Obituary for John W. Hayden. MD

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John W. Hayden. MD, beloved father and dedicated physician, passed away on Sunday, February 5 at age 94 at Bethany Riverside Care Center. Born on October 3, 1922, in Buffalo, New York to Hamilton and Frances (Peggy) Hayden, John graduated from University School in Cleveland in 1940 and Hamilton College in 1944. After enlisting in the Navy in World War II, he entered the State University of New York-Syracuse Medical School on the V12 Bill, received his medical degree in 1947, and began an internship in pathology under Nobel laureate Dr. George Whipple at Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital. There, he encountered a beautiful blonde piano student at the university lunch counter, using the now-legendary opener “May I have a sam handwich?” which soon led to a long and happy marriage to Mary Phyllis Briddell that began on December 28, 1948, in Crisfield, Maryland. He was called into service in U.S. Navy during the Korean War, serving from 1951 to 1953 as a lieutenant and general medical officer on the USS Midway and the US Naval Academy. While at the Naval Academy he met Adolph Gundersen, who encouraged Hayden to join him at the growing multi-specialty Gundersen Clinic. John and Phyllis returned to Boston, where he was a resident at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, and chief orthopedic resident at Boston Children’s Hospital. During his last three years in Boston, he served on the faculty of Harvard Medical School working with his mentor, the legendary Dr. William T. Green.
Dr. Hayden then made the decision to leave academia and move to La Crosse to respond to the invitation of Adolf Gundersen and his brother Sigurd Gundersen, Jr. to help bring orthopedic care to western Wisconsin. At this time, other physicians trained in the East “were all coming out in this mass migration to the West,” Dr. Hayden later recalled, including Drs. Cameron Gundersen, Per Helliesen, and George Murphy. “I thought if these bright fellows went to this institution it would grow and do well and it has.” Although interested in the Gundersen Clinic, Dr. Hayden agreed to come only if he could bring his colleague Dr. Douglas G. Tompkins, with whom he had trained.
So, in 1958, he packed his young family in his Ford station wagon to move to La Crosse, and together with Dr. Tompkins, established the orthopedic department of the Gundersen Clinic-Lutheran Hospital. Here, he excelled in general orthopedics, performing some of the first total hip replacements in the region. Beginning in the 1960s, he served on Gundersen Clinic’s Board of Directors, as president of the Lutheran Hospital-La Crosse’s medical staff, and as a member of Hospital’s Board of Trustees.
Life outside the hospital was just as fulfilling; he helped found the La Crosse Community Theatre, played his beloved flute in the La Crosse Symphony, and was a life-long member of Christ Episcopal Church, where he served on its vestry and helped lead a successful campaign to modernize parts of the church building and restore its stained glass windows in the mid-2000s. He was an avid outdoorsman, hunting with his prized German wirehair pointers and capturing wildlife in photography and pastels. In his final years, he and friend Jim Doerre furnished magnificent hand-crafted furniture for children, friends and church; he was equally proud of putting his woodworking skills to use for Habitat for Humanity.
The family wishes to extend special thanks to Marianne and the staff at the Willows Assisted Living, Lori and the staff at Hearten House, and the Bethany Riverside Nursing Home for their excellent care, and to thank Sandy, Jean, Janice, and Jim for their many years of friendship, generosity, and service to John and Phyllis. We also extend our appreciation to the great staff at Schmidty’s restaurant, John’s favorite place to eat.
John was preceded in death by his loving wife of 65 years Phyllis and his brother Hamilton Peter (Bill) Hayden. He is survived by his five children: Melissa Hayden; Charles (Tammy) Hayden and children Amanda, Alex, Emily and David; Sarah Hayden Kahrl and children Ariel, Hunter, Miles and Ethan Kahrl; John A. (Margaret) Hayden and children Brittany and Patrick Hayden; and Christopher (Amy) Hayden and children Abby and Corey Hayden.
Calling hours will be held on Friday, February 10, 2017 from 4:00 - 6:00 pm at Dickinson Family Funeral Home, 1425 Jackson Street, La Crosse. Funeral services will be held at Christ Episcopal Church, 111 North Main Street on Saturday, February 11, 2017 at 10:00 am. with visitation from 9:00 a.m. until time of service. Following burial at Oak Grove Cemetery friends and family are invited to a reception at Schmidtys restaurant from 12:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. Please bring stories to share.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to John’s favorite charities, by check made out to either Habitat for Humanity or Christ Episcopal Church, mailed to c/o Chip and Tammy Hayden W5946 Woodland Drive La Crosse WI 54601.
Online condolences may be sent to the family at