Maintain isolation – practice good hygiene – wear a mask – be kind. We all know these methods of fighting COVID-19, but this prescription comes from the 1918 experience of Dr. Pierre Sartor, who battled the worldwide influenza pandemic in his small town of Titonka, Iowa.
Dr. Sartor wrote an inspiring first-person account of how he treated more than 1,000 patients – and by his reckoning, lost only five – which lay forgotten in a lockbox of family artifacts until it was discovered decades later by his granddaughter, Beth Obermeyer, a journalist and author of three previous books. Beth knew her grandfather through her teenage years and grew up absorbing family stories. Based upon Dr. Sartor’s memoir and her years of research, she vividly reconstructs his life from childhood in Luxembourg, where he overcame a debilitating hearing problem, to medical school in Chicago, courtship and marriage.
A pioneer in the geographic as well as the medical sense, Dr. Sartor left his flourishing urban practice and settled his young family in rural Iowa where, he said, “I am needed.” Those words took on special resonance when Dr. Sartor moved to another Iowa town in the early months of 1918, amid the gathering storm of the influenza pandemic. He had barely settled into the community of Titonka, when, as he wrote, the disease “spread like wildfire on wild prairie land.”
Dr. Sartor traveled for hours and miles to serve his patients, but he did not go alone. His steady, reliable companion was Guido Sartor, his son, who drove a horse-drawn sleigh as well as the family’s Model T Ford so Dr. Sartor could reach his patients. Twelve years old at the time, Guido, in his knickers and mask, was an able assistant on many trips – including one February day when he drove through a blizzard – a searing journey whose denouement would occur more than 30 years later. In the meantime, Guido, inspired by his father, became a physician. The author is Guido’s daughter. Growing up in a medical family, Beth writes with insight and candor of the strain that well-intentioned caregivers can place upon the people they love most.
Humor was a saving grace for Dr. Sartor. Beth takes us along when young Guido gets their car stuck fast in mud … and when, Pierre, exhausted, was roused from bed by a ringing telephone. He answered all the patient’s questions but then could not forbear asking, “Why, why do you always call me at night?” Whereupon the patient helpfully explained, “But, doctor, you’re so busy during the day!”
Why was Dr. Sartor successful – so accomplished, in fact, that he was named General Practitioner of the Year by the Iowa State Medical Society? Among many factors, Dr. Sartor established a close collaboration with Mayo Clinic, about 130 miles away, starting a decade before the pandemic and continuing throughout his career. Referring patients and sharing best practices, Dr. Sartor personifies the respectful relationships that Mayo establishes with community-based physicians throughout the country.
Beth’s story is rooted in a certain time and place. Yet it speaks across generations to the qualities that make a compassionate, skilled physician – a compelling example of doing the best of things in the worst of times. Because, when winter comes, we all want a doctor like Pierre Sartor.
Publication date: January 17, 2023Mayo Clinic PressFormat: Paperback
The Days of Song and Lilacs By:Beth ObermeyerFormat: Paperback Midwest Book Award Finalist, 2012, Memoir
In a childhood filled with sparkle and dances and stages, the one thing Mary Beth could count on was Mabel, her piano-playing accompanist. So when Mabel suffered a paralyzing stroke, Mary Beth would turn to Mabel's student of old, Meredith Willson, the Music Man himself, to see if the music really truly ever dies. A dance into the heart, the true story sings the love of creativity and the power of inspiration--in that magic musical town and time, Mason City, Iowa, 1954.
Publication date: May 15, 2012North Star Press of St. CloudFormat: Paperback
"Obermeyer delivers a unique slice of Americana, lyrical and magic, consistent and authentic, on the fiftieth anniversary of the film premiere, The Music Man, in Mason City, Iowa."
Robert DeFlores, rare-film historian
"Beth... thank you most especially for the photos and warm recollections and reflections of our mutual friend, Mabel Kelso. I am very pleased... it was a pleasure... and making the Guinness book is something I never expected to accomplish. A great day!"
Meredith Willson, composer, The Music Man, lds/mw, March 11 and December 18, 1981 letters
"You've nailed it, Beth. You've broken the rules with bold strokes. And yes, when one awakens from a memory fog, responds to music, it's a memorable moment and you have captured it here. Job well-done."
Professor James Schwartz, Retired Chair, Iowa State University Department of Journalism
"Beth brings to the page all the joy and energy she brings to the stage. And... these characters are such characters!"
Kate St. Vincent Vogl, Loft Literary Center teaching artist and author, Lost and Found: A Memoir of Mothers
"Who could resist the joyous stories and lilting rhythms of this memoir! Beth Obermeyer dances right out of The Music Man and irresistibly carries us back to Mason City, Iowa, in the 1950s. For her, and for her readers, Mason City was an exciting and stimulating place to be, and she remembers it with loving detail."
Susan Allen Toth, author, Blooming: A Small-Town Girlhood, a New York Times Notable Book
"A summer bouquet, a sweet story, just a charming memoir. Everyone will enjoy it. Beth signed her book on Mrs. Paroo's Porch, in her hometown, Mason City, Iowa, on the 50th anniversary of the film premiere of The Music Man. Revisit sets of the show--the library, the footbridge, and the gymnasium where the professor launched the big, rousing "Seventy-six Trombones..."
Mary Ann Grossmann, Senior Book Editor, St. Paul Pioneer Press
"Wow! This is just terrific. This is brilliant!"
Lynne Warfel, National Host, American Public Media
Big! World Records in the Streets!
Plus! Tap Dancing Galore! By:Beth ObermeyerFormat: Paperback
A Companion Book to The Biggest Dance
Big! World Records in the Streets! Plus Tap Dancing Galore! goes backstage with dancer Beth Obermeyer as she shows what it's like to solo with Garrison Keillor, Christopher Plummer and Gregory Hines. Then she brings her quality hoopla to the streets for a half dozen world records--including the World's Largest Marching Band (2,512); the six-mile Bucket Brigade on Lake Street; and the World's Longest Chorus Line, all in Minneapolis; and Leapfrogging in Frogtown; the Mass Break Dance (7,000+); and the one that changed her life--the first Minnesota Festival of the Book, all in St. Paul.
And, you won't want to miss any of those Out-Takes!
Publication date: August 9, 2011 North Star Press of St. CloudFormat: Paperback
One October evening 1,801 tap dancers shuffled and clicked their way down Hennepin Avenue to open their arts center--the first flash mob, decades before the internet--and set a Guinness World Record. The upbeat tapping paved the way for a new image for the downtown thoroughfare, for all the townspeople had signed up. Church ladies tapped beside ladies of the street already in fishnets. Families, lovers, and dancing schools too, joined in the dance, more alike than different with tap shoes on their feet.
This record-breaking extravaganza proved to be so much more that any wine and cheese opening for the newly-renovated Hennepin Center for the Arts. The magic of the story shines through, as related by the lone tap teacher at the Minnesota Dance Theatre—who as a soloist, nevertheless insisted: everyone should do it. Everyone must.
Publication date: May 15, 2011 North Star Press of St. CloudFormat: Paperback
“Looks like a scene in Rosalie, all those tap-dancers.”
Eleanor Powell, 1930's film star
“And it just goes to show you—thousands, millions of people have a warm spot in their heart—their tap shoes hanging back behind the old tennis racket, somewhere."
Garrison Keillor, A Prairie Home Companion guest appearance; 6:57 p.m., New Year’s Eve, 1983
“. . . Tappers who are good, some who are oh-so-bad and then, the great ones, should read this book because it is about the joy of tapping by a woman who loves it and it shows. Enjoy!”
Barbara Flanagan, columnist, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“This is a story that will dance its way into your heart . . .”
Kate St. Vincent Vogl, author, Lost and Found.
“A Summer Read Pick: "Well-written, charming memoir."
Mary Ann Grossmann, book editor, St Paul Pioneer Press, June 5th, 2011
“Lots of people said it couldn't happen, but 1,800 tap dancers proved them wrong. Now it's definitely on the record, and with (70-plus) pictures."
Barbara Flanagan, columnist, Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 4, 2011
“A beautiful book, inside and out, and so readable”
Kristin Buehner, reporter, Globe Gazette, Mason City, Iowa, May 27, 2011
“It's everybody's little-engine-that-could story, the news of which flew around the world.”
Hill & Lake Press, May 20, 2011
“Congratulations Minneapolis and Bravo!”
Acia Gray, President, International Tap Association, May 20, 2011
“Lovely humor, fascinating details and suspense...a touching story. It should be a film.”
Dean Diggins, tap legend and Paul Draper, protege, June 11, 2011