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Charles Hedinger, M. D., of Canton, McPherson County, is a character unique in the great Sunflower State of Kansas. Others have grown old under the bright skies and in the wholesome and invigorating climate of Kansas’ prairies, but so far as known none had reached the age of ninety-five still active in work and had passed through such a varied range of experience, meeting hazard and danger with equanimity, and getting all possible out of life at every hour of existence.
Much had been said and written in recent years concerning the decadence of the modern man and his comparative usefulness in the scheme of industrial and commercial life after the age of forty. In spite of the numerous conspicuous exceptions that belief had become almost a creed in some sections. But Doctor Hedinger had carried on his life work and usefulness for almost half a century beyond the normal middle age. He had actually proved that the last of life is that for which the first was made.
Much had been written of Doctor Hedinger in recent years, and one of America’s leading weekly periodicals, the Outlook, recently referred to him in the following paragraphs: “Out in Kansas today Dr. Charles Hedinger, at the age of ninety-five, performs all of the arduous duties of a country practice, turning out at midnight to drive a score of miles, though the temperature be below zero.”
Of such a man Kansas history must take more than a passing notice. Charles Hedinger was born on a vessel in the Mediterranean Sea August 17, 1821, and is now in his ninety-sixth year. His father was a Prussian and his mother an Italian. Doctor Hedinger spent the first eleven years of his life in the City of Venice, and after that grew up in Prussia until twenty-eight. He was liberally educated, attending Goettingen University, where he graduated in medicine. He was graduated in 1842.
Doctor Hedinger had some experience and participation in the revolutionary troubles that afflicted central Europe during the late ’40s, and like many other Germans he came to America in 1848. For eight years he practiced medicine in New York City, and for 2½ years was an assistant surgeon in the United States navy. In the late ’50s he became a surgeon in the United States army and saw active service at many western army posts. In 1857 he was with Albert Sidney Johnston’s army in Utah during the Mormon uprising. He was at Fort Laramie and participated in campaigns against hostile Indians clear to the Pacific coast. He fought with the Navajoe and Apache Indians in Mexico.
In 1862 Doctor Hedinger resigned from the Regular army and enlisted as a private in the Second Colorado Cavalry, but was soon commissioned surgeon. He served until the close of the Civil war, and most of his campaigning as a volunteer was in Kansas and Colorado. It is said that Doctor Hedinger carries on his body the scars of seventeen wounds received during the Indian and Civil wars.
At the close of the war Doctor Hedinger located for private practice at Kansas City, Missouri, for three years, and then practiced eleven years in Pottawatomie County, Kansas, and during all that time served as coroner. For ten years he was at Strong City, Kansas, and was United States pension examiner. In 1893, nearly a quarter of a century ago, he moved to Canton and had been continuously a resident of that city ever since. For many years he was a very capable surgeon, but latterly had attended entirely to his medical practice. He knows surgery from the crude days of that science and before the introduction of anesthesia and the many other discoveries and appliances which have made surgical practice so different and so vastly more efficient. During his experience as an army and navy surgeon he performed many operations without anesthetics, and patients were tied down to keep them from writhing under the pain of the knife.
The community of Canton esteems him not only as an old but as one of its most remarkable citizens. For five years he served as mayor of Canton, and on August 17, 1899, the citizens of that town presented him with a valuable gold watch as a token of their appreciation of what he had done for them as mayor. For six years he was a member of the school board. Doctor Hedinger is affiliated with Canton Post of the Grand Army of the Republic and is a thirty-second degree Mason.
At Council Grove, Kansas, September 22, 1866, he married Miss Mary Burns, who was born in Missouri December 12, 1834. Doctor Hedinger had five children: Ada, Ida, Fred, Amelia and Otis. He also had twenty-five grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren, and thus his vitality and example are already transmitted through several generations.
Doctor Hedinger with all his career of almost unexampled activity and practical experience is one of the most scholarly men of Kansas. He studied medicine in what now seem crude days, but had always studiously kept abreast of the times and reads copiously of the most modern medical and surgical literature. He had one of the finest private libraries in the state, and had been a collector of rare old books, some of which are more than 300 years old. He knows the literature of several languages, and culture with him is not a superficial dress but is an essential part of his very character and experience.
Naturally there is much interest in Doctor Hedinger’s mode of life. Undoubtedly he inherited a splendid physical constitution. He is reported to have said that he experienced only one illness in his life, and that was during the Civil war when he suffered from typhoid. He had never been a faddist, and while his life had been a temperate one it had not been one of abstinence. Even in his old age he smokes copiously, and had led a rough, jolly and wholesome life, unattached to any particular system or philosophy as a secret and means of reaching old age. Doctor Hedinger even in old age is one of the most cheerful of men, and cheerfulness had undoubtedly contributed largely to his long life. Perhaps to no one better could tribute be paid which is expressed in the following definition of success:
“He had achieved success who had lived well; laughed often and loved much; who had gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who had filled his niche and accomplished his task; who had left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem or a rescued soul; who had never lacked an appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who had always looked for the best in others and gave the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory is a benediction.”