The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Dr. Orlan Pflasterer, a rural physician who served his patients and the community of Coulterville for more than four decades, will be inducted into the 2022 class of honorees.
Orlan Walter Pflasterer was born in St. Clair County in September 1927. As a young child, he moved with his parents and his brother to Tilden, where his father taught in the local schools. He attended high school in Marissa, where he played on the school’s basketball team and nurtured a pair of ambitions: to serve his country, and to care for his fellow citizens.
In December 1941, when the United States entered World War II, Orlan was fourteen years old. Like so many of his generation, he felt compelled to do his part. Immediately after his graduation from Marissa High School in May 1945, Orlan decided to enlist in the military. He served a year-long tour in the army, and after returning home in 1947, he resumed his college studies at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. There, Orlan refocused on his second goal: becoming a physician. He’d known that he wanted to be a doctor since he was a young teenager.
After graduating with his bachelor’s degree from Southern Illinois University, he enrolled in 1950 at the University of Illinois medical school in Chicago. He completed his medical degree in the spring of 1954, and he soon began his year-long internship. During that year, he got a call from Dr. Dickinson, the local doctor in Coulterville, asking him to come and help at his practice. Dickinson was in poor health, and when he died in the summer of 1955, the young Dr. Pflasterer took over the office—and ended up staying there for the rest of his career.
In those days, doctors were less specialized in their practices, performing many more services for their patients. For Orlan, that meant everything from treating infections and illnesses to diagnosing heart attacks, performing minor surgeries, and delivering babies. Over a span of 25 years, until local obstetric care became more available, he helped to bring more than a thousand babies into the world in Randolph County.
Orlan prided himself on his connections with his patients and his ability to meet the medical needs of the people of Coulterville in ways that made them feel comfortable. He was one of the last physicians in the area who still made house calls. “Sometimes that’s the most convenient thing to do,” he told the Southern Illinoisan in 1995. “You can get acquainted with the family situation, and see how they live.”
But even as he continued older and more traditional ways of practicing medicine, Orlan understood the need to evolve. He mentioned better vaccines, better anesthesia, and better medications as major advancements he’d witnessed during his time. He also adopted the use of computers to manage the medical information and paperwork in his small practice. But he also believed that the basics of communicating with patients hadn’t changed much at all: “You still have to see a patient, take a history, do a physical examination. There’s no way to take a short cut there.”
Orlan’s ability to adapt while maintaining the trust of his patients earned him the recognition of his peers as well. Notably, he served as president of the Southern Illinois State Medical Society. He also contributed his time and expertise to numerous local boards, including the Coulterville Care Center Board, the Fire District Board, the Coulterville Ambulance Association, and the Randolph County 407 Mental Health Board. In 1995, he was recognized with an especially important and meaningful award: he was named the Rural Health Practitioner of the Year by the Illinois Rural Health Association.
In 2000, Orlan finally decided to retire from his full-time medical career. Retirement offered him the chance to enjoy some of his other interests, including fishing and playing in a local bluegrass band. That September, he also married Ardith “Dardee” Ervin, joining a family that included three stepchildren and numerous grandchildren.
Dr. Pflasterer passed away in September 2003 at the age of 75. For almost fifty years, his simple philosophy of serving others—extending kindness, understanding, and serious concern to his patients and to his fellow citizens—helped Dr. Pflasterer to build a lasting legacy in Coulterville. His example of service to his community provides us all with a challenge to continue that legacy today.