June 19, 2012
Dr. Harr retires after 38 years as a Bearcat
By David Boyce
A few years ago, Gentry Dietz was eager to resume playing college basketball after transferring from Southern Illinois. A knee injury put a quick halt to those plans.
Dietz met a doctor who provided more than a sterile analysis of an X-ray. Dr. Patrick Harr, Northwest Missouri State volunteer team physician since 1974, gave his patented personal touch in helping Dietz recover from a serious knee injury.
Dietz, now a graduate assistant women’s basketball coach, recalls that painful time in 2009.
“He moved his schedule around to get me in,” she said. “I got an MRI. He put his arm around me and said, ‘I’m sorry kid.’
“He doesn’t come in and says it is torn. He is not just a team doctor. He really cares.”
Spanning five different decades, Harr has worked with hundreds and hundreds of Northwest athletes. They are able to tell similar stories of how Harr went well beyond a diagnosis and treatment plan for an injury.
Harr took time to know the athlete, share in the joy of winning a game and lend a comforting ear after a loss.
Northwest athletic director Wren Baker saw a recent example of it from Jake Reinders, who completed his senior season in men’s basketball. It came in a letter.
“It said in his entire life that Pat was the only medical doctor he could call a friend,” Baker said. “I think that was the relationship our student-athletes and coaches had with Pat.”
Harr’s relationship with Northwest, Maryville High School, St. Francis Hospital and Health Science and the community of Maryville runs deep.
As a practicing family doctor, he has literally touched the lives of thousands of Maryville residents. He has delivered two generations of children. He has delivered babies who went on to play athletics at Northwest.
“I can stand on the sideline at the high school and see the old emergency room at the hospital,” Harr said. “I remember several times I would get a call and run over to the hospital and deliver a baby and then come back to the sideline. It was true family medicine in that aspect.
“I made a ton of deliveries. I did it long enough that I was delivering kids of kids I delivered. When these kids grow up and you are watching them play sports, it is like my own kids are out there. It is just a very special opportunity. Sometimes you do not always have that in a bigger community.”
Everybody should strive to become part of the fabric of your community. It means you contributed in some small way in making it better.
In that respect, Harr is a Hall of Fame doctor. He has made a few. Last week Harr was one of eight individuals who will be inducted in the Northwest M-Club Hall of Fame in the fall.
In 1995, Harr was inducted into the Missouri Athletic Trainers’ Association Sports Medicine Hall of Fame and in 2001 he was enshrined in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, which class included former Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil and Chiefs running back Marcus Allen.
“We had a little reception for the inductees and I thought what am I doing here,” Harr said. “I’m with people who are household names in the world of sports. It was a wonderful experience. It was nice to be recognized for what I thought was just having a lot of fun and diversion from a busy practice. It was an outlet for me. Sports medicine has really been an outlet.
“Rubbing shoulders with some of those superstars was just unreal.”
In all the things that truly matter, Harr is a superstar in the Maryville community. That is why it is hard to get to the real gist of this story.
On June 30th, Harr is retiring from St. Francis and concluding his 38 years of volunteering as team physician for Northwest and Maryville High School.
Harr is heading to Shell Knob, Mo., where he and his wife, Teri, built a home at Table Rock Lake.
“After we got our lake house finished and spent more time there, I started to realize I didn’t build the lake house to spend 20 days a year there,” Harr said. “I decided maybe I should retire when I still have pretty good health.
“Three years ago I had colon cancer and I survived a life threatening post-op complications and it kind of changes your perspective on things a little. I set my mind to not wait too long. I have worked with patients who said as soon as I retire I am going to do this and they never get to do it.
“Actually, I was just kind of getting tired. Maybe that was a signal to slow down. Being in this community this long, slowing down is impossible if I stay here. It is the nature of the beast.”
Obviously, Harr wrestled with this decision many nights. The Maryville community is dear to him.
It started when he arrived in 1944 when his father came to Northwest and became the chairman of the history department.
Harr spent his first two years of college in the early to mid-1960s at Northwest before transferring to the University of Missouri. His plan was to become a doctor and return to Maryville and practice medicine.
“When I was in medical school my last year, I came back here and spent a month with my family doctor. It opened my eyes to what rural practice was really going to be like,” Harr said.
“I went to Rochester, N.Y., to do my residency. I really designed my residency to prepare me to come back to a rural practice. We first got involved in some athletes in Rochester because we were school physicians for one of the high schools. Looking back it was mostly doing physicals. Occasionally, somebody would come in with an injury.”
Harr returned to Maryville July 5, 1974, to work at St. Francis. It didn’t take any arm-twisting to get him to volunteer his free time working with the college and high school.
“My getting involved was partly I wanted to make sure I had plenty to do and the high school and the university were looking for somebody to help them out,” Harr said. “It started with an innocent conversation and the rest is history.”
It is an incredible history. Harr is the embodiment of selfless work. He never looked for credit for his volunteer work. If you didn’t know him you would think he was only a loyal fan of the Bearcats and the Spoofhounds, who stood on the sidelines and cheered on the student-athlete.
The reason he gave so much of his free time is the basic element that makes a small, close-knit community strong and lasting.
“In a sense,” Harr said, “it is a payback to the community. The community educated me and supported me. When they asked I never gave it a second thought. There was never a time I thought I should stop doing this.”
Harr’s humble way of viewing why he gave so much of his free time to help student-athletes recover from injuries leaves a legacy that will live on as long as Maryville exists.
“When you talk to Pat he will defer credit to others,” Baker said. “That’s just Pat. It’s what he is about and what he does. He is just a giving person. He has dedicated his time. He has given money to Northwest. He was a huge contributor to the renovation of the athletic training room. He is just a special person.
“He’s one of a kind.”
Four current coaches at Northwest were once student-athletes at the school and see Harr from two perspectives. One of those coaches is men’s basketball coach Ben McCollum.
“The thing that stands out the most is his support outside of just being the team doctor and knowing about injuries and things of that nature,” McCollum said. “He really supports the athletic programs and is really engaged in their success and them doing well.
“For me, it didn’t matter if we were in the 10-16 year or this last season. He was at all of our home games and over half our away games. He always had the same positive attitude that we are going to do well and we have good kids. He treats our kids with a lot of respect.”
Dietz definitely relates to that part of Harr. Two seasons ago when the women’s basketball team made a run to the NCAA Division II semifinals, Harr treated the team to ice cream after regional games in Tahlequah, OK.
“He just cares,” Dietz said. “It’s not about being a doctor as a status. He genuinely cares about Northwest and the people here.
“Sometimes we would talk to him on the bus. It was always nice having him around and talking to him. He has been a great influence, a great person and a role model in this community for so many years.”
Nearly every coach and many of the student-athletes who have come through Northwest over the last 38 years are able to tell many stories of how a soft-spoken doctor provided just the right touch to make the hurt go away.
“He has done a tremendous job with our kids over the years. He’s one of our staff,” said defensive coordinator Rich Wright.
“He is a great ambassador for Northwest. He is such a part of our community. It shows his interest in athletics and his passion for Northwest and being a Bearcat.”
One thing that will make Harr’s retirement a little easier to handle is he plans to make most of the football games and basketball games. His new home is close enough for him to travel to Central Missouri, Missouri Southern, Pittsburg State and Northeastern Oklahoma.
In addition, Harr plans to work a couple of days a week at a rural health clinic.
“It has been such an integral part of my professional life,” Harr said. “My wife said you might retire and totally stop medicine but you will never stop taking care of the athletes and she is probably right.”
It is reassuring to Northwest coaches that when the games begin again in the fall, they know there is a good chance they will see Harr on the sidelines.
“That’s one of the first things he told me is he wanted to be here and help anytime he can,” Baker said. “That does make the transition a little easier, knowing that Pat will still be around and still have a friendship with him.”
So much has changed in the 38 years Harr has practiced medicine in Maryville. The community has grown from five physicians to 30.
Still, when Harr decided in November that he was going to retire and move, he had many sleepless nights worrying about his patients.
“I probably lost more sleep in the last six months about that issue,” he said. “I’d wake up at 2 a.m. in the morning thinking about somebody or some group of patients and two hours later I haven’t got it resolved.
“The fortunate thing is there is a good cadre of family physicians in the community that can shoulder that load.”
Before Harr could fully commit to retirement and moving away, he had to get the approval of one more person who is very close to him.
“My mom still lives in the community,” Harr said. “She will be 97 in November. I go there just about every day after work. We do crossword puzzles and talk. I asked her, ‘how is it going to be when I retire and I move to the lake?’
“She didn’t say anything for a while. I thought oh no, this is not going to be good.
“Finally, she looked at me the way a mother does and said they have telephones down there don’t they.
“OK mom, that sealed the deal.” I don’t think I will ever forget that.”
And Maryville will never forget Dr. Patrick Harr, a one of a kind family doctor who gave so much more of himself.
“Watching kids break records and helping them survive their injuries and having a helping hand to me was benefit enough,” Harr said. “Yes, we did it right.
“We have had some kids who have overcome some major injuries and come back and contribute. To help them achieve that is just a great feeling. It is hard to describe because injuries are so fickle. Sometimes a seemingly innocent injury just won’t let an athlete get back to where they were before. You have to get them over that hump psychologically. When everything goes great, it is fantastic.
It truly has been one remarkable ride for Harr.
“I don’t regret a minute of it,” he said.
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