Vet retires at 67 - years of service, not age
When Robert Novak graduated from the Kansas State University veterinary school in 1955, he expected to continue working under a Hope veterinarian whom he had spent nine months with the previous year.
But a severe drought was in progress, sharply curtailing business. The vet didn’t need a partner. Novak went home and wondered what he would do.
Then, calls began trickling in. People were asking him for help with their animals. He decided he could strike out on his own.
He moved a house to a location one-quarter mile east of the Novak family farm and made it his headquarters. He added several livestock pens.
From that modest beginning, he built up a practice that continued for 67 years. He closed his practice and gave up his license in June.
Novak married Hallie Schlesener in 1959. She often accompanied him on farm calls before they were married and soon became his right hand, helping pull calves and do surgical procedures while managing the office.
“She did all that while caring for three daughters,” Novak said. “She put in her time.”
The first 25 to 30 years were the “golden age” of their practice. Farmers had a wide variety of livestock, including hogs, sheep, horses, chickens, and dairy and beef cattle.
Farmers with small herds of cattle often didn’t have good facilities for handling them, so Novak would pull a cattle chute behind his pickup from farm to farm.
When Novak was out on call and Hallie received a message for him, there were no two-way radios or cell phones, so it took a lot of effort to locate him.
Novak recalled one of the first times he performed a C-section at night. The animal was in an old barn, with chickens roosting in a hay loft above. He saw feathers floating around and wondered how he could perform a clean operation under those circumstances. But he got the job done.
Hallie worked hard to keep Bob looking professional. She made sure he had clean coveralls every day. She washed them in a wringer washing machine, soaked them in starch to make them less absorbent, then dried, sprinkled, and ironed them. It was a lengthy process.
In 1970, the couple bought 120 acres west of Lost Springs and built a new home and veterinary facilities. Farmers without adequate facilities were encouraged to bring their cattle there for treatment.
Novak gave up his large- animal practice in 2003 but continued with small animals until this year.
Alisha Weber of Herington helped him the last 16 or 17 years, after Hallie retired from being his assistant.
Hallie was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s last November, and Novak has been her constant caregiver until recently, when he got some help. His daughters also help on weekends.
With a sorrowful heart, he is planning to place Hallie in long-term care.
“It’s been a struggle,” he said. “I hate to give her up. My girls have encouraged me to do it.”
The 95-year-old vet bemoans the fact that so many of his clients and family members have died. He feels alone. However, he has no regrets about his long life of service.
“I liked treating animals,” he said, “but it was time for me to quit.”
Last modified Oct. 26, 2022