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Dr. Placido R.V. Hommel


Posted By: S. Ferrall - IAGenWeb volunteer
Date: 7/12/2010 at 16:36:01

Elkader's 50-Year Doctor Would Run Away Again
Placido Hommel Was 8 when He Left Puerto Rico with Spanish-American War Troops
by Phyllis Fleming, Asst. News Editor

Elkader - By the time he was 8 years old Placido Vasquez knew he wanted to be a doctor. He ran away from home to achieve that goal. Now a doctor for almost 50 years, Placido Ramos Vasquez Hommel would do the same thing again if he had his life to live over. A man who bustles about despite the fact that he will be 76 in June, "Hom" has practiced in Elkader since 1920.

Though his career as an Iowa doctor has been fairly typical - he coped with early day mud roads, has delivered an estimated 2,500 babies and has seen many improvements in medicine, including the development of antibiotics - the doctor's life has been far from typical.

A native of Puerto Rico, he was 8 years old when American troops occupied his hometown during the Spanish-American war. The troops were commanded by Capt. J.W. Hommel. Children were told not to associate with American soldiers. Placido disobeyed and was given a "terrible whaling" by his school principal. This helped him decide to run away. He told his mother, who was a nurse, he "wanted to go to America, get an education and be a doctor." His father had died when he was 21 days old.

She gave him permission to leave. The day the American soldiers left he walked 15 miles with them, carrying a gun for a man who was ill. He was told to go back but followed along anyway. Someone told Capt. Hommel "the kid was still following" so Hommel told the soldiers to put him on a wagon and said he would contact the boy's mother when they reached town. Placido couldn't speak English but he did get across the idea that he wanted to go to America.

A friend of Hommel suggested "Why don't you take that boy home with you, you've been wanting a son?" That is exactly what Capt. Hommel did. He took Placido back to Neillsville, Wis., and adopted him. This was in 1898.

Placido was graduated from high school in Neillsville. "Dad Hommel" wanted him to go to West Point. He passed the academic tests, but was not accepted because at 5 foot 5 inches he was an inch too short to meet the height requirement. Instead he went to Carroll college in Wisconsin where he played on championship football and basketball teams in 1912. He was a quarterback in football and a forward in basketball. Asked if his height didn't hamper him in basketball, he just laughed and said, "I was fast."

Medical school was the next step and he went two years to the University of Wisconsin and the final two years to the University of Illinois. He was graduated on his birthday, June 14, 1916. He paid most of his own expenses by working at jobs varying from tending furnaces to drying dishes. Dr. Hommel interned at an Evanston, Ill., hospital and it was here he met his wife, the former Maude Twining. She was assistant superintendent of the hospital. They were married just before he went into the army in 1917. Commissioned a lieutenant he went to France with the 32nd division of the Wisconsin national guard. He was later transferred to the second division as regimental surgeon. He was a captain when he was discharged.

He recalls the flu epidemic during the war and said, "If we had had antibiotics the, we could have saved many people." After discharge he returned to the Evanston area to go into practice. Someone suggested he come to Elkader and he did. He went into practice with the late Dr. William A. Miller. "I've had a marvelous practice," he said, but he admits that it's getting to much now. He has definite plans to slow down, but he is still taking calls at all hours and his waiting room if full most of the day. A well-known figure in Elkader, "Hom" is president of the Elkader hospital board, a position he also held when the hospital opened. He has also been president of the county medical society and a member of the city council.

Over the years, horses and dogs have held his interest. He recalls fondly a five-gaited horse which won four blue ribbons. Now painting with oils is his spare time activity. He has handy display space for his paintings on the walls of his waiting room. He also has tried his hand at carving an dhas several large dog figures to show for his efforts. He also is proud of the apartment in which he and his wife live. He decorated it himself. Both the second floor apartment and his office are located in a 100-year-old mill next to the river in Elkader. The large picture window in the living room gives an unbeatable view of the Turkey river and the red Clayton county courthouse. A picture of a smiling Dwight Eisenhower adorns one door of Dr. Hommel's inner office. "You must be a Republican," we said. He agreed, but then laughed and said, "the reason I don't take it off the door now is I'd have to paint the door."

The Hommels are the parents of one son, William, who is head medical illustrator at Fitzsimons hospital in Denver. Another son, John, a 1943 graduate of West Point, was killed in action over Germany in 1944. The two boys were named after Hommel's adopted father. The Hommels have one grandson.

Hommel has been back to Puerto Rico only once since he left as a boy; that was in 1912 to visit his mother. However he and his wife are planning a trip there in April to visit some of his cousins. He still can speak Spanish.

~Cedar Rapid Gazette, March 13, 1966


Clayton Biographies maintained by Sharyl Ferrall.
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