Revved up for retirement: Dr. Keith Towne has plenty of projects to fill his now-free hours
WORTHINGTON -- It was the fall of 1974, and Keith Towne was prepared to sign a contract to practice medicine in Red Wing. But a trip to visit his grandmothers -- and interview in Worthington to justify the trip to southwest Minnesota -- changed h...
WORTHINGTON -- It was the fall of 1974, and Keith Towne was prepared to sign a contract to practice medicine in Red Wing. But a trip to visit his grandmothers -- and interview in Worthington to justify the trip to southwest Minnesota -- changed his mind.
"Both my grandmothers lived in Garvin, and I wanted to visit, but I was dirt poor at the time, and it was a way for somebody else to pay for the trip," he said of his initial visit. "They wanted an internist at Worthington Clinic, so I decided at the last minute to come down here."
Towne recalls being pleasantly surprised at what he found in the small city of 10,000 people and greatly impressed by the people he met.
"I was surprised that there was a multi-specialty clinic in a town of 10,000," he remembered. "Most small-town facilities are family-practice based, and if you're an internist you're always on call."
Flying via commuter service into the local airport, Towne was met by Charlie Fitch, then a physician at the clinic, and the hospital's administrator at the time, Woodrow Glad. He felt immediately welcomed by the two men.
"The rest of the group here at the clinic was the same way," Towne reflected. "Everyone I met at the clinic was a charmer."
On a return visit, Towne brought along his wife, Linda, and the couple was again given a warm reception by everyone in Worthington's medical community.
Now, more than 30 years have passed, and Towne retired last week from active practice at Avera Worthington Specialty Clinics. He recently took some time to reflect on his medical career.
Born in the southwest Minnesota community of Tyler, Towne's father was career Air Force, so his family moved a lot when he was a child. Because he didn't want to attend a large university and his father's uncle was an alumnus, he selected Macalester College in St. Paul for his undergraduate studies.
"In the beginning, I thought veterinary medicine was more to my calling," he explained about his course of study. "But there were a couple of things that bothered me, and one of those things was the euthanasia part of it. ... I didn't want to spend the rest of my life putting puppies and kittens to sleep. Since I had all my pre-med requirements in, I decided I might as well go to medical school."
When the time came for medical school, Towne opted to head east.
"My dad was then stationed at an Air Force Base in Virginia, so I could apply to the University of Virginia as a state resident," he explained about his medical school choice. "I was also given a scholarship, and that scholarship made life a whole lot simpler."
During a freshman mixer at Macalester, Towne met wife-to-be Linda. He left her behind to attend medical school and dated off and on in Virginia, but finally came to the realization that he'd left a "good thing" behind in Minnesota. They were married in 1967.
"I did a one-year internship out there, but about that time the Vietnam War was breathing down my neck," Towne recalled. "I got a letter saying I either needed to join a branch of the service or be drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam. I didn't want to go over there and be cannon fodder, so I joined the Air Force."
After fulfilling his military duty, Towne completed his residency at the University of Minnesota. Because he knew he wanted to practice in a smaller community, Towne chose not to pursue a fellowship and instead stayed an extra year as chief resident at the university. During that extra time, he expanded his training in cardiology and gastroenterology, areas of focus that were appreciated during his years in practice. Later, Towne was board certified in geriatrics, feeling there was a "huge need for people who enjoyed and feel comfortable taking care of the elderly."
Throughout his career, Towne said he tried to get to know his patients, gaining insight into their personalities as well as their ailments, in order to offer the best care possible.
"Once upon a time, a physician spent most of his time taking care of patients, but for the last few years, it feels like I spent more time fighting with insurance companies or government agencies," he said. "You get buried in paperwork, and I have less and less time to just sit and jaw with the patients.
"There are not very many physicians who can say they've never had a lawsuit in their medical career, but I never did," he continued. "I attribute that to being able to form a relationship with my patients. Every physician is going to make a mistake. We're not God."
Since his family had agricultural roots, Towne felt a special kinship with his farmer-patients. Up until a few years ago, he still had patients who would regularly bring him eggs and frozen chickens during an office visit.
"I always ended up talking to the farmers a little bit more than anyone else," he said. "I've probably got more tractors than some of them do, and I do my own mechanical work. It's kind of funny how when they're used to seeing you in the shirt and tie and white coat in the office, those patients will walk right by you if they see you in the store wearing dungarees covered in grease. By the same token, if a farmer sees you all greased up, there's a bit of camaraderie there."
With a family history in the area and those agricultural ties, Towne felt like he was somehow called to practice in southwest Minnesota.
"There were four of five generations of my family in this part of the country," he said. "My great-great-grandfather was a sheriff in Nobles County and was involved in chasing the James gang after they robbed the bank in Northfield."
He and Linda raised two children -- Brian and Jennifer -- in Worthington and now have three grandchildren to dote upon. Those grandchildren certainly play a role in Towne's retirement plans, but he has many other interests to fill his now-free time, too. Towne has always been curious about the way things work, leading to that aforementioned interest in puttering with engines, and he also worked in construction during his college years. When the Townes built their house on Lake Ocheda in rural Worthington, they had the structure framed in and he completed most of the other work himself.
"I have a huge woodworking shop in the basement where I build cabinets and furniture," he said of one of his hobbies. "All these people have lists of furniture they want me to make. I've always been interested in energy conservation, so when we roughed in the house in '78, I added things that would conserve energy. Now I've put up a windmill to generate energy, and it sometimes will make the electrical meter go backward. I dabble in a lot of things."
At their house, Towne also created a Japanese garden with a pond for koi fish and maintains habitat for wildlife. This winter, he's been hauling corn to help out a flock of pheasants in the neighborhood.
"I maintain a bluebird trail to try and get bluebirds to come back to the area," he added. "I build martin houses to keep the mosquito population down."
There's a possibility that Towne may fill in on a locum tenen basis for his fellow Worthington physicians, but even without that prospect, he doesn't anticipate being bored in his retirement. There will be plenty of projects to keep him busy.
"Retirement is not going to be a trial for me," he concluded.