Dr. Frank K. Dean: “A Beautiful Human Being”
When 12-year-old Frank Dean first drove his father to out-of-town house calls around 1921, it marked the beginning of service Frank would provide Dean Clinic and its patients for more than 70 years. His tremendously varied contributions to the clinic that was founded by his father included working as a substitute janitor while in high school when the regular janitor went on vacation, serving on the staff as a physician for 38 years and volunteering in many capacities for another 20 years after he retired.
Earning wings his own way
Dr. Joseph Dean’s second son, Frank, was born on January 4, 1909. He enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in 1926 and began to take flying lessons around this time as well. After having about five hours of lessons spread out over several months, Frank flew his first solo flight in one of the old open cockpit planes. This would inaugurate his brief but illustrious career as one of Madison’s pioneering aviators.
Frank’s exploits filled the pages of Madison newspapers for several years as he became a celebrity for flying with Charles Lindbergh, setting local altitude records, performing acrobatic feats while parachuting and suspending his airplane above the State Capitol. Several years after Frank became a licensed pilot, he even flew his father to Richland Center to perform emergency surgery.
Following his family’s lead
In 1932, Frank gave up flying to attend Northwestern Medical School. He graduated in 1934 and then interned at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chicago. In 1935, he joined the staff of Dean Clinic as its eighth doctor, three years after his brother, J.C., had joined the clinic staff. He began working as a general practitioner and gradually became a general surgeon, too.
In the early years of practice, Dr. Frank Dean said he charged $2 for office calls and $3 for house calls. “There were a lot more house calls then. People would send you out on a house call just for a cold. They used to think if they had a temperature, you couldn’t leave the house. But you can. I’d swab their throats and go home. It probably didn’t do any good, but they thought it did.”
In 1943, Frank enlisted in the Naval Medical Corps and served as a combat surgeon during World War II. Upon his discharge from the Navy in 1946, he had five battle stars and held the rank of Lieutenant Commander. When the war ended, he resumed his practice at Dean Clinic and continued practicing until his retirement in 1973. He also worked with St. Mary’s Hospital in various capacities during those years, including serving as its chief of staff from 1957 to 1959.
Rapid medical change
Throughout the course of his 38 years as a general practitioner (encompassing both medicine and surgery), Frank Dean witnessed dramatic changes in the medical field. In an interview in the Capital Times, he described some of the most noteworthy of these changes:
“Improvements in antibiotics and the discovery of penicillin were major medical advances. Operation techniques greatly improved and MDs became anesthesiologists. Heart surgery was unheard of and transplants still a theory. … I used to see a lot of TB but I haven’t seen a case in at least 20 years. I haven’t seen a case of diphtheria since the 1940s and the discovery of the Salk vaccine in the late ’50s has made polio a rare disease. We used to see a lot then, especially during the polio season.”
Frank was beloved and admired by his colleagues, as much for his humanity as for his doctoring. Dr. Richard Botham described his high regard for him: “Frank was a beautiful human being. I never heard Frank say anything unkind to anybody in all the years I worked with him. And Frank was a wonderful help for me. … And after I got going [in my practice], Frank Dean was always there to help. He scrubbed in with me on every single major case I did. … Frank was the man I had great admiration for, great respect for and great affection for. ”
Dr. Tom Geppert remembered that Frank would not shy away from even less desirable jobs, such as cutting the toenails of older women. “It’s so hard for those old people to do these things. But he was a good guy, and he would do whatever.” Dr. Lou Bernhardt added, “He was just a wonderful human being.”
A working retirement
Frank continued to serve the Madison community during his retirement. He volunteered more than 2,000 hours for St. Mary’s Hospital, including staffing the admissions desk, escorting patients to their rooms and driving patients in his own car to Dean Clinic and St. Mary’s (as a volunteer with the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, RSVP, and Independent Living). He also volunteered for the American Red Cross Blood Bank.
In 1974, he wrote “The History of the Dean Clinic,” which was given to new Dean physicians for many years so that they could understand and appreciate the rich history of the organization they had joined.