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In Memory of Dr. Paul Goellner


February 23, 1945 - April 4, 2020

Dr. Paul Godwin Goellner, aged 75, died at his home on Saturday, April 4, 2020, following more than a year of treatment for acute leukemia. Paul was widely known and respected in the area for his medical practice, civic involvement, and generous spirit.

He was born on February 23, 1945, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Karl E. “Gene” and Ruth E. (Godwin) Goellner.  The third of the Goellner’s four sons, he grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  He attended public schools (Polk, Garfield, Franklin, and Washington), graduating from high school in the spring of 1963.  Following three months of travel throughout Europe, he attended Oberlin College and graduated in 1967.  His Bachelor’s Degree was followed by a Master’s Degree in Physiology and Pharmacology from Wayne State University in 1968 and a Doctor of Medicine from the University of Iowa Medical School in 1972.

During a residency in internal medicine and pediatrics, Paul took a short break from medicine to frame houses in Eugene, Oregon, before moving to Spooner, Wisconsin.  There, he completed his Family Practice certification in 1974, while working at the Spooner Clinic.  A believer in home births, he helped women have their babies at home and subsequently trained a midwife.  In his career, as he put it, “I helped babies get born,” estimating the number to be around 2,500.  After serving generations of families, he retired from the practice of medicine in Spooner in 2016, after 42 years of service.

With a passion for providing healthcare for underserved people, he was one of several people who started the Iowa City Free Clinic in 1971, the longest standing free clinic in the country. He also helped to establish and served on the board of the Rice Lake Area Free Clinic.  For many years he travelled to Duluth, Minnesota, once a month, working as a preceptor at the Family Practice Medicine Clinic (associated with the Duluth Family Medicine Residency Program) to train new physicians.

Paul was involved in civic activities throughout his life.  Other boards he served on were the Spooner Health System and Spooner Area School District.  He was a founding member of the cross-country ski group “Glide and Stride,” and actively supported the Washburn County Humane Society and the Hunt Hill Audubon Sanctuary.

Paul was an avid gardener who raised vegetables and planted hundreds of spruce trees.  Physical activity, including bicycling and cross-country skiing, was important in his life.  He completed 22 American Birkebeiners.  A mechanic from childhood, he restored a 1939 Chevy pick-up and made good progress on a 1957 Chevy BelAir.  Family and friends appreciated his hiking and camping skills on many Quetico canoe trips and journeys with the “Adventure Group” (a group of friends and outdoor enthusiasts) in Utah, Colorado, and Montana.  Music was always important to Paul and he enjoyed many hours of playing the stand-up and electric bass.

A man of clearly stated convictions and steady action, Paul said he always wanted to do something different, to help people, to live out in the country, and to “never see my name in the paper for an undersized fish.”  These are ambitions he accomplished.  He made clear he never supported the war in Vietnam and thought the NRA position on the second amendment was entirely wrong.  Paul’s illness did not interrupt his engagement with the world.  In early January, he predicted the 2019 corona virus would be serious and result in significant illness and many deaths.  Paul wished that his “wife, children, and grandkids all find joy and love in their lives and that homo sapiens do not destroy the planet.” 

Dr. Goellner is survived by his wife, Bette Colville, of Spooner, and his daughters from a previous marriage:  Sage Goellner (Ben Hirby) of Madison, WI, and Sara Jones (Scott) of St. Louis, MO, and grandchildren Reed Hirby, Oliver Hirby, Rylan Jones, and Lyla Jones.  Other survivors are his three brothers:  Dr. John (Ann) Goellner of Rochester, MN; Karl (Mary) Goellner of Dahlonega, GA; and Dr. Mark (Anita) Goellner of Duluth, MN.

Family and close friends will celebrate his life and honor his memory at a private gathering, date to be announced.

In lieu of flowers, please send donations to Hunt Hill Audubon Sanctuary, Planned Parenthood, or help someone in need in Paul’s honor.


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