Dr. David W. Wright, 90, of Decorah, Iowa, died on Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at Winneshiek Medical Center in Decorah. Funeral services were held at 2:00 p.m. Wednesday, September 18 at First United Methodist Church in Decorah.
David Williams Wright was born January 31, 1923, in Uhrichsville, Ohio, to Margaret Mae Williams Wright and Laucin O. Wright. He earned his B.A. degree from Ohio State University in 1944 and his medical degree at the same school’s college of medicine in 1947. He took his internship at St. Luke’s Hospital in Denver, 1947-1948, and had a general practice in Benkelman, Nebraska, from 1948 to 1952. Dr. Wright became a Lieutenant (S.G.) in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1943 to 1954, and was recalled to the U.S. Navy in 1952, spending over a year in the states and one year in the Pacific aboard the U.S.S. Mansfield as medical officer for the Destroyer Division No. 91. With this service, he took part in the largest cruiser-destroyer training exercises in the Pacific after World War II.
He was united in marriage to Peggy Lee Kindell of Greenville, Ohio, on December 28, 1945, at the Congregational Christian Church in Versailles, Ohio. When about to be discharged from the navy in May 1954, Dr. Wright met Dr. Philip Bernatz of Decorah at the navy hospital in San Diego. When Dr. Wright expressed his desire to open a practice in a town west of the Mississippi, preferably an agricultural community, he was invited to Decorah by Dr. Bernatz. In August 1954, Dr. Wright established his first office in Decorah at 104 ½ Washington Street, in premises previously occupied by Dr. Boe, retired Decorah dentist. By 1956, he had been named “Top Young Man in Decorah” by the Decorah Jaycees. The article announcing this honor lists his contributions as county health officer, secretary of the Decorah hospital staff, secretary of the Winneshiek County medical society, vice-president of the county TB Society, member of the Polio Foundation, Masonic Lodge, Elks, Methodist Church, Crippled Children’s Society, American Legion, U.S. Naval reserve, member of AMA, Iowa State Medical Society, and American Association of General Practitioners.
With the opening of his Decorah practice, Dr. Wright established the foundation of what was to become Decorah Medical Associates. Before his retirement in 1990, he had taken six other doctors into practice with him, a group that later became a part of the Mayo Health Systems at Winneshiek Medical Center in Decorah. Among Dr. Wright’s most important contributions was his leadership role as county health officer in the 1955 community polio vaccine program. The first Salk inoculations were given to first and second-grade pupils at Calmar Public School in May 1955. Serving as chairman of the Winneshiek County Board of Health for 18 years, Dr. Wright was instrumental in helping found Decorah’s first physical therapy center at the Smith Memorial Hospital. In a guest editorial in the Decorah Newspapers, he wrote, “Each of us can well feel proud (and lucky) to be living in a community that has provided these specialized services when and where they are needed. This is another way in which Decorah and Winneshiek County lead the way over and above surrounding counties and communities.”
In 1971, Dr. and Mrs. Wright volunteered for service through an effort established by the three Lutheran synods to place doctors around the world. Together, the Wrights spent 2 months in Africa, in the small tribal village of Zor-Zor in Liberia. They took the reigns of a 100-bed hospital, replacing a doctor from St. Paul who was forced to return home due to illness. At this medical outpost, treating an average of 200 patients per day was common for Dr. Wright; in a 12-hour day, an average of 8 to 12 babies were born. Later commenting to the Decorah paper, he said, “An orphan in that country is really an orphan. One nurse here started a home for orphans that saved over 500 lives.” Dr. Wright was named a diplomate (sic) of the American Board of Family Practice in 1974. Through nearly 40 years, he delivered hundreds, perhaps thousands, of babies over three generations in the Decorah area. For many years, he served as the treasurer of the board of directors of Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum. His service there began in 1967 when the museum first became an independent organization. He gathered and banked the museum’s proceeds from the first Nordic Fest.
In 1997, Dr. Wright was among the 36 Iowa physicians accorded life membership in the Iowa Medical Society. In 2000, he was honored for 45 years of membership in the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Dr. Wright is survived by his wife, Peggy Wright, Decorah; his daughter, Ellen E. Wright, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; his son, David W. Wright, Jr., and daughter-in-law, Jeanne Leyen Wright, Decorah; and his grandson, David W. Wright, III, Staten Island, New York.
Memorials may be given to the Winneshiek Medical Center for the use of its physical therapy department, the W.M.C. Hospice, or to a charity of choice.