A longtime Lodi doctor and humanitarian died Sunday after a short battle with a terminal blood disease.
But if you asked Dr. Walter E. Reiss, 78, about his health, he would probably shrug it off and ask about yours instead.
“He was a humanitarian. He could talk to anyone, didn’t matter what walk of life,” remembers his daughter, Susan Reiss of Elk Grove.
Reiss came to Lodi from Nebraska in 1952, bounding with energy and ready to make his mark, said his wife, Carol Reiss. The pair met in Omaha, Neb. in January 1957 while Reiss was in medical school and Carol Reiss was working at the Union Pacific Railroad headquarters. They were married by August.
“We had a short courtship and a long marriage,” said Carol Reiss, his wife of 55 years. “He would always say we were made for each other.”
Reiss’ early childhood figured heavily into his decision to become a doctor.
Reiss was born in Nebraska to Paul and Amy Reiss.
Paul Reiss suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. Walter Reiss would follow his father to medical appointments as a child. He was so impressed with the doctors who cared for his father that he was inspired to study medicine himself. He graduated from Belvidere High School in 1951, and received his Bachelor of Arts from Doane College in Crete, Neb. in 1955. In 1958, Dr. Reiss was awarded his Doctorate in Medicine from the University of Nebraska School of Medicine.
Reiss found several outlets in Lodi to put his medical skills to use. He worked at Vinewood Family Practice from 1962 until 1990, and delivered hundreds of babies as a general practitioner. Since 1988, he has treated families, women and children through Lodi Memorial Hospital’s Ham Lane Urgent Care Clinic and Lodi’s homeless shelter.
Reiss was a Clinical Associate of Family Practice for the University of California School of Medicine in Davis. He was also an active member of the Academy of Family Practice, American Medical Association and the California Medical Association.
His daughter Krissy Petersen remembers an ancient doctor’s bag her father carried in the trunk of his car, ready for anything. When a friend stopped him in the parking lot after church with an earache, Reiss whipped out his tools and took a look.
“He believed very much in giving back,” said Carol Reiss.
Reiss spent hundreds of hours working with people who simply needed his help. A clinic for Lodians with no health insurance who needed medical care opened in the New Life Mission (later the Salvation Army building) on Sacramento Street in 1992, and was staffed by Reiss one night a week. In 2010, that clinic moved to a new location on Oak Street and was named the Walter E. Reiss Outreach Clinic.
At the ribbon-cutting, Reiss responded with what his daughters call his typical reaction to accolades: “I hope I deserve it.”
In appreciation of his service to the community of Lodi, he was presented with the Citizen of the Year Award for 2004 by the Lodi Chamber of Commerce.
Salvation Army Capt. Dan Williams remembers Reiss as the man who would turn up whenever you needed him. If children needed physicals to attend summer camp, or Salvation Army staff needed exams to renew their licenses, Reiss opened his office to them.
Reiss was instrumental in bringing the Salvation Army to Lodi. A group was needed to run the Archway Shelter, and Reiss helped make it happen. He was a member of the advisory board from the beginning.
“He was always there for people. That is what I will always remember with him, how he was always thinking, ‘How can I make a person’s life better?’ ... I’ll miss that,” said Williams.
Next to his family and his medical career, Reiss adored being a pilot. From 1959 until 1962, Reiss served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps as a surgical resident in Ft. Leavenworth, Kan. During this time he attended the U.S. Army flight school, and was awarded his pilot license in 1960. He logged about 5,000 hours in his lifetime, and he owned a V-tailwing Bonanza plane. For family vacations, they’d load up the plane and head out.
His family remembers countless trips cut a day or so short so as not to miss out on prime weather conditions for takeoff.
“I think we had faster packing skills than any other family,” said daughter Lorie Peterson.
Once, while trying to take off in Nebraska, the sod airfield was too wet for the plane to get enough speed. A couple of cousins had to get permission to knock down the mailboxes on the longest street in town so Reiss could use it as a runway.
“Dad could find a way,” said his daughter Susan Reiss.
Reiss was past-president of the Flying Physicians and co-founded the Flying Samaritans, with whom he established the Bon Posteur Hospital in San Quetin, Baja, Mexico. He also served as a medical examiner for the FAA, providing flight physicals for local pilots.
A lifelong fan of Nebraska Huskies football, Reiss helped establish the Californians for Nebraska fan club. He even helped raise money to broadcast Huskies footballl games out of the radio tower in Woodbridge.
Reiss loved a good party. It was common for friends and family to gather on weekends and form an impromptu band, called the Sunday Chamber Music Society. He played the trumpet.
He also sang bass with the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church choir for 30 years.
His family will remember him as a man who built a wonderful life, and lived it fully.
Lodi will remember him as generous, humble and willing to help.
“Lodi lost a great man, a contributor of both himself and any resource he had,” said Williams.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at email@example.com.