Editor's note: This is the article named the Iowa Newspaper Association's Best Personality Feature Story for class two weekly newspapers. Originally printed in the May 2, 2008, Knoxville Journal-Express, we are posting it today in honor of the award.



Growing up near St. Louis, Mo., in the little town called Catawissa, Earl McKeever had a dream. Like many other little boys, he dreamt of one day taking the field for the St. Louis Cardinals. This was in the 1940s, when the Cardinals were in their heyday, making regular playoff and World Series appearances.

“I was going to replace Johnny Mize,” McKeever said. Mize was the Cardinals’ first baseman. As time went on, however, McKeever realized he did not have the talent to play professional baseball. Instead, he went into medicine.

The son of a farmer and a schoolteacher, McKeever said the town doctor was greatly admired and respected by the town. He thinks this pedestal he saw the doctor resting on was his inspiration for choosing medicine.

McKeever’s education began at a country school in Catawissa. As a young boy, he walked a couple of miles over fields to get to school each day. From age 11 on, he worked on the farm and performed chores, just like any other “typical farm kid.” He attended high school in Pacifica, Mo., before moving on to the University of Missouri. In the summers, he did everything from making caulk to Chryslers.

“It taught me I didn’t want to work in a factory all my life,” McKeever said.

To help him pay for medical school, McKeever joined the Army. The Army paid for his last year of medical school and brought him in as a first lieutenant. He served his internship with the Tripler Army Hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1959. From there, he moved to Fort Riley, Kan. He spent a total of five years in the Army. Kansas was his last stop before he moved to Knoxville.

McKeever remembers his first day at Collins Memorial Hospital, which was where Knoxville City Hall now stands, as a bright, sunny day. The date was May 1, 1963.

McKeever is a general, family practitioner. Throughout his career, he delivered around 3,000 babies. Of that, 2,400 were born in Knoxville. “I’ve delivered three generations of one family,” McKeever said. Unfortunately, his days in the delivery room are over. A doctor advised him to stop delivering babies a few years ago. The stress had become too much for him.

McKeever says obstetrics has given him the most satisfying and the most upsetting occurrences of his career. The relationship between the doctor, his patient and the patient’s family can be quite strong.

“You share that experience,” McKeever says of deliveries, both with good and bad outcomes. “There’s kind of a bonding with the family.” When a couple was expecting a happy baby and it did not come to pass, their hearts weren’t the only ones that broke. In the practice of medicine, one knows there will not always be happy endings and, to McKeever, bad memories can sometimes stick longer than good ones.

“My philosophy is that I do the best I can,” McKeever said. “There’s no perfection and there’s things you can’t prevent.” So he lives on and continues to do everything in his power for his patients. There are no other secret skills to handling tragedies, he says.

Sharing relationships with families is what he enjoys most about practicing medicine. McKeever considers his patients to be friends and respects them as such.

“That’s probably what keeps me in it,” he said, “the personal relationship with the patients.”

After working in Knoxville for 45 years, McKeever has seen a lot of changes. When he started, an entire family’s medical records were kept on a 3x5 card. He used to write the patient's name, diagnosis and remedy on the card and that was it. Today, he says he spends as much time in documenting his work with patients as he spends with them.

"You spend so much time doing that as you do seeing the patient," McKeever said. Technology has changed the practice of medicine, but it has not made it any easier. Today's medicine is more accurate and scientific that it used to be, McKeever added. Medicine has also gotten better, but sometimes medical advances can take away from the doctor-patient relationship.

"It loses the personal nature up to some degree," he said.

These days, McKeever says he sees approximately 100 patients a week. That is less than what he used to

Outside of the hospital, McKeever spends time on his 20-acre spread outside Knoxville, or boating and fishing at the Lake of the Ozarks. He has nine children, four of which are adopted, and 16 grandchildren. McKeever and current wife, Linda, have been together for 33 years.

He remains a baseball fan and his loyalty to the Cardinals continues. Though he remains a Cardinal fan, he admits he tends to cheer for them more when they are doing well.

"My Cub friends and I have a good time," he says. One of his sons still lives in the St. Louis area and he usually attends two games a year. Other than that, he does not do much to relax.

"I'm sort of short on recreational activities," he said.

McKeever also serves on the Knoxville Hospital and Clinics Board and as Marion County's medical examiner. In the past, he has served on the Chamber of Commerce Board and as County Health Officer. The decision to stay in Knoxville all these years was an easy one.

"It's a wonderful community," he said. "I like the small-town environment." Knoxville's other advantages, according to McKeever, is its proximity to Des Moines and the change of seasons.

McKeever has been approached for advice in the past, and offers some to young people who may consider medicine for a career.

"I think you need to treat people the way you want to be treated yourself," he said. "If you like people, if you like science, you should consider medicine." Those aren't enough for a medical career, he said. You also need to have a strong work ethic and a willingness to delay some things in life such as a nice home and other material things.

McKeever has made some good memories through the years. One that stood out for him is when he performed the first shock to a cardiac arrest patient in Knoxville. The patient lived, thanks to his work.

"That was special," he said.

Though he cannot predict the future, McKeever says he intends to continue to practice medicine for some time. He said as long as his health is good, his mind is clear and people want him to be their doctor, he expects to practice medicine.