Dr. Hutchins retires
“Can I change your mind? Can I get you to change your mind?”
Those questions have been asked a lot of Dr. Joel Hutchins in recent months, he said, given his plans to retire as one of the area’s top physicians after more than 35 years of service to the Holton and Jackson County community.
Dr. Hutchins says he understands why his patients — generations of them — don’t want him to hang up his stethoscope and ride off into the sunset with wife Becky just yet.
“The toughest thing about stepping down is the number of people who felt I was helping them, and now it feels like I’m letting them down,” he said. “But I’ve got a life of my own that I have to live and things that I need to do before I drop dead.”
He also recognizes that his patients’ wishes that he remain in place at Holton Community Hospital and its affiliated clinic, Family Practice Associates, stand as a testament to the work he’s done in the community — one that’s backed up by his peers.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do when I don’t have him beside me to bounce ideas and questions off of,” said Jill Collins, an advance practice registered nurse at HCH who has worked with Hutchins for five years. “He literally has never once talked about why retirement will be good for him. His medical leadership in our community will be greatly missed.”
Hutchins’ patients, co-workers and friends will have one more time to remind him of this and express their appreciation at a special retirement reception to be held from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. this Friday, June 17, in the HCH courtyard.
“There aren’t enough words to express what a pleasure it has been the past 15 years working with Dr. Hutchins,” said Lura Goff, a registered nurse at Family Practice Associates. “I will miss his humor, wisdom and kindness. He truly is the best and will be missed by all of his coworkers.”
Joel Hutchins spent his early years as part of a military family in Germany but came to Jackson County as his high school years were getting started, because the family of his mother, the former Aletha Barrow, was from the Denison area. He attended Denison High School, where one of his classmates was a young lady named Becky Lederer.
“She actually broke up with her boyfriend to go out with me,” he said of Becky, noting their first date was a New Year’s Eve dance in Valley Falls. They dated during their senior year of high school, graduating in 1967, and through all four years of college at Washburn University before marrying on May 29, 1971.
While in college, Hutchins was in the Air Force ROTC and had plans to join the Air Force full-time while the Vietnam War was still going on.
“I wanted to fly,” he said.
Becky followed him to Selma, Ala., where Joel was getting his training at Craig Air Force Base — an experience that was “culture shock” for Becky but a welcome experience nonetheless.
“It was an adventure to me,” she said. “I had never traveled. My dad was a farmer.”
The Hutchins then went to Taiwan, where Joel was stationed while on his tour of duty in Vietnam. It was there where his career aspirations began to change after meeting a flight surgeon, he said.
“I’d go with him to the refugee camps coming out of Vietnam and mostly out of Cambodia,” Hutchins said. “That’s how I got into medicine. I was actually interested in refugee medicine, stuff like that.”
After returning stateside after his six-year Air Force career, Hutchins enrolled at The University of Kansas Medical School in 1979 and began training to be a doctor. The Hutchins family had by this time grown to four, with two daughters, Jenny, born in 1976, and Emily, who was 10 days old when he started medical school.
Along the way, Hutchins made the decision to be a family doctor, even though during his post-graduate residency, he found himself adapting to whichever field of medicine he was in.
“I knew that if I came back to a small town, I’d have to be a jack of all trades and a master of none,” he said. “A lot of guys in medical school have trouble with that. They have trouble with not being able to be the best at something. I didn’t have trouble with that.”
The Hutchins family came to Holton in the summer of 1985, and Joel opened his own office at the start of the following year.
“It was a culture shock,” he said of opening a small practice, known at the time as Westside Family Practice. “Back then, I ran everything. I ran the office and recruited the doctors, paid for them… I was here for about four and a half years all by myself.”
But with the additions of physicians Terry Hartter, Michael Keehn and Richard Fitzgerald, among others, the clinic would eventually change its name to Family Practice Associates. In the meantime, Hutchins also worked as official coroner for the Second Judicial District, including Jackson, Jefferson, Pottawatomie and Wabaunsee counties, performing that service for free.
Hutchins was also involved with the Holton Optimist Club, serving in several capacities, including club president, while taking on medical mission work in Mexico and Honduras. He and Becky also took care of the Denison Historical Society, opening the old high school up twice a year for reunions and other historical activities.
They also purchased a historic storefront on the west side of Holton’s Town Square, upgrading the upstairs area into a loft apartment while cleaning up the lower floor and renting it out for special events. In 2010, Hutchins was also honored by the Holton/Jackson County Chamber of Commerce for his community work, naming him to the organization’s Hall of Fame.
All the while, Hutchins has continued to build a medical practice that’s well-respected in the community, as well as among his peers. Dr. LaDona Schmidt, who has worked alongside Hutchins at Holton Community Hospital, said that in working with him, he has proven himself to be “a great example of what a physician in America should be.”
“Dr. Hutchins has demonstrated how to work hard to provide for one’s community and help those who you love,” Dr. Schmidt said. “He has an incredible depth of knowledge. He has been formative in the development and growth of the physicians and staff in the wonderful community of Holton and the surrounding area... Two of my children, both physicians now, had the opportunity to learn from him, and I’m hopeful that Dr. Hutchins passed on some nuggets of wisdom that they’ll take with them as they, too, impact their respective communities.”
In more recent years, however, he and his wife made the decision to just take things easy.
“The last 50-year class at Denison was gone, and while we were responsible for the Denison banquets and reunions and taking care of the historical society and everything down there, we finally said hey, we’re going to put a stop to that,” he said. “Then I quit being the Second District coroner, the Optimist Club folded, and all of these things have just kind of progressed to where it’s a good time to say it’s time to stop.”
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