by Joseph Kirchner
After thirty-eight years of dedicated medical service to the Catoctin region, Dr. Steven A. Pickert and Dr. William F. Harper retired last year in June and October, respectively. These men share a rather fascinating, parallel history, from their early medical training through their many years of medical practice together at the Catoctin Medical Group in Thurmont. The illustrious doctors came in together, served admirably for almost four decades, and retired just a few months apart.
Pickert and Harper performed their three-year residency together in the Franklin Square Family Practice Residency (Baltimore) at an interesting juncture in medical history—they were in just the second group of family practice residents. Like all young doctors, they were first quite concerned with handling their difficult training, but also with planning for employment when their residency was completed.
In his last year of residency, it happened that Harper decided to take a scenic drive on a fine Sunday afternoon, simply to relax. He drove (for whatever reason) into the small town of Thurmont, only to find there, an answer to his future plans in the form of a large banner that read: “We Need Doctors!” Liking the pastoral setting and noting it would be a good place to raise a family, he then inquired of the town.
Indeed, the mayor of Thurmont at that time, Jim Black, was very interested in bringing qualified doctors into town. Such was his interest that he formed a committee to interview both Harper and Pickert. They passed with flying colors. Remarkably, the town was so interested in them that men from the town actually signed the mortgage papers for the incoming doctors! (In fact, Pickert and Harper were just the seventeenth and eighteenth doctors in Thurmont.)
Pickert and Harper began practicing medicine in a modular home on July 21, 1975, on the same site now occupied by the Catoctin Medical Group. They happily worked in this arrangement for three years, until a more substantial edifice was constructed. In those early days, it was really a family affair: Dr. Pickert’s wife, Dee, was the nurse and Dr. Harper’s wife, Marian, was the receptionist. This was the humble beginning for what would later become a thriving practice in both Thurmont and Frederick.
This writer had the good occasion to interview Dr. James Krantz, who began working at the Catoctin Medical Group in 1988, and who worked for many years with both Pickert and Harper. He calls Harper “a real stand-up guy,” an extremely competent physician who was “not interested at all in tooting his own horn.” Apparently one day, a small boy seemingly drowned in a pail, was pronounced dead, and was taken to the Catoctin Medical Group. Dr. Harper resuscitated him and sent him by ambulance to the hospital, where he fully recovered. The intrepid doctor then finished his afternoon patients, never saying a word about this to anyone. Dr. Krantz would find this out later from the office manager. Dr. Harper not only “talked the talk” but also “walked the walk” every day.
Dr. Krantz greatly enjoyed working with Dr. Pickert and says of him, “Anyone that met him would call him a character!” He “loved to talk, joke around, and he laughed a lot.” Dr. Pickert was often playful and took the time to really get to know his patients well. When I interviewed the quirky doctor, he told me “laughter is an important part of life” and said calling him a “character” was “the nicest thing anyone could call me.” He also reports that he was “famous or infamous” for playfully tapping smokers on the arm to scold them for their choice to smoke. A lifelong owner of Welsh Springer Spaniels, he affixed photos of them on the ceiling above his exam rooms to put his patients at ease, and handed out dog biscuits to his dog-owner patients.
Pickert and Harper are enormously grateful for the wonderful people they were so privileged to work with. While everyone made great contributions to the practice, they are especially indebted to Marion Bennett, “the wonderful receptionist/office manager who really got the ball rolling,” and also to Betty Rickerd, whose professionalism as a nurse for twenty-five years is greatly appreciated. Both doctors are enjoying retirement by spending more time with family, a luxury not enjoyed when they worked long hours to build The Catoctin Medical Group. Doctors Pickert and Harper miss their patients, just as they are greatly missed by one and all, as expressed in a sentiment spoken by Dr. Krantz, “I miss them and wish they were still here.”
The Catoctin Medical Group’s locations are: 100 South Center Street in Thurmont, Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m. and Saturday, 9:00 a.m.-Noon, 301-271-4333; 180 Thomas Johnson Drive, #101, Frederick, MD, Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m., 301-696-8801.