The Doctor Is In

Original Print Date: Jaunary 2010

Thirty years ago and more, when I was a kid growing up in Boerne, this old one-horse berg had grown so much that we had two doctors to choose from: Dr. Mason and Dr. Day, as well as two drugstores, Ebner’s and Roberts. We were Dr. Mason and Ebner’s people, and what Dr. Mason didn’t know about us Mr. Ebner did. Dr. Mason remembered everything that’d ever gone wrong with us- whether we’d had the measles or the chicken pox, and when and how, and whether we’d been scratchers; how you got that scar on your forehead and when your mom had her gallbladder out. When I was 13 and finally won an epic battle with my parents, it was Dr. Mason who pierced my ears, and gave me such a lecture on keeping my brand-new puncture wounds clean that I sometimes sat bolt upright in the middle of the night and scurried to the bathroom to give ‘em a quick swab of alcohol.

One thing Dr. Mason didn’t do, however, nor Dr. Day as far as I know, was make house calls. If you wanted Dr. Mason to see you, you went to his office (with the picture I still remember, of the boy & his mutt on the step outside the dog license office). No, believe it or not even I’m not old enough to remember the time of house calls. Those belonged to an earlier generation of doctors, like the legendary Boerne doctor I’m gonna tell you about right now.

By anybody’s account, Dr. John Francis Nooe was one of Boerne’s most beloved citizens, and an old-time country doctor of the very best kind. He had the most profound influence in these parts, was the doctor around here for fifty years and brought maybe 700 babies into the world via Boerne, many of whom were named by their parents John Francis in the doctor’s honor.

John Francis Nooe was born in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, in 1871, where he graduated from high school and went on to college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was such a good student at the university that he earned the Phi Beta Kappa key, which he proudly wore for the rest of his life. He graduated from college there while still in his teens. Next, John Nooe entered the University of Texas Medical School at Galveston, from where he graduated in 1898 having completed the four-year course in three years. After graduation, the new Dr. Nooe did his internship at New York City Post Graduate Hospital and at General Memorial Hospital in Washington DC, before coming to Boerne in 1899.

At that time, Boerne already had a wide reputation as a health spot for tuberculins, the altitude and the dry air believed to be a boon to people suffering from consumption. Tuberculosis was by far the greatest killer all over the world, the leading cause of death for one out of every four Americans, and Dr. Herff of Santa Rosa Hospital in San Antonio was cementing Boerne’s reputation by sending his tuberculin patients here to his summer hometown, where several sanitariums had been established and boarding houses kept for sufferers. It may have been this reputation as a health resort town that drew Dr. Nooe to these parts, or it may have been a matter of the heart. While attending medical school in Galveston, Dr. Nooe met a Mrs. Mary Hutchings Spencer, a young widow with six children, the daughter of a wealthy Galveston banker. Mrs. Spencer had a home in Boerne. She and Dr. Nooe were married in 1900, and made their home here. The house they built around 1910 is still there out on the road to Bandera (across from Home Depot).

From the time Dr. Nooe first came to town, he kept an office on Main Street, just north of what is now Bergmann’s Lumber Co, the old HO Adler Building. But for emergencies and surgeries, there were no hospitals here, and the doctor had to travel to his patient’s homes in order to treat them. He drove all over Kendall County, sometimes 20 miles and more, first with his horse and buggy and later in his Model T Ford, over rough roads sometimes not much more than animal trails and fording creeks all over the countryside. His charge for this service was $2.00, as opposed to the one dollar he charged for an office visit. He often performed surgery in the homes, sometimes on the kitchen table and frequently by lamplight, many times with only a family member to assist him by holding the patient down.

The doctor usually had the company of one of his invaluable nurses to help him. The first of these practical nurses was Mrs. Helena Weiss Janensch, who served as a nurse and midwife in Boerne for 45 years, from 1883 before Dr. Nooe’s arrival, until 1928, shortly before her death. On her own and with Dr. Nooe, Mrs. Janensch delivered over 600 babies, all of which she recorded neatly in her journal.

Another nurse who worked with Dr. Nooe was Mrs. Joe Ammann, who opened her home on Cottonwood Street in town as a birthing hospital where babies were delivered and both mother and baby stayed to be cared for after the birth. Those were the days when new mothers stayed in bed for two weeks or more after the delivery of a child. Mrs. Nooe also sometimes rode out with her husband on his calls; she was a Christian Scientist, and when she accompanied the doctor, in addition to assisting in surgery and emergency procedures, she prayed over the patient, saying that often that worked better than the doctor’s medicine.

The second of Dr. Nooe’s nurses was Mrs. Emilie Reppold Lex, who, in spite of having no formal training, was said to be a born nurse and who travelled all over the countryside with Dr. Nooe on his calls. In 1919 Mrs. Lex- who at the age of 28 had six children to raise and a 107-acre farm to help run- seeing the need for a hospital for recuperating patients and in which Dr. Nooe could perform surgery, opened her home as  the Lex Sanitorium. The Lex farm was only a mile out on Johns Road and so convenient for the doctor to drive to attend his patients, so the Lex family converted two rooms of their home into operating rooms, with a skylight cut into the ceiling for illumination, and another three rooms into patient rooms. The house also served as a boarding home for out-of-town family members who came to Boerne to be near their loved ones mending in the sanitorium. Some families even camped in tents on the farm, and all of them, families and patients who were able to walk, all ate together around the Lex table. Mrs. Lex’s husband died in 1927, and still Mrs. Lex, now with the farm to run on her own, continued to run the hospital with the assistance of her kids and her mother-in-law. Even after Dr. Nooe’s death, Mrs. Lex continued to work as a midwife and herself helped bring hundreds of babies into the world.

Dr. Nooe also saw patients at the Adler Ranch on Adler Road near Curington Elementary. Fritz and Juliana Adler opened their home as a sort of rehabilitation hospital for some of Dr. Nooe’s recuperating patients as well as those with tuberculosis, and also as a boarding house for their visiting families. The patients knew the place as the Winona Home, and it was also known as the Adler House or the Adler Ranch, or the Winona Summer Resort. The home is still there today, although the two-story addition that was built to accommodate the patients and their families has since been torn down.

When the US entered WWI, Dr. Nooe enlisted as a captain in the US Army Medical Corps and served as chief surgeon at Kelly Field. During his absence, the aging and mostly retired Dr. Reeves doctored the folks in Boerne, and Dr. Nooe was sorely missed. In 1919 with the war over, he resigned his commission and resumed his work in Boerne.

They said Dr. Nooe used to pause sometimes during an operation to gaze out the window and watch the animals at play on the Lex Farm. Once, having had to amputate the leg of a schoolteacher named Willie Scharf, he asked the Lex boys to bury the leg, which they did, in a wooden box out on the farm, a service for which they received the fee of $1.50. By the way, upon recovering, Mr. Scharf liked the place so well he decided to stick around, and lived with the Lex family for the next 16 years, until his death. Another time, in 1921, Mrs. Gustav Ranzau brought her four children to Dr. Nooe at the Lex place to have their tonsils out, and he lined them up on the operating table and removed the tonsils in quick succession. For this assembly line service, he charged Mrs. Ranzau five bucks. One lady whom Dr. Nooe attended at the birth of her baby one chilly Easter Sunday, described how Dr. Nooe’s bald head must have gotten cold, said he picked up the funny papers from the Sunday paper, tied them around his head to keep it warm, then sat in a chair with the funny papers sticking up like a hat and dozed while he waited for the baby to get there. Another man remembers the time he got into a schoolyard fight and took a hit to the clavicle, apparently knocking it out of whack somehow, and Dr. Nooe fixed it by whacking it back into place in pretty much the same way. Dr. Nooe’s grandson remembers his granddad very fondly, as a kind and very intelligent man- Dr. Nooe, incidentally, delivered him, his grandson, in his home out on Bandera Road.

Dr. Nooe delivered hundreds of babies estimates range from 600 to 800 children over his 50 years of service in Boerne, coming back to deliver second and third generations of what they all called Dr. Nooe’s Babies. Only six months before he died, Dr. Nooe was attending a birth when he excused himself, quite calmly, to the expectant parents, saying that he’d be back in an hour. He drove to his step-son’s house, where he asked his daughter-in-law for a cup of tea, and then went back where, a little pale, he went on to finish the job. He never told the new parents (although they found out later) that he’d had a heart attack during the delivery. Dr. Nooe died later that year, in November of 1944. Dr. Nooe had also been active in other areas in the community, serving as Chairman of the Democratic Party for Kendall County and for the district that includes San Antonio and Bexar County, and was a delegate to the Democratic Convention that nominated Woodrow Wilson to office. He was also a member of Woodmen of the World, Pi Kappa Alpha, Phi Beta Kappa and a director of the Boerne State Bank.

Dr. Nooe’s obituary ended with the words Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime

And departing, leave behind us

Footprints on the sands of time.

Dr. Nooe left more than just foot step she left a legacy, remembered still, more than a hundred years since he came to Boerne, of care and concern for his patients, for deep kindness, self-sacrifice and wonderful integrity. For 50 years he served this little country town, going wherever he was needed any time of day or night, and all of Boerne can join with his grandson in calling him a wonderful man.

 

One of my favorite subjects has been Dr John Francis Nooe, legendary physician of old Boerne. Dr Nooe was a legend in his own time, and many babies delivered in their mother’s bed were named in his honor; many a gallbladder or set of tonsils removed beside a fire on a scrubbed table in a nighttime kitchen. Dr Nooe was active during Boerne’s Resort Era, when Boerne was known all over the world as a spa town whose mountain ozone and sulfur springs had curative powers for those cursed with tuberculosis or attacked by poison gas in the Great War. This is the story I wrote about Dr Nooe in January 2010, when I was just new to EXPLORE. – Marjorie Hagy


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