By LESLIE COLLINS
December 12, 2012
The effects of the Great Depression still lingered in the 1940s and Dr. Joel Corn’s typical meal consisted of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
All of the students who lived near the campus of the Kansas City College of Osteopathy and Surgery, now called Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences (KCUMB), were poor, he said. And Corn was poor.
“For me, coming here was a little difficult,” he said. “I had to move close to the school for transportation. I had no car.”
Both Corn and Dr. Jerome Bernhard graduated from KCUMB in 1945 and revisited the campus during KCUMB’s homecoming in September.
Corn grew up in New York until the age of 16 and then moved to Georgia, where he attended Georgia Southwestern College with Jimmy Carter.
“In fact, I voted for him the first time, but not the second time,” Corn said with a laugh.
For Corn, becoming a doctor was a passion from an early age.
“I always wanted to become one, ever since I was a little boy,” Corn said.
Around the house, Corn’s siblings became his patients as he concocted their different ailments to treat.
Bernhard’s desire for a career path in medicine began with his family doctor.
“I looked up to my family doctor to the extent that I thought he was the next thing to God,” said the Flint, Mich., native. “So, I always wanted to be a physician. That was my childhood ambition, my goal in life.”
When the two classmates attended KCUMB, Italian families saturated the Historic Northeast.
“This area was an old, established Italian neighborhood. It was a lot of tradition and roots around here,” Bernhard said. “It was a warm, welcoming area of the community. We felt comfortable here.”
Despite the warmth of the Northeast community, life was difficult.
“Those days were meager days,” Bernhard said. “We were living in semi-Depression days. To make a living was tough. Most of the students all had side jobs. Dr. Corn worked in a funeral parlor and at the Muehlebach Hotel and I worked at the railway express and sold shoes on the weekend. So, we all kind of struggled to get by financially.”
“Everybody was hungry if you want to know the truth,” Corn said. “We looked to do anything to get by and meet our obligations.”
For Corn, that meant working at the Melody and McGilley Funeral Home as an attendant.
“It was the easiest job you could have; the facility was nice. The only trouble is I couldn’t stand it. The atmosphere was too confining for me,” he said.
Bernhard lived in an apartment off of Independence Avenue, which he shared with a roommate, and paid $4 per week in rent.
“You paid a dollar more than me!” Corn laughed.
“Yeah, I was high brow,” Bernhard said sarcastically. “To my name I had four pair of socks, four shirts and four pair of underwear, plus a couple pair of pants. That was the extent of my wardrobe.
“But you know what? In those days, people never thought about the financial strain. We were all in the same boat. We all understood each other’s position.”
Even the professors at KCUMB struggled financially. With a meager salary from KCUMB, most of the professors maintained their private practices to survive, Bernhard said.
Dr. Dorsey Hoskins of the pathology department worked a second job delivering mail for the post office. Hoskins’ wife also worked in the pathology department and Corn said the couple devoted their lives to the students.
“You just couldn’t help but admire them and appreciate their efforts,” Corn said.
Then, there was Dr. Grover Gillum, who earned the nickname, “the one-man medical school.”
“He knew more about medicine than any other doctor in the vicinity,” Bernhard said. “He could teach any subject; he was brilliant.
“They (professors) gave their time freely and they were dedicated to teaching. We felt very lucky to have them teach us.”
Both Corn and Bernhard recalled the kindness and impeccable character of then-Dean Joseph Peach. If students struggled to pay tuition, Peach would work with them and give them a grace period, the two said.
“He tried every way to help us and keep us going. He was a wonderful man,” Corn said. “He held this thing together just by shreds, but he kept it going.”
Following graduation, Corn opened a family practice in rural Oklahoma and later opened a practice in Oklahoma City. For 51 years, he operated a full-time practice and later worked part-time for four years in Enid, Okla. Bernhard practiced for a total of 55 years, working in Michigan and finally in Arizona. Bernhard first opened a general practice and then did post graduate work in rectum and colon diseases as well as sub-specializing in proctology.
Asked how the medical field has changed over the years, Corn said, “It’s becoming very sophisticated, very advanced.”
There were no chest x-rays, EKGs or MRIs, he said.
“The basic knowledge of medicine became more in-depth,” Corn said. “The advent of antibiotics and other drugs came into play. It changed the outcome of the way patients responded to treatment.
“As far as direct patient care, we felt more of a kinship to our patients. We related better to our patients; patients weren’t covered by as many health insurance plans, so they came directly to you and stayed with your practice for many years.”
Relationships between doctors and their patients have diminished and now, more patients pursue litigation against the doctor, which increases medical costs, Bernhard said.
Asked what he enjoyed about his practice, Corn said, “The big thing is when you feel needed. It’s the greatest enjoyment in the world when you feel needed and you bring a little babe into the world and give it to the mother. The joy – it’s priceless.”
Bernhard said he liked working with the patients and working in a profession he adored.
“Every day I would go to the office, it was a pleasurable day,” he said. “I never had a bad day.”
For Corn, 89, and Bernhard, 90, revisiting KCUMB proved priceless. Both touted the accomplishments of KCUMB and how it kept up with technological advancements.
“You see the wonderful facilities that are available for students today that we never dreamt of having ourselves,” Bernhard said.
“It was a thrill,” Corn said.
This will probably be the last time Corn and Bernhard set foot on the grounds of their alma mater, where the buildings whisper memories and serve as a testament to survival. But, they needed this journey; they yearned for this journey.
“Before I departed this earth I wanted to have one last final memory,” Bernhard said. “We’re here to pay our last respects to our school.”
Corn added, “This will be our last hurrah.”