History of Dr. Lester Bendix,
Presentation to the Annandale History Club
August 6, 2007
Lester Harold Bendix was born September 4, 1902, in Vesta, Minnesota, in the southwest corner of Minnesota. He was the first of five children born to Frank and Emilie (Streech) Bendix. His father ran a general store in Vesta, though he had been educated as a teacher. Lester Bendix attended Pillsbury Academy in Owatonna, graduated as valedictorian, and decided that he might like a career in banking. He attended Denison College in Granville, Ohio, for two years. He had several interesting summer jobs during college including working at banks in Radium and Blue Earth and driving tour buses in Glacier National Park. After deciding against a banking career, Bendix enrolled at the University of Minnesota. He was invited to live with a relative, Billy Foster, who was a trainer for the Gopher basketball team. He studied law and switched to medicine. Bendix had scarlet fever and was quarantined on the Ag Campus at the University. Molly Donahue was his nurse. Lester Bendix and Molly Donahue were married on June 15, 1928, in St. Paul, and he received his medical degree the same year. Dr. Bendix completed an internship at General Hospital one day before coming to Annandale.
Dr. Bendix arrived in Annandale January 15, 1930. Dr. Alfred M. Ridgway (1862-1952), who had a practice in Annandale, invited Dr. Bendix to practice with him for a trial period at a small salary. After a year, Dr. Ridgway asked Dr. Bendix to be a full partner. Ridgway graduated from the U. of M. Medical School in 1889 and came to Annandale in 1890, where he practiced medicine for 60 years. In 1930 Ridgeway was still making house calls by horse and buggy. Dr. Bendix enlisted during WWII, but received a letter that doctors were needed in Wright County. He was Wright County coroner from 1935 to 1987, working with the Sheriff's Department. Coroners are called in cases of accidental or suspicious deaths. John said that he rode along on some coroner calls.
Dr. Bendix was an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, but he chose to be a general practitioner. He was also a surgeon. His wife, Molly Donahue Bendix (1903-1983), was a school nurse at rural Annandale schools for awhile. Dr. Bendix was a strong Republican and Molly was a strong Democrat. Dr. Lester and Molly Bendix were the parents of Mary and John. Mary is married to Dr. Karel Absolom, a retired surgeon, and lives in Rockville, Maryland. John is married to Deanna Marohn. They live in Waseca, Minnesota, where John has taught European History at Waseca High School for 50 years and coached basketball and track for 38 years.
John told a little about himself. He said that he enjoys visiting his hometown and is told that he looks like his dad. John graduated from Annandale High School in 1953 and St. John's University in 1957. He will start his 50th year (1958-2008) of teaching history at Waseca High School in the fall. When asked if he ever considered following his dad into medicine, John said that he started out taking science and chemistry, but had a passion for history. His dad told him to do something he liked to do.
Dr. Bendix usually started his day at St. Cloud Hospital making rounds. He'd be home by noon to eat lunch and then go to the office, which was on the main street. He would make house calls later in the afternoon. In the evening he would drive out in the country to visit people at farms. John would often drive him. Then he might have to go back to the St. Cloud Hospital to deliver a baby. One time John had to drive to St. Cloud Hospital while Dr. Bendix delivered a baby in the backseat of his Mercury. Dr. Bendix delivered thousands of babies. There were quite a few that were named Lester after Dr. Bendix. Nora displayed baby pictures at the doctor's office. Dr. Bendix never talked about patients at home. He didn't bring his work home with him.
Nora Oliver was office manager for Dr. Bendix. She was the sister of his wife, Molly Donahue Bendix. John said that Nora was always interesting, and that he thinks some people would rather be sick than deal with her. Dr. Bendix had an inability to say no. Nora didn't. Nora was a great organizer, could drive, and was a good companion for her sister, John's mother. There were huge stuffed animals (taxidermy, including a moose head) on the wall in the doctor's office left there by Dr. Ridgway. When Dr. Bendix was away on vacation, Nora gave them away.
The office had a cabinet with a skeleton in it, put there by Dr. Ridgway. Ridgway had a pool table in the basement with clay pool balls. There were ledgers in the office from over the years. Office visits were one to five dollars. Many of the bills weren't collected. Dr. Bendix said that people would pay what they could and he wanted no bill collectors. He told the family to never try to collect unpaid bills. He said they had a good life in Annandale, and people would pay if they could.
Dr. Bendix had
several opportunities to move to the cities or St. Cloud. He
always thought Annandale was a great place and was happy there. He
thought the St. Cloud Hospital was excellent and one of the best. People
came to the house all the time. Dr.
Bendix pulled many fish hooks out at no charge. Sometimes
there were injuries from fireworks that required treatment. One
time a man came to the house and said that his brother was dead in the
Bendix checked the man and said to take him home. He
was dead drunk. In
later years, Dr. Bendix had fewer patients and quit doing surgery. A
May 1983 Annandale
article was entitled "Doc
The Bendix family lived in several houses in town, starting out on the west end of town. Next they lived in the Carty Magnuson house. The house that John grew up in was the red brick house which was called the Planer house. John remembers that his home phone number was 89 and the office phone was 58. The Bendix family was one of the first in town to get a television (about 1948). The house was always filled with people watching TV. He remembers that it was a small screen and there was only one channel, KSTP. John remembers riding his bike everywhere, including to South Haven for free movies and ice cream. Two boyhood friends of John's were Jim Hart and Gene McAlpine.
John and Mrs. Ridgway (Viola Ponsford Ridgway) had the same birthday. Mrs. Ridgway always served cookies and Kool-Aid to John on their birthdays and gave him a dime. Mrs. Ridgway died in 1965. She specified in her will that John should have first chance to buy her car, a 1939 black Plymouth. John bought the car for $75.
Dr. Bendix loved cars. He started out with Model As, and had one with a rumble seat. He had a 1942 Mercury, the last one out before WWII. He purchased a Ford during the war, which had no bumpers (chrome wasn't available during the war). He had lots of Fords, a Lincoln and a T-Bird. He did have a few Chevys, and gave one to John. John remembers when gas was less than 20 cents a gallon. John would pump gas at Knute Logeais Shell Station for a bottle of pop.
Dr. Bendix was a sports fan, including U. of M. football and basketball. He also enjoyed high school sports. When John was playing basketball in high school and at St. John's University, Dr. Bendix said that he didn't have time to go to the games, but often John would see him standing in the door. Johns mother attended only one game, a high school basketball game in Cokato. The game was narrowly won by Annandale with two free throws made by John. John's mother said that it was ridiculous to put all that pressure on the players.
In later years, Dr. Bendix liked nothing better than to walk around town and talk to people he knew. He had many friends in Annandale. Dr. Bendix and Colin McDonald, Annandale banker, were good friends. They hunted ducks together. They also owned cabins near Williams Point on the south side of Clearwater Lake. The Bendix cabin was built by Douglas Elfstrand. Colin McDonald built two cabins, including one for his daughter, Becky. Often on Saturday nights, Dr. Bendix enjoyed a Finnish sauna at Jake Hoikka's or one of the Lampi brother's farms followed by refreshments such as chocolate cake and ice cream. Dr. Bendix and John Kiehn were on the school board together and got together for many discussions. Dr. Bendix golfed with his brother-in-law, Don Peterson (a dentist in Annandale).
Dr. Bendix liked to hunt and fish near Detroit Lakes. He owned a cabin up north in the Big Fork area from 1940 to 1952. The cabin was 200 miles away, and at first they drove a Model A at 30 mph. Dr. Bendix was never away over three days, but the family spent more time there.
Dr. Bendix loved to travel. After retirement, he spent a couple of months each winter in Florida. He did a lot of reading and kept up with advancements in medicine into his 80s. He attended a class in Tampa that kept doctors up to date.
Dr. Bendix and Russ Faschant from Annandale golfed together in Florida. A man asked if he could golf with them and joined them for a season. It turned out that the man had graduated from Denison College. Upon hearing that Dr. Bendix had attended Denison and also Pillsbury Academy, he gave Dr. Bendix the Pillsbury class ring that Dr. Bendix had lost years before. The man had the same dorm room as Dr. Bendix and had found the ring stuck in a drawer. To add to the improbability of the story, the man died soon after. There was just that small window of time for them to meet. Dr. Bendix gave the ring with LHB on it to John's daughter, and she wore it on a necklace.
Dr. Bendix died January 27, 1988, at age 85. His wife, Molly, died in 1983 at age 80. Dr. Bendix was a beloved member of the Annandale community and touched many lives. He was a general practitioner at Annandale from 1930 to 1982 (52 years) and Wright County coroner from 1935-1987 (52 years). He served on the Annandale School Board from 1936-1967 (30 years, with 27 years as chairman), and had the honor of having a new Annandale elementary school named for him. Bendix Elementary School opened in the fall of 1972. Dr. Bendix was awarded the Harold S. Diehl Award by the University of Minnesota Alumni Association in 1978. Dr. Bendix's sister, Neva Peterson, age 98, lives at the Annandale Care Center (2007).