Every Tuesday night, Dr. Linford Gehman ’59 still makes the trip from Bergton, back in the farthest mountain reaches of Rockingham County, to the hospital in Harrisonburg for continuing education seminars. Though he’s been practicing medicine for a half century, he’s got a medical license to keep up. He’s still seeing patients three days a week at the Green Valley Clinic next door to his house, where he’s been living for 43 years and counting.
When Linford arrived in Bergton in 1970, after a few years as a doctor under Mennonite Central Committee in Nha Trang in Vietnam and Biafra in Nigeria, he didn’t have any particular plans to stay. He and his wife Becky were newlyweds and soon they found themselves getting rooted in the community. Becky started playing piano on Sunday mornings at Valley View Mennonite Church in nearby Criders; Linford led songs. They worked together in the clinic (Becky is a nurse and also still works there one day a week), they had a son, and then they had a daughter. One thing led to another and now it’s 2014 and they’re still in Bergton, in the only house they’ve ever lived in together.
Linford and Becky met in 1963, when he was an intern and she was an obstetrics nurse at St. Luke’s hospital in Bethlehem, Pa. Both were “glued to the work,” as Linford puts it, and their personalities clicked. They corresponded while Linford was overseas, and got married when he returned to work in Bergton at the invitation of Dr. Harold ’61 and Esther Emswiler Kraybill ’60, a couple he’d gotten to know in Vietnam. (Harold worked a brief period at the Green Valley Clinic.)
Work and home distinctions have always been blurry for the Gehmans. Sometimes Linford gets out his wedges and chips a golf ball around the back yard; over the years, errant shots have cost him more than a few clinic windows. The office phone always rang at home and it still does. (The Crossroads’ interview was interrupted by a call about a chest X-ray.) On Tuesdays and Thursdays and weekends, days that he doesn’t schedule patients in the clinic, Linford shuffles through his charts and other paperwork at the office, or at the dining room table at home, or in front of the TV, watching sports (golf and football are his favorites). Before the rescue squads in the area were up and running, he was the community’s de facto first responder to emergencies. Being a doctor in a rural community wasn’t a 9-to-5 sort of thing.
Founded in 1949 by Dr. Charles Hertzler ’38, the clinic is in an antiquated building. (Linford’s 43-year streak at the clinic has nothing on Mary Lantz, a medical secretary who’s been there 57 years and still uses the same desk.) It may not remain a clinic once Linford finally hangs it up. He and his associates at the practice, including Dr. Sam Showalter ’65 and physician assistant Hanna Reinford ’05, have begun pondering how their patients will still get good care as Linford moves into retirement in his 80s. (Their most current thinking involves a gradual transition for patients to a clinic across the state line in Mathias, W.Va.)
After that happens, at some point in the next few years, Linford plans to spend more time with family and with his church. But a guy who’s always been glued to his work can only unglue himself so much. One of his big ideas these days is helping people get more active in ensuring their own well-being, making healthier choices, leading healthier lives. Retirement will free up time to work on this, maybe through church, maybe through the Ruritan Club, but definitely somehow. There will always be plenty to do.
— Andrew Jenner ’04