Dr. Jack Louis Gibbs passed away at his home on March 31, 2020 surrounded by his children. Dr. Gibbs was born on January 18, 1926 in Bloomington Illinois and raised in a series of small communities throughout central Illinois. He joined the Navy in 1944, after which he graduated from Bradley in 1949 with a Bachelor of Science degree. In 1953 he earned his MD degree at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago. After an internship in Pennsylvania, he and his wife the former Francenia “Topsy” Bell, a registered nurse, opened a practice in Havana, Illinois where they cared for patients for over five years.
While in Havana, he and his wife, worked with the community to build a local hospital, the Mason District Hospital, which opened in 1958. Mrs. Gibbs was the first president of the hospital auxiliary. He later completed his residency in surgery at the VA Hospital in Hines, Illinois before moving back down to central Illinois to join the Coleman Clinic in Canton, Illinois in 1965.
Dr. Gibbs had several passionate interests as a physician and citizen of his rural community in central Illinois. He was an early and vocal advocate for encouraging the practice of medicine in rural areas where it was needed most. In 1960, he presented a paper at the 15th National Conference on Rural Health; “Impressions after Five Years of Rural Practice,” which emphasized that education was the key to increasing the number of physicians practicing in rural Illinois. Publication of this paper resulted in numerous invitations to serve on various State and National committees, which he did throughout the 1960’s and 70’s, lobbying for expanded rural health in Illinois.
In 1947, the Illinois Medical Society in conjunction with the Illinois Agricultural Association had initiated a loan program for medical school applicants, which obligated the recipients to practice in rural Illinois for at least five years. Known as the Rural Illinois Medical Student Assistance Program (RIMSAP), Dr. Gibbs served on that Loan Committee for 30 years, beginning in 1960, and 25 years as chairperson.
Recognizing that more doctors tend to practice where they were trained, Dr. Gibbs tirelessly campaigned for a medical school in downstate Illinois. Those efforts culminated in what is now known as the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria (UICOM-P). Peoria’s first class of 18 medical students graduated in 1973. In 1975, the UICOM-P recognized his service in the medical education community as “Alumnus of the Year.”
Many of the organizations he participated in such as the Illinois Surgical Society (past president) and the Illinois Medical Society held their meetings in Chicago. Determined to make as many meetings as he could while minimizing the impact to his practice and making time for his growing family, Dr. Gibbs obtained his pilot’s license and frequently flew himself to Chicago. Flying became another passion, becoming a member of the Fulton County Flying Club and earning his instrument and mountain ratings as a pilot. Dr. Gibbs would fly to other rural hospitals to perform surgery at moment’s notice, often landing on local grass landing strips. He also qualified and served as an FAA Aviation Medical Examiner from 1968 to 2010.
In 2008, the Mason District Hospital, in recognition of their longstanding commitment to the community and their personal and financial support, dedicated a new Gibbs Surgical Suite. The Chairman of the Mason District Hospital Foundation at that time, Mr. Turk, noted for the media that “[Dr.] Gibbs was instrumental in convincing the people of Mason County that it was in their best interests to establish a hospital in Havana. Thanks to [Dr.] Gibbs the hospital has a thriving surgical services department with two operating rooms where over 30 surgeries are performed each month.” Mr. Turk went on to say that "This kind of care would not have been possible without the contributions of people like Dr. and Mrs. Gibbs. Mason District Hospital has been very fortunate to be associated with this man and his family. Their impact on this community will continue to be felt for many years to come."
In 2013, he and his wife established the Dr. Jack L. and Francenia Gibbs Rural Medicine Scholarship for 3rd and 4th year medical students at UICOM-P who intend to practice medicine in rural Illinois. Dr. Gibbs said at that time; “In establishing this scholarship it is our hope that future recipients will not only take their place in the ranks of dedicated physicians in our rural communities, but be leaders and participants that affect medical education and practice of medicine. The personal reward of caring for patients, in our opinion, is in proportion to how much we care for the patients. Opportunities for lasting and continuing relationships are greater in the small community where relationships may last a lifetime.”
When he was not lobbying to expand the practice of rural medicine, he was practicing rural medicine. Dr. Gibbs became an expert in rural farm trauma. Over the years he assembled a collection of cases into a slide show, which he presented to various farm groups and medical associations. In 1983, representing a medical trauma delegation as part of a larger cultural exchange program, he also presented it to a group of physicians and surgeons in Changsha, China. In 1991, the Illinois Farm Bureau bestowed their Distinguished Service Award to Dr. Gibbs at their annual meeting Chicago. The IFB President at the time, John White, said “The ‘Gibbs’ name is synonymous with rural health care. His dedication to ensuring quality medical care for rural residents is unsurpassed.”
Dr. Gibbs’ community involvement was not limited to medicine. Shortly after moving to Canton, he volunteered to help form and coach the swim team at the local YMCA, which was run at the time by another Bradley alumnus, Mike Chianakis. Dr. Gibbs served on the Canton YMCA Board for 15 years, playing a crucial role in financing and constructing a new building that still serves the local community. He also served on the board of the Canton Community Bank and belonged to various charitable and civic organizations in Canton and Havana. In later years, Dr. Gibbs became personally and financially involved with the Nature Conservancy’s floodplain restoration efforts, establishing the 7,000 acre Emiquon Preserve located between Canton and Havana, Illinois. A place near and dear to Dr. Gibbs’ heart.
After retiring from surgery almost ten years earlier, Dr. Gibbs fully retired at the age of 85 no longer seeing patients. In an open letter to his patients announcing his retirement, he shared his thoughts about his decision to finally “hang up his stethoscope,” as he wrote:
"Over 45 years of surgical practice I have operated on many members of the same family and two and even three generations of the same family. Again, their confidence in me has been greatly appreciated. I would like to see them all again and thank them for allowing me to care for them. That's not possible of course, but I do see many of them. On the streets and in the stores I often enjoy a passing exchange. Perhaps only a glance and a nod, but more often a smile and a verbal acknowledgment of a past encounter. And in their eyes I see respect, and yes, love. I hope they can see it in mine because that's what I feel. And that's enough to get me through the throes of retirement. "
Dr. Gibbs is preceded in death by his wife Francenia “Topsy” Gibbs, his sisters Marjorie Cornell, Alberta Ogden, and Jean Chase. He is survived by his children, Michael, John, Anne and Jennifer, his brother James Gibbs, his sister JoAnn Gardner, ten grandchildren, a great granddaughter, and numerous nieces and nephews. The family plans to hold a memorial service in Canton as soon as circumstances permit.
In lieu of flowers, please visit go.uic.edu/UICOMPfunds and click on "Gibbs" to donate to the Dr. Jack L. and Francenia Gibbs Rural Medical Scholarship Fund. Or you may send a donation by check made payable to “University of Illinois Foundation”, memo designation “Gibbs Rural Scholarship Fund,” and send to One Illini Drive, Peoria, Illinois, 61605. The family thanks you. To share a memory or send a condolence for his family, visit www.peoriafuneral.com.
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