Widmer family’s spirit of generosity paid forward in nursing, pre-med scholarship

By Kristin Troyer ’19

Glen ’42, Reuben ’40 and Esther ’37 Widmer, are three of nine siblings from Wayland, Iowa, who attended a one-room school, walked four miles a day to high school and continued their education at Goshen College before entering the medical field. Their dedication to the medical profession continues with the Widmer Medical Endowed Scholarship Fund, awarded to either a nursing or pre-medicine student at Goshen College.


Esther, a 1930 graduate of La Junta (Colorado) Mennonite School of Nursing, worked at Washington County Hospital in Washington, Iowa, for four years before coming to Goshen College to earn a degree in chemistry in 1937. She went on to become education director at Washington Boulevard Hospital of Chicago; director of nurses at Mennonite School of Nursing in Bloomington, Illinois; director of nursing education at Grant Hospital of Chicago and director of nurses at Methodist Hospital in Peoria, Illinois. She came back to Goshen College in 1949 to help set up the Goshen College nursing program, and in 1956 returned to Wayland to help care for her aging parents and to be Glen’s office nurse. In 1961 Esther accepted a clinical research position at University of Iowa Hospital in Iowa City where she remained for six years.


Esther was an intelligent, calm, kind and thoughtful person who valued her independence, choosing to remain unmarried to pursue her nursing career. She was generous and from the beginning helped her two younger brothers, Reuben and Glen, attend Goshen College.


As a family physician, Glen was known to regularly fall asleep in the evening while reading in his chair, dressed and ready for a late-night housecall. He maintained a general practice in Wayland after graduating from the University of Iowa’s Medical School in 1944. He retired in 1994 at age 76, after almost 50 years of practice. He was the driving force behind establishing Parkview Home in Wayland, Iowa, which has since grown from a retirement home into a full nursing and retirement home complex that now serves an extended local and regional community.


Reuben established his general practice in Winfield, Iowa, just a few miles from Wayland,  before moving to Iowa City to join the faculty of the Department of Family Practice at University of Iowa’s Medical School. There he compiled research on topics ranging from depression in primary care patients to teen pregnancy, based on his years of rural medical practice, sharing his practical application of knowledge and diverse skills learned in the field while treating his patients.


As young boys, Reuben and Glen were almost like twins, making a great team, which carried through to adulthood. The two brothers consulted back and forth and covered for each other for a weekly afternoon off and for vacations. At a time when specialization was gaining prominence and before family practice became a specialty, Reuben and Glen were both broadly skilled physicians and surgeons, providing healthcare to their patients (and sometimes even their patients’ animals!), and delivering hundreds of babies in appreciative rural communities.


Glen’s wife Helen, a nurse who shared many of his accomplishments, and her children set up the fund in 2012 in memory of the three siblings.


“I think that the biggest part of the legacy was generosity and thinking of others,” said Glen and Helen’s youngest daughter, Jan Hadley. “Being observant of people made them really feel like [my parents] cared.”


Though Glen, Reuben and Esther passed away in 2011, 2014 and 1971 respectively, it was important to Helen, who passed away in 2015, and her children, all Goshen College grads themselves, that they establish a way to provide financial support to nursing and pre-med students in the same spirit Esther helped Glen and Reuben attend Goshen College.