Publisher’s Perspective – Volume 4, Issue 5

A story about a miracle that began in Iowa

Last issue, Pete Hussmann wrote a fascinating article about the Wolfe Eye Clinic and its grand history in the state of Iowa.

Now, I’d like to tell you another part of the story …

It came to my attention a couple of months ago when Alan Brennecke, a retired attorney from the Marshalltown area and an IHJ subscriber, came to our offices in Newton. Alan wanted to tell my wife, Bev, and me about a meeting he had many years earlier – a story that has an amazing Iowa angle to it.

Several decades ago, Alan was at a House of Delegates meeting of the American Bar Association in Dallas, Texas, and was telling an associate he was from Marshalltown, Iowa. Another fellow in the group turned toward him and said, “I have a special spot in my heart for Marshalltown, Iowa.”

The attorney was Jerry Brown, of Pensacola, Florida. Here’s “the rest of the story” as it pertains to the Wolfe Eye Clinic.

At the age of three and a half, Jerry was living with his parents in Monroe, Louisiana, and was starting to have severe eye problems. “I was stumbling and walking into things,” he told me in a phone interview recently. “My mother took me to an optometrist and he said I was going blind. He took me through some tests and then said he was very sorry but there was nothing he could do to save my sight.

“But he told my mother that he had heard about two doctors – in Marshalltown, Iowa, of all places – that were working on new techniques,” said Jerry. “We didn’t have much money; my dad was an auto mechanic, a working man. We simply couldn’t afford the trip and the costs of such an operation and a long hospital stay.”

Jerry’s mother contacted the Wolfe Brothers and they told her to get up to Iowa any way they could, and that they would not charge anything for their work. Somehow, she and Jerry’s father scraped up enough money to pay for the traveling … and then money for the hospital costs (apart from the doctors’ fees) came from an unlikely source.

Their landlord, finding out what they were planning, chipped in enough money to pay for the hospital time and care.

“Can you imagine that?” said Jerry. “That’s another whole story, a part of the overall miracle. A landlord helped pay the cost!”

Jerry related the details of the surgery as best he could, from the viewpoint of seven decades ago. He recalls that they used a needle process to break up the black cloud that blocked his vision. The Wolfe doctors operated six times on his left eye and four times on the right eye – a grueling ordeal for a boy so young. He remembers the final operation.

“They came into my room at night to take off the bandages,” he said softly. “The doctors, nurses and my mother were all there. Dr Wofle took off the bandages, and said to me, ‘What do you see?’”

What Jerry saw was a toy red car. He told the doctors that and a cheer went up around the room.

“It was a miracle, that’s all you can say about it,” said Jerry Brown, now 76 years old and a practicing attorney for over 50 years. “I’d have been as blind as a church mouse, no doubt about it. Those doctors in Marshalltown, Iowa, gave me a new life.”

The decades have rolled by, but Jerry Brown has never forgotten the impact the Wolfe Brothers had on his life. He has never been back to Marshalltown, and he never corresponded with the doctors, but they have been close to his heart.

And one other thing, too.

“My mother used to read me that little book, called The Little Engine That Could,” he told me in our phone conversation. “That story has always stuck in my mind. I have a copy of the book sitting right here on my desk as we’re speaking.

“Every so often, I come across someone who is really hurting, and their situation seems dire. So I give them a copy of that book, The Little Enigne That Could.” He estimates he has given away at least 50 of the books, and he always keeps a small supply on hand.

When Al was relating the story to Bev and me at the Iowa History Journal office, he had trouble fighting back the emotions. He had met Jerry Brown firsthand and saw the results of the work done by the Wolfe Brothers of Marshalltown.

“Isn’t this a wonderful story?” said Alan.

Bev and I agreed.

In fact, we call it a story that borders on being a miracle.

And now you know another part of the Wolfe Brothers saga.

(Mike Chapman is the publisher of Iowa History Journal. Born and raised in Waterloo, he retired from a 35-year newspaper career in 2002. He is the author of 21 books and is a public speaker. He and his wife, Bev, live in Newton.)