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News & Press: History of the Osteopathic Profession

John Bauers, DO - History of the Osteopathic Profession

Tuesday, February 4, 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: John Stiger, DO
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John Bauers, DO

After WW II, a large number of refugees/displaced persons (DP’s) from Europe who had to leave their homes came to the United States to seek employment and a new life. Many of these people were highly educated and skilled in specialties that were in short supply in the US. Some became osteopathic physicians and the profession benefited greatly from their presence. One such immigrant was Dr. John Bauers and this is his story as related by his daughters Dana and Liz, son John, family friend and Lynn, nephew Ivars, and the use of audio recordings of his mother Elizabeth, sister Liga, and Aunt Erna.

John was born in Ranka, Latvia in 1925 to Ernest Bauers, minister of agriculture (1923 thru 1924) for Latvia, and his mother Elizabete Brants Bauers, a schoolteacher and homemaker. On November 18, 1918, Ernest Bauers was a member of the Latvian Parliament, which proclaimed the independence of Latvia on that day. John’s father passed away at the age of 44 from endocarditis when John was only a year old. 

John’s birth name was Janis (pronounced "Ya-niss”). John and his older sister Liga were raised by their mother on an 87 acre farm, devoted to raising fruits, vegetables and a few farm animals for their personal consumption. Much of the farm was rented to others who raised wheat and rye. The family homestead was named "Kalnietis”, which means people who live on the mountain. The Kalnietis property included some forestland where John, his sister and mother picked mushrooms and berries, and also the Gauja River where John swam and fished as a boy.

 John’s paternal grandfather, Pavels Bauers, had purchased this land from German Baron’s in 1872, making periodic payments in gold Russian Rubles, which was the preferred currency in that era.   Pavels Bauers raised flax, rye, and wheat, which he sold to make payments on his 250-acre farm, which also included the Kalnietis farm where John grew up.

John’s maternal grandfather Georgs Brants also owned a farm and winery about 40 miles to the North, and was known to make and sell excellent wine made from fruit and berries; something that would interest John later in life.

John’s early education was in the public school system at the elementary school in Reveli (near Ranka) walking distance from home, and continued even during the years of WW II. When Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union in June 1940, they came into John’s high school in Cesis, Latvia, and arrested a classmate who had apparently spoken out against the Russians. He was never seen again. 

A year later on June 14, 1941 Soviet soldiers rounded up 40,000 Latvians who were on a blacklist and sent them to Siberia by rail in cattle cars. John’s mother learned that they, along with other family members were on a second blacklist for deportation to Siberia, probably because her husband had been a government official. The second deportation to Siberia never occurred, because Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union, and the German army occupied Latvia on July 1, 1941, driving out the Soviet army. During these years of German occupation John and his family continued to live on their farm. His mother in later years recalled she had to hide their food in their forest when German soldiers came looking for food supplies for their army.   

In July 1944, the Soviet army re-entered Latvia and began to drive out the German army. In September 1944, the Germany army strongly recommended everyone leave their homes in the area were John, 19 years old at the time, and his family lived. The only option to leaving was hiding somewhere (forest) until the German army left. John’s mother decided that the family and their housekeeper, Ieva, should leave for their own safety, and packed their horse drawn wagon with sacks of flour, food, clothing other supplies and began the long journey (200 miles) to the port of Liepaja in Southern Latvia. Not wanting to leave the few cows and sheep behind, they took them along.

Thinking they would surely be returning home in a few weeks, they buried some of their more valuable belongings. On their way they stopped in Riga, where Elizabeth’s mother Matilda (74 years old), her three sisters, and her sister Erna’s small children (4 and 2 years old) and husband joined them. Elizabeth’s brother Juris, who was a manager at in the Latvian State Alcohol Factory, gave her a number of bottles of alcohol similar to Everclear for the journey. Elizabeth said these bottles of alcohol would prove to be very valuable during their journey because they could use them like money.

According to Elizabeth, the roads were full of people evacuating the country along with the German army. Germany needed farm workers and other laborers as most of their young men were in the army, and they hoped the people evacuating Latvia and the other Baltic States would help fill this need. About 150,000 Latvians were evacuated to Germany in this way.

John’s mother recalls that they walked during the day and rested through the night to stay ahead of the Soviet army. They slept under the stars and in abandoned homes, and when they had a chance, baked bread along the way. Sometimes they were turned away by farmers who wouldn’t let them sleep in their barn. When they woke up in the morning they could often hear the sound of battle, often in the direction they had to travel. At one point the German army transported them for a ways in exchange for some bottles of the alcohol Elizabeth’s brother had given to her.

Fortunately they were able to reach the Latvian seaport city of Liepaja after about a month on the road.  They spent about three days in Liepaja before being able to board a ship that would take them to the port of Danzig (now Gdansk), Poland. The Soviet Air Force often dropped bombs in an attempt to stop these ships full of refugees. When they reached Danzig, Poland, they boarded a train for the 380-mile journey to the city of Gorlitz just a few miles inside East Germany. Trains such as this were in the cross hairs of the Soviet Air force, but fortunately their train wasn’t bombed. 

In an area known as Niederschlesien, in the vicinity of Gorlitz , they found jobs on a dairy farm with the help of the local burgermeister (Mayor). The women helped make butter, cream, and cheese.  Elizabeth recalled John at the time had poor health (TB), which he had contracted from an Uncle.   Despite his poor health, John had to work very hard, digging a well when it was very cold and carrying containers of coal for heating the dairy up a steep ladder.   

It wasn’t long before the Soviet Army was about to enter East Germany. The Soviet army was rapidly approaching, and the Bauers’ family was once again given notice by German government officials that they needed to flee for their safety. Not knowing what to do, they turned to the local Burgermeister (Mayor), who found a farmer that took them to the train station in Gorlitz. At the train station they found a supervisor who was willing to let them stay in his place until there was a train available bound for Bavaria in Southern Germany. They were awakened during the night two days later, and told they could board a train first thing in the morning for Bavaria.

In Bavaria a local farmer gave them refuge and they worked there until the American Army entered at the end of the war in May 1945. An American tank with a few soldiers rolled onto the farm and a couple of warning shots were fired into the air. The farmer’s wife had hung white bed sheets out the windows prior to the Army’s arrival to indicate they were not a threat. When the American soldiers spotted John they immediately thought he was a German soldier because of his age. They took him into temporary custody and put him on their tank, but the family succeeded in convincing the soldiers John was a Latvian displaced person, and not a German soldier.

The American army set up various displaced person’s (DP) camps in Bavaria, and the first DP camp were the family stayed was in former German Army housing somewhere not far from the farm where they had been working. From there they were fortunate enough to stay in a resort located in Streitberg for several months along with other DP’s. Eventually they ended up in a displaced persons camp in the city of Erlangen, which is located north of Nuremberg in the American Zone in Germany. While residing in the DP camp John was able to enroll in University and embarked on science studies. 

John had been living with TB for some time, and he needed treatment in a hospital.  Eventually he had to have a portion of his lung removed before he was pronounced fit to emigrate. In preparation for John’s surgery, his mother had obtained a small supply of penicillin from relatives in Sweden, but this wasn’t enough to treat John after surgery. His mother then sought help from the American Army, and obtained additional penicillin for John to avoid infection and survive the surgery. It was during his stay in the hospital John decided he wanted to be a doctor.

The American officials asked the family and other Latvian DP’s if they wanted to return to Latvia, not knowing the danger and risk of deportation to Siberia that awaited anyone who returned to the Soviet occupied country.  Latvian DP’s eventually ended up in various parts of the world, but the Bauers knew they wanted to live in America. Later family members and other immigrants found American sponsors and left the camp for the new world. The Bauers had to delay their departure to allow treatment of John’s TB and receive a clean bill of health so he could enter America.

Finally, in June 1950 John and his mother were able to come to America. They entered the country in New Orleans, and with the sponsorship of both a local family and the First English Lutheran Church in St. Joseph, Missouri they settled there. Elizabeth immediately began working as a housekeeper and cook for the family that sponsored them at a starting salary of $ 15/week. 

John lived for a while on a farm not far from St. Joseph where his sister Liga and brother in law were working. The farm was owned by the family that employed his mother. The small farmhouse where John lived had no electricity or running water, and was heated with a wood stove. His first job was cooking hamburgers in a small diner. Later he worked as a radiology technician at the hospital in St. Joseph.

From the outset it must have been evident that this very bright young man was capable of far more than a career as an x-ray tech and he was urged by the chief of radiology to go into medicine. He followed up, applying for medical school, and was accepted in 1954 into the Kansas City College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kansas City, Missouri. He arrived in the US fluent in German, Russian, Latvian and English; although he said English was by far the more difficult of languages he learned.  Throughout his life however he had an accent that intrigued the ladies in particular!

In 1955 John met a young lady from Topeka named Sally Jo Giffen on a blind date. According to the story, Sally was told that John was a Latvian prince and that convinced her that he was worthy of consideration. They were married in 1956 and Sally continued to work as a dance instructor and John supplemented with part time work as a short order cook; he was known to make a mean fried brain sandwich! While at Kansas City the young couple had their first child John Edward.

After graduation in 1958, they applied for and were accepted for a rotating internship at the Portland Osteopathic Hospital in Portland, Oregon. They were both enamored with Portland with its beautiful mountains, trees, rivers etc. A far cry from the flat Kansas countryside and very similar to what John had left behind in Latvia. During the year that John served his internship, the hospital was relocated to a new site and renamed Eastmoreland General Hospital. Sally was expecting their second child, Dana Christine at the time and John used to bring the steaks he was paid to take overnight call at the hospital home to his expectant wife.

After careful consideration, John decided to locate his practice in Oak Grove, Oregon, a small suburb of Portland. He and a dentist, Elton Storment DMD, decided to join forces and build a clinic building that is still there to this day. He equipped the clinic with the latest technology including a sophisticated x-ray room that allowed him to take routine films and even fluoroscopy.  

From the outset the practice was a great success. John’s charismatic, caring personality and meticulous attention to detail allowed him to develop a following of loyal patients that stayed with him throughout his career. In addition to his practice, he performed free physicals for young athletes, was the team physician of the Milwaukie High School football team and other sports, and volunteered his time at the Outside In Clinic in Portland. He was a loyal supporter of Eastmoreland Hospital and when it came time to increase the bed capacity of the hospital to 100 contributed $5,000 to the building campaign. In the mornings he would go to the hospital to attend patients admitted to his service and at noon make rounds in nursing homes and in the evening he would make house calls. It was not unusual for him to meet patients at all hours in his office or weekends to attend to their emergencies. It was during these early years that daughter Elizabeth Lee was born.

In addition to his demanding practice he also was an active member of the Elks Club and MAC (Multnomah Athletic Club) and Eastside Racquet Club where he beat his junior partner in racquetball on a regular basis. John always made time for his family, whether it was playing soccer or volleyball in the neighborhood, teaching them to plant and grow a garden, playing chess, backgammon or other games, traveling on vacation, or conversing around the dinner table. 

According to his daughter, outside his practice and family, her dad loved the out of doors and enjoyed hunting, fishing, water skiing, travel and horticulture. His son recalls many instances hunting or fishing with his dad when it was unbearably cold. He also recalled his dad hunting or fishing, coming home covered with mud/guts, and going out to a fancy restaurant or party in the evening. 

At the family residence, he would propagate plants such as rhododendrons, grow a huge garden and later developed an interest that would last for the rest of his life, viniculture. To better inform himself he attended viniculture courses at the University of California Davis Campus. After those classes and classes at the Bert Harris school of wine tasting he began the search for a location where he could raise his own grapes. 

He found an ideal location in Dundee, Oregon and there he planted a 25-acre vineyard of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, and some Cabernet and Merlot grapes. Perhaps he may have also liked the Dundee area because it may have reminded him of the area he grew up in Latvia. At the time the wine industry in Oregon was just getting started and to promote the industry, John helped to found the Oregon Chapter of the Knights of the Vine, he was the first grand commander. Later, after his death, grapes grown in this vineyard won an international prize for excellence.

He was involved in medical politics as the president of the Oregon Osteopathic Association and later was one of the two representatives on the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners serving an eight years term one of which was a chairman. He also served in several capacities including chief of staff at Eastmoreland Hospital.

According to his daughter, her father felt that his greatest achievement was to be chairman of the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners. His greatest disappointment was the gradual loss of individual control that the medical profession as a whole was experiencing. To those who were his patients and friends, his loyalty, sense of humor and intelligence were his greatest attributes. He was passionate about life and showed great appreciation for life’s simple pleasures.

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