April 24, 2024

Dr. Phil Clevenger, ‘Enjoying something from each day!!’

By Curt Swarm

Phil Clevenger may have gotten his grit and determination from his grandfather, Ulrie Clevenger, who was known to say and put into practice that he’d, “Walk a mile to pull a cocklebur.” Phil was my friend and classmate growing up in the 50s and 60s in Monroe. Phil was a farm boy, but with what you might say, urban leanings. He was smart, athletic and had an infectious smile.

We baled hay all summer long. There was a neighborly group of four farmers that helped each other out. So it was a constant rotation of mowing, crimping, raking, baling and stacking hay in hot, chaff-filled barns. When we weren’t haying, it was walking beans, moving cattle from one pasture to another, roguing corn, painting barns, you name it. Looking back, it was an idyllic life. We worked hard, sweat, and the sun rose and set. From the seat of a Super M Farmall tractor, Phil said, “Do you realize summer is almost gone? School is only six weeks away.” Reality cometh.

Phil played football, basketball and ran track. I was a lineman, he was a running back. Phil could squirt through a small gap between the guard and tackle like a lynx.

He also knocked down good grades. So when it came time for college, Phil was off to the University of Iowa for a degree in finance. But banking and auditing wasn’t his cup of well water. Two events happened that changed Phil’s course of direction. He was married and his daughter, Mia, had a “green stick” break in her arm. He was impressed with the expertise of an orthopedic surgeon who had to rebreak the arm. Then, his cousin, who was also in banking, changed course and became a doctor.

“Hmm,” Phil thought. “If my cousin can do it, so can I.” But he had to go back to college and pick up all the chemistry and physics he missed. While doing this he worked as a custodian in the delivery room of a hospital. Yep. (Grandpa Ulrie’s grit.)

He applied to medical school and was accepted by Des Moines University College of Osteopathic Medicine. While in med school, Phil lived in one of his Grandfather Ulrie’s rental homes, Maple Hill (where I grew up also), and commuted to Des Moines. Once he completed his residency, his first practice was in his hometown of, you guessed it, Monroe. Remembering his high school football days, and the lack of medical care for injured players, Phil approached the high school football coach and asked if the team could use a doctor on the sidelines. “Well, sure!”

From Monroe, Dr. Clevenger practiced in Des Moines for a while, and then went to a clinic in Newton, where he met his wife, Caren. She was a Psych, Trauma and Hospice Nurse before she left nursing to become a successful real estate person. Phil has four biological and two step-children. Mia is an OBGYN doctor. Greg is an attorney. Drew is a high school football coach and history teacher at St. Ansgar in Northeast Iowa. Jason is in Finance and Banking in Des Moines. Cassie is a Lead X-ray Technician for Iowa Clinics in West Des Moines. And Justin is an Energy and Sustainability Specialist for Casey’s General Stores in Ankeny.

Drew, the high school football coach, needed a doctor on the sidelines. Father Phil stepped up to the gridiron. It was a long commute from Newton to St. Ansgar for Friday night lights, but Phil and his wife Caren loved watching Drew’s team. In fact, Phil was there to watch the St. Ansgar Saints win the Class 1A State Football Championship in the UNI Dome in 2011. As a reward for his medical service, Drew nominated his dad for the Iowa Football Coaches Association Distinguished Service Award, which Dr. Phil Clevenger received in 2014. His picture was taken with University of Iowa Football Coach, Kirk Ferentz, and son, Drew.

Had enough yet? Well, Dr. Phil Clevenger hasn’t. He’s the Medical Examiner for Jasper County, and has provided his medical skills to free clinics in Des Moines and Newton. He has also made three mission trips to El Salvador. On the first trip he went alone, even sleeping on the ground at times. On the second trip he took his youngest son, Jason. And on the third trip, his wife Caren accompanied him. When they went into the field, armed policemen with semi-automatic rifles escorted them.

Retired now, Phil and Caren enjoy traveling. He has been to the Caribbean, Europe, Israel, China, New Zealand, Southern Africa, and South America. Phil has read the Bible from cover to cover, saying it’s the best book he ever read. He still looks for, “Something to enjoy each day!!” It can be a nice meal, or a sunset, or his wife Caren, or any one of his 19 grandchildren.

Contact Curt Swarm at curtswarm@yahoo.com