Harold Fenske remembered

NEW ULM – Harold Fenske, the administrator who oversaw the merger of two New Ulm hospitals into what is now the New Ulm Medical Center, died Wednesday at Oak Hills Living Center in New Ulm. He was 87.

Fenske was remembered Wednesday by those he worked with and recruited to the Medical Center for his contributions to the health care industry.

In 1969 Fenske took the position of assistant administrator at Union Hospital, which was located on South Broadway between 6th and 7th South Streets. He became administrator in 1973.

At that time, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, a Catholic order of nuns, operated Loretto Hospital on the current site of New Ulm Medical Center.

In 1980, the two hospitals merged to form Sioux Valley Hospital. Fenske was instrumental in the planning of the merger and the integration of the two staffs into one.

“His place in New Ulm history and progress has to be the successful merger of the two hospitals, Union and Loretto, into one,” said Denis Warta.

“He was a strong supporter of that idea. He saw the advantages and the necessity.

“He was also a great fishing buddy,” Warta added. “He was a member of the New Ulm Fishing Club for many, many years. He was a great guy.”

Fenske recruited many physicians to New Ulm, building a solid group of health care providers who helped turn the hospital and clinic into a regional health care leader.

One of those doctors, Dr. Karl Papierniak, remembered Fenske as “an excellent administrator. He always had the good of the New Ulm patients at heart.”

Attracting good physicians to New Ulm was an important task at the time.

“He was the paramount leader in recruiting in that era. He set us on the path we continue on today, to be a very good medical center.”

Dr. Marc Burkhart, another physician recruited by Fenske, listed a number of doctors Fenske brought to New Ulm – himself and Dr. Papierniak, Dr. Ellen Vancura, Dr. Ken Dirlam, Dr. Daniel Groebner and others, many of whom still practice here.

“He was a very personable, quiet and efficient administrator,” said Burkhart. “I’ll never forget the day I was interviewed, it was also the day that Dr. Kitzberger (a long-time obstetrician in New Ulm) died. He had a lot to do, and he handled it all so well.”

Fenske retired in 1987, just prior to the ultimate merging of Sioux Valley Hospital and the New Ulm Medical Clinic under one organization on the hospital campus near Fifth North and Garden streets, creating the New Ulm Medical Center.

“Harold was a healthcare leader in New Ulm during a critical transformation of health care delivery, which saw two hospitals merge and collaboration begin with the clinic and hospital. He was known for his professionalism and desire to give back to the community through service,” said Toby Freier, currently the administrator for NUMC.

Fenske was honored by New Ulm Medical Center in 2012 when it named him its Legends of Medicine recipient.

At that time, Dr. Vancura had this to say: “I have always admired Harold, who was a key player in creating the medical center we have today. I owe much to Harold and have often cited him as one of the key reasons I looked no further than New Ulm for a practice site. Harold was indispensable in the orchestration of combining the two hospitals and then moving the clinic onto the hospital campus. He worked beautifully with a dedicated, forward-thinking committee of citizens who wanted only what was best for New Ulm. He achieved a citizen’s highest calling – to contribute his all for the common good.”

Fenske was born in New Ulm on Feb. 12, 1926 to Harold Sr. and Edna Fenske. He graduated from New Ulm High School in 1944, and served in the U.S. Navy in the South Pacific Theater. He returned to New Ulm in 1946, marrying Betty Wykoff in Mankato in 1949, and attending Mankato State College, where he earned a B.A. degree.

While in college, he and his friend, Don Gollnast, who later became president of Citizens Bank, started a drive-in restaurant called The Mug, which they operated together until 1957.

In 1951, Fenske began a career as a stock broker for several different companies, including his own firm, which ran from 1966 to 1969, when he started as assistant administrator with Union Hospital.

An active participant in community affairs, he served on the New Ulm Public Utilities Commission, including a stint as president. He was a member and past Master of the Masonic Lodge, and a member of the Rotary Club of New Ulm. He served as a board member and president of the Oak Hills Living Center, was a past president and member at the United Church of Christ, and a member and director of the New Ulm Chamber of Commerce.

In retirement, Fenske continued to volunteer, as a driver for Meals on Wheels. He and his wife Betty were honored by the Sertoma Club with the Service to Mankind Award.

He is survived by his wife, Betty; his son, Bruce Fenske, publisher of The Journal, and daughters, Lynn and husband Tom Ries of Mankato and Sandra Fenske and her husband Randy Cole of Medina.

His full obituary will be published in The Journal on Sunday.

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