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MARSHALL — After more than four decades of service to patients throughout the region, Thomas Neidlinger, M.D., is to retire from his family medical practice at the end of December, Neidlinger and Oaklawn officials have announced.
Appointments scheduled with Neidlinger after Dec. 31 will be cancelled. Patients may call Dr. Erin Rockwell, D.O., at Oaklawn Medical Group – Marshall Primary Care, or another Oaklawn Medical Group provider, to establish care as a new patient.
Dr. Jamie Longhurst, D.O., Neidlinger’s associate at Neidlinger Family Practice since early 2019, is transitioning into private practice. Appointments scheduled with Longhurst after Dec. 31 are also being cancelled and may be rescheduled after her practice opens in 2022.
Patients with walk-in needs are being directed to Oaklawn After Hours Express at 1174 W. Michigan Ave. during that facility’s regular hours — 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
“Dr. Neidlinger’s service to Oaklawn and the Marshall community is legendary,” said Gregg Beeg, Oaklawn’s president and CEO. “We’ve long been proud of our professional association and we wish him well in his retirement.”
Neidlinger, the senior member of Oaklawn’s medical staff, has been long recognized for his focus on professional medical excellence. In 2012, Neidlinger was designated Oaklawn’s Physician of the Year, the second physician so honored. He has served on the Oaklawn Board of Directors and on the Marshall Board of Education while remaining active as a community volunteer.
In the years since Neidlinger joined Oaklawn in mid-1978, he has delivered an estimated 3,000 babies — sometimes in the hospital’s emergency room, once in a hospital elevator and once in an automobile in the hospital’s parking lot, he said.
“They just come when they want,” Neidlinger said with a chuckle, admitting that living just three blocks from the hospital made it easier at times to be on the scene when needed.
“Often I wouldn’t even drive down there,” he said. “It was almost quicker to run.”
Neidlinger completed undergraduate studies at Michigan State University and earned his medical degree from the University of Michigan. He completed his family-practice residency at the Grand Rapids Medical Education Center and is certified by the American Board of Family Practice. In recent years, Neidlinger Family Practice has occupied Suite 2A in the Wright Medical Building.
Neidlinger and his wife, Darlene — a nurse trained in her native Muskegon — met in 1975 as medical professionals in a Grand Rapids emergency room. When they married in early 1978, one of the wedding guests was Rob Covert, Oaklawn’s former chief executive officer and president, who was actively seeking physicians to come to Marshall.
“Rob was energetic, persuasive and very helpful,” Neidlinger recalled. “We had looked at several locations but Marshall really seemed to want us.”
Neidlinger credited Covert for convincing the young physician and his wife of two months to make the move, adding that the community’s own attributes played a significant role.
Neidlinger was born in Tecumseh, raised in Onsted and had been a resident of rural Jackson. As a result, he said, Marshall felt familiar and a good fit.
“I liked the size of the community — the friendliness and wholesomeness. And, of course, the historical background was appealing,” Neidlinger said.
“The hospital was in need of a family-practice base,” Covert recalled. “Fortunately, (the Neidlingers) liked the environment of Marshall — the beautiful downtown and the small-town atmosphere, and they saw an opportunity here.”
“I’d been hesitant, not knowing anyone” in the town, Darlene Neidlinger said. “But we got an amazing welcome from the community and the hospital had a lot to do with that. Along with my work with (Calhoun County) Visiting Nurse Service, that made it a lot easier and helped me to acclimate to the move.”
Forty-three years after the Neidlingers settled in Marshall, Covert expressed his personal congratulations to the physician on his retirement.
“He has had a wonderful career that benefited his patients, the town and the hospital,” Covert said. “He helped us establish a high standard of quality — out of the gate and over time. He demonstrated that quality himself and insisted on it from other physicians, and he and his family have been a wonderful addition to the community.”
Such assessments as Beeg’s and Covert’s stem from the Neidlingers’ range of effort —as individuals and as a couple — extending beyond their professional work to their volunteer service.
Darlene Neidlinger became an active member of the Oaklawn Auxiliary and served as its president. She said the couple’s focus on their children — all now grown — led them toward involvement in varied activities beyond the hospital.
“We put down roots,” Tom Neidlinger said. “This is where our four children were born and educated. It’s been a great town to raise kids. They had a good education and they were safe.”
Those activities included service on the Marshall Public Schools Board of Education — which each served as president — as well as leadership with local Cub Scouts, coordinating travel for local sports teams, helping with blood drives and board and committee service with the Marshall Community Foundation and Marshall Historical Society.
“What I did was for my family and for my kids,” Darlene Neidlinger said. “The hospital was vital for the health of the community, but my biggest joy was serving on the school board, where I felt I could make a real difference. Whatever our kids were doing, that’s what Tom and I wanted to be a part of.”
Tom Neidlinger said he’ll learn eventually what’s in store for him in retirement.
“I’ll go to the gym, I hope,” he said. “We also hope to travel and see our children and grandchildren. I’d like to see the beautiful country out West and see what’s out East, too. Once things settle, maybe I can find a volunteer gig.”
Darlene Neidlinger won’t disclose all of the plans she has for her husband in retirement, but suggested there might be some chores for him around their house and garden.
“We’ll be doing some things together,” she said. “And we’ll always consider ourselves part of the Marshall community.”