6.22.2010

In Memoriam - Dr. J.P. "Doc" Guenveur

The world will be a little more organized.  It might be a little more modern.  But it will be a little less friendly and reassuring place after the passing of a genuinely good person, an icon of my hometown of Kiel, Wisconsin, Dr. J.P. "Doc" Guenveur.

By the time he retired in 2007 from his profession as a small town eye doctor, Doc had been working in Kiel as an optometrist for 58 years.  He arrived in Kiel in 1949, as I recall from our conversations, and he told me one time about how he served in the army in World War II - grinding lenses for B-29 bombsights in Saipan and Tinian in the Pacific.

His office on Fremont Street, as I recall from my childhood and adolescence, was one of the messiest workspaces I have ever seen.  But it was amazing.  While waiting (sometimes for far longer than you anticipated) in the waiting room, he would occasionally appear from behind mountains of paperwork and manila envelopes in his white coat, bobbing here and there, gesticulating, making a joke or good natured exclamation with Angie or Bernice the secretary.

Sitting in the darkened examination room itself, though, you found that he somehow knew where your records where in the blizzard of envelopes.  Mark Belling would be buzzing on the ancient radio off near the window blinds and the white cue ball would be sitting up in the corner of the room on a ledge where it always sat, the target to focus on as he moved the light across your eyes.

"Is it...clearer, smaller, or more blurred?"  That was his mantra.  Over and over he said it as he clicked through the various lenses that made the letter chart shift, focus, grow, and distort.  He was a family friend (my dad was good friends with his son), and he always inquired as to everyone.  He noted one time that he was one of Tom Petri's original supporters - and that seemed to fit.  He was a moderate, even-keeled person - considerate, thoughtful.

When the eye exam was over, it was time to head out...and get tootsie rolls.  He kept an endless supply on hand.  No matter how old I got, he gave them out...and sent one along for everyone at home.

He was also engaged in his community, especially as an active member of the local Kiwanis Club, and also in his church.  You would see him about, wearing his tweedy coat and old school hat, sometimes driving with his dog in the car.  He always brought out a smile in people.  In every respect, he made his corner of the world a better place.

The city has truly lost one of its leading lights.