LANSING, Ill. (August 12, 2023) – There was a time not long ago, when entire families relied on only one doctor. The family doctor was a physician and surgeon and treated every stage of life — infants to toddlers, kids to teens, men and women, pregnancy and childbirth and mid-life and senior years. Dr. Jacob L. Van Drunen was one such physician, practicing in Lansing from 1936 to 1972. His office and home was at 3253 Ridge Road.
A spectrum of services
Van Drunen was on staff at St. Margaret Hospital in Hammond, Indiana, and Our Lady of Mercy Hospital in Dyer, and he did his surgeries at both. He was president of the nurses’ staff in the Emergency Room at St. Margaret. And he served as Lansing’s Village Health Officer in the early 1960s. Dr. Van Drunen also made house calls.
Lansing residents and former residents who remember the Ridge Road physician reported a wide spectrum of his services — tonsillectomies, appendectomies, and vasectomies; prescribing birth control pills and administering the polio vaccine; performing such rites of passage as piercing ears, but also more traumatic services such as burning a giant growth from a dad’s arm — and remembering the strong odor of burning flesh.
Numerous newspaper articles told of accidents when victims were taken by Lansing and Munster police in all hours of the day or night to be patched up in Dr. Van Drunen’s office. There was also a time when Dr. Van Drunen himself had to be patched up. Involved in a car crash on Route 6 in Calumet City in February 1950, he suffered a fractured pelvis and spent a couple of weeks in St. Margaret Hospital. By the time he was released he had a personal understanding of a patient’s point of view.
Delivering babies — including Paul Schultz
Perhaps most famously, Dr. Van Drunen delivered babies — so many babies! Lansing Historian Paul Schultz estimates that Van Drunen delivered more than 1,000 babies — and Schultz was one of them. “Dr. Van Drunen brought me into this world on Christmas Day in 1938,” remembered Schultz. “When I was older, whenever I ran into him he’d say, ‘I’ll never forget you; you ruined my Christmas!’”
Schultz recalled another Christmas when the doctor was called to the house because he had an ear infection. Paul said, “He came with his little back bag, and before he left he charged my dad $2.”
Van Drunen was the Schultz family doctor until he retired in 1972.
As an adult, Schultz was employed by the Lansing Post Office as a postman, and Ridge Road was part of his route. Dr. Van Drunen got his exercise every day by walking, usually down Ridge Road. Paul said they’d meet up once or twice a week and chit-chat awhile, “Not too long, I had a job to do.” Schultz remembers, “I really enjoyed those talks.” And, “He was the only doctor I met that smoked cigarettes. Sometimes he had a pipe in his mouth.”
The good doctor
Facebook commenters left these descriptions of Dr. Van Drunen:
- “A kindly white-haired family doctor”
- “A very gentle soul”
- “A great doctor”
- “A very nice person with kids, that’s for sure”
- “Kind, gentle, with a light sense of humor”
- “A great GP and a great neighbor”
- “He would be embarrassed that I tell you he treated the nuns and priests at St. Ann’s pro bono!”
The Van Drunen family in Lansing and beyond
Jacob L. Van Drunen was born February 13, 1910, on a farm in South Holland where South Suburban College is located today. He got his medical degree from the University of Chicago Medical School.
Schultz said Van Drunen was reluctant to open his first practice in Lansing because there were already two respected doctors in town, Dr. William Potts and Dr. Anton Stockl. But when Van Drunen visited Lansing he decided this is exactly where he wanted to be. He temporarily lived in the house that is now part of Lansing Sport Shop while his home and office was being built next door.
The blond brick building with Georgian accents was completed in 1939 and cost $16,000. (The blueprints were also borrowed in designing the Schroeder Lauer Funeral Home down the street.) Van Drunen’s office was on the first floor, and he, his wife Grace, and their children Mark and Gaye, lived on the second floor.
Mark Van Drunen followed in his dad’s footprints and became a doctor of radiology, earning his master’s degree from Northwestern University and practicing at Hines, Illinois. He married Martha Tapply, a nurse, and they made their home in Oak Brook. He served at the 12th Air Force Hospital in Vietnam in the late 60s. He has since retired.
Gaye Van Drunen became a nurse and was pinned at Chicago Wesley Memorial Hospital. She married William Vanderkamp of South Holland and was widowed in 2008. Gaye and William had two sons and five grandchildren.
Dr. Van Drunen retired in 1972, remaining in Lansing and moving into a new house he had built on Indiana Avenue. He died March 30, 1997, and is buried in Homewood Memorial Gardens, Homewood, Illinois.
The Van Drunen building
Van Drunen’s Ridge Road building sold after his retirement and was rented out as offices, attracting numerous insurance agencies, a dental office, a shoe store, a photographer, and many other businesses. There was a lot of movement there and a lot of newspaper classified ads with “for rent” entries for that address. But over time, renters became fewer and fewer, and eventually the building was vacant.
The Village wanted to purchase it in 2011, tear it down, and turn it into a municipal parking lot. At that time it was said the building had been vacant for at least eight years, so by now, 2023, Dr. Van Drunen’s office has probably sat empty for 20 years. A vacant building attracts problems, and this one suffered water damage, graffiti, and vandalism. It was broken into several times when people tried to live in it.
The most recent disaster took place on Sunday, July 22, 2023, when the building caught fire in the early morning hours. The building is currently owned by the Village, and the fire is still under investigation.
The future of the landmark property is unknown, but Dr. Van Drunen’s legacy as Lansing’s doctor lives on in the memories of the families he served for 36 years. As one former patient remembered, “He was a quiet man, never one to bluster, boast, or dominate a conversation. Respected by all who knew him professionally and privately.”
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