, measles, mumps and polio but when asked about the most important treatment for childhood illness and disease, he would answer “Love ‘em—it’s the first and best medicine.”
Heavenrich served on the medical staffs of Saginaw General and St. Luke’s Hospitals (now Covenant) and St. Mary’s Hospital. He was a leader in founding Saginaw Community Hospitals, Inc. From 1956-67, he was in charge of pediatric residency and pediatric intern training at Saginaw General.
He served as a non-resident lecturer in the Maternal and Child Health Section in the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan from 1966 to 1968 and was a professor of pediatrics at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.
He was a member of the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Michigan State Medical Society, the Detroit Pediatric Society, the Northeastern Michigan Pediatrics Society, the American Public Health Association and was a member of the board of directors of the National Health Council.
For many years, he shared a practice with Drs. Rudolph Jarvi, William Mason and Eugene Rank.
In 1972, he was elected to the presidency of the prestigious American Academy of Pediatrics, a 13,500-member Pan American association of physicians certified in the care and treatment of infants, children and adolescents. He and Emmy especially enjoyed the international travel the position brought them and were especially interested in medical practices in China.
For all his scholarly attainments, his many friends knew him as a man with a marvelous sense of humor who loved practical jokes and puns—the more outrageous the better. When he was president of the Saginaw Rotary Club, his fellow members devoted most of one meeting to working him over with a barrage of quips and jokes. They presented him with a case of canned corn to symbolize his “corny puns” and decorated the tables with ears of corn. When he retired as Rotary president, he was ceremoniously handed a book titled “Accomplishments of the Past Year.” All its pages were blank.
“Dr. Bob” died in 1991. Among the many tributes and tears, he was lovingly remembered as “the ultimate children’s doctor.”
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