As a boy growing up along the Minnesota River, John Juergens tagged along with his country doctor father on medical calls: a baby’s birth, a bad car crash, things most children would never see. Those experiences in medicine and public service took, and years later when it came time for a career, Juergens headed to medical school aided by his father’s lessons.
A pioneering cholesterol researcher and cardiovascular specialist at the Mayo Clinic for 37 years who also taught at the Mayo Medical School, Juergens died of congestive heart failure Dec. 13. He was 94.
“My dad always knew he wanted to be a doctor,” said his daughter Ann.
Brooks Edwards, a staff cardiologist at Mayo and the former director of Mayo’s heart transplant program, first met Juergens as a second-year medical student at Mayo Medical School, now known as the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine.
“The thing I would say about John is that he truly was the full package,” Edwards said. “He was an outstanding clinician, he cared about patients, and patients adored him. At the same time, he was a wonderful teacher.”
Juergens was a co-editor of what was considered the leading textbook of peripheral vascular diseases in its time. He kept a boyish wit that helped students feel at ease, Edwards said. As his young medical students sought advice on which brand of stethoscope to buy, Juergens asked them if they knew which part of the instrument was the most important. “ ‘It’s the part that goes between the two earpieces,’ he would say,” Edwards said.
Born in 1925 in Mankato, John Louis Juergens attended Belle Plaine public school through the eighth grade before his parents, Herman M. Juergens and Leona Thoelke Juergens, sent him to Concordia High School in St. Paul for the opportunity to study subjects like Greek and Latin that weren’t available in his rural community. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota and a medical degree from Harvard University. He served in the United States Navy Medical Corps from 1949 to 1952, attaining the rank of lieutenant commander.
He married his childhood friend, Kristy Louise Olsen, in 1948. A family story recalls the time Juergens earned a Boy Scout merit badge by bicycling from his home in Belle Plaine to St. Peter, which happened to be where Olsen lived.
Juergens’ medical career continued a long line of Minnesota doctors: His grandfather, Franz Herman Juergens, was the town pharmacist in Jordan, Minn., for decades, and the 24th pharmacist registered in the state in 1885. His father was the town doctor in Belle Plaine for nearly half a century, delivering generations of Scott County children.
Among other honors, Juergens was editor-in-chief of the peer-reviewed medical journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings and a fellow of the American College of Physicians.
“He took me once on rounds, and this somewhat imposing dad was so good with the janitor from Spring Valley or the police officer from Chicago. He had a gentle listening touch,” said daughter Ann, of St. Paul.
When she asked him how he wanted to be remembered, his answer was direct.
“He said, ‘Being a father to you girls and a good husband, but I was a doctor,’ ” she said.
His wife died in 2011. Besides his daughter Ann, he is survived by daughters Carol Juergens of Kodiak, Alaska; Kristy Arend of Rochester; and Laura Sullivan of Rochester; nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held Feb. 21 at 11 a.m. at Charter House, 211 NW. 2nd St., Rochester.
Matt McKinney • @_mattmckinney