By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Fifty years ago, when people in Lester Prairie heard the name “Dr. Smyth,” they’d no doubt think of John J. Smyth, MD, who established a medical practice there in 1948.
Since then, “Dr. Smyth” has also come to mean John’s son, Peter, whose medical career has lasted nearly as long as his father’s.
“My dad practiced for 34 years, and I’ll be retiring after about 33-and-a-half,” Peter said. “My last official day in the [Glencoe Regional Health Services] clinic will be Friday, Dec. 9.”
The public is welcome to attend a special reception to honor Peter Sunday, Nov. 6 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Glencoe City Center (1107 11th St. E. in Glencoe).
Refreshments will be served, and no RSVP is necessary.
“It’s a chance to say goodbye,” Peter said. “When you’re a doctor in a small town, your patients are your friends.”
Lester Prairie roots
Peter grew up in Lester Prairie, the oldest of seven children, including Kathleen, Kristine, Anthony (died at birth), Michael, Molly, and Colleen.
The family attended Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Winsted, and Peter graduated from Holy Trinity High School in 1964.
By that time, Peter’s father had his own medical building at 28 Hickory Street in Lester Prairie.
John was also associated with Glencoe Municipal Hospital, Hutchinson Community Hospital, and St. Mary’s Hospital in Winsted.
Although John didn’t come from a family of doctors (his father worked for a telephone company and his mother was a homemaker), Peter said it was evident that his father had a mind for medicine.
“He was always, as I remember growing up, scientifically-oriented,” Peter said.
When Peter left home, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps.
He majored in chemistry at Loras College in Dubuque, IA, where he met his wife, Barbara.
Then, he graduated from medical school at the University of Minnesota, and did a year-long internship at Deaconess Hospital in Spokane, WA.
From 1973 to 1975, Peter served as a physician in the US Navy. John had also served in the Navy, stationed in Missouri and California from 1946 to 1948.
Peter returned to McLeod County in 1978, after three years at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
“I knew we would be busy if we came back here,” Peter said.
And, he was right.
Glencoe Regional Health Services (GRHS) took over the Lester Prairie clinic in 1978, and a new building was constructed in Lester Prairie about six years ago.
Peter and his father worked together for about four years, and enjoyed getting together every so often for coffee and conversation.
John typically took Wednesdays off, so that was the day Peter filled in at the Lester Prairie clinic.
“I’ve been coming to Lester Prairie every Wednesday since about 1979 or 1980,” Peter said, adding that most of his time is dedicated to the Glencoe location of GRHS.
“I’m also the medical director at St. Mary’s Care Center in Winsted,” he added. “I go over there quite frequently.”
While he’s there, Peter particularly looks forward to visiting one St. Mary’s resident his mother, Dorothy.
Peter enjoys caring for elderly patients, and even does occasional house calls for those who aren’t able to make it to the clinic.
“We get to know the whole family,” he said. “It’s very rewarding.”
Although being an internal medicine physician can be a demanding job, Peter said the challenges make every day interesting.
“You never know what you’re going to do when you walk in each morning,” he said.
Two of Peter and Barb’s three children pursued medical-related careers, as well.
The oldest, Tom, is a dentist in New Prague; and Katie is an occupational therapist in Nebraska. Their other son, Jim, is an accountant in Chaska.
A new chapter of life
For Peter, retirement has created mixed feelings.
“I’ve always enjoyed my job I still do but, it’s time to pass the torch on,” he said. “We have a very good staff right now, and I’m confident in them.”
Peter plans to keep his medical license for a few years, and “see what unfolds.”
“It will be interesting,” he said. “Barb has been a volunteer for most of our marriage, so we’ll have to decide how we proceed together.”
So far, plans include looking into volunteer opportunities, traveling, and spending time with their grandchildren.
To sign Peter’s online guestbook, click here.