Former HMH pathologist, outdoorsman, traveler
Services for Michael Frank Koehl, MD, who died Dec. 30, 2018, will be conducted Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019, 10 a.m. at First United Methodist Church, Huntsville. Burial will be at noon Friday in Floresville City (TX) Cemetery. Visitation will be 5-7 p.m. at Sam Houston Memorial Funeral Home Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019.
Dr. Koehl was born in October, 1939, in San Antonio, Texas, to Frank Elo and Christine (Hampton) Koehl. His earliest Texas ancestors on his mother’s side, six and seven generations ago, settled in what is now Washington County, in Austin’s Second Colony, in the 1820’s. His father’s family came to Fayette County from Alsace-Lorraine and Germany in the 1840’s and 1850’s, while others from his mother’s family came from Germany, Canada, Tennessee and Louisiana to Gonzales and Waco in the 1850’s and 1870’s.
He grew up hearing tales of late 19th century life from his great-grandparents, especially from Victoria (Fauth) Bongard, the daughter of German immigrants, who was also one of the earliest Sam Houston Normal Institute graduates in 1888. She had begun her teaching career in far West Texas, at Shafter, and told him exciting tales of how she journeyed there by stagecoach and saw Indians on the horizon as she traveled, increasing his love of Texas history.
Mike was born just as World War II began in Europe and remembered many of the years and events of the U. S. involvement in it by what he was doing when he heard adults discuss various battles. He learned his life-long love of trains from visits to his paternal grandfather, who was the assistant freight agent for Kelly Field at the Southern Pacific station in San Antonio, where Mike was allowed to “oil the wheels” of the huge steam engines.
He gained his love of science and travel from his maternal grandfather, an optometrist and amateur geologist, who took him all over the western U. S. in search of rocks, and also from his parents, who camped through the West, and who also encouraged his interest in fishing on their many trips to Port Aransas. His father, a keen amateur photographer, encouraged his interest in using cameras.
Because of extreme myopia, he was one of the first three people in San Antonio to be fitted with modern hard contact lenses, and wore them for over fifty-eight years, until cataract surgery made them unnecessary.
He developed a very quiet but quick sense of humor during his childhood, and had friends from his school days whom he kept all his life, many of them from the high school band (in which he played trumpet for five years) and others from his part-time jobs. He threw newspapers in his neighborhood near Fort Sam Houston, often rolling them with friends in General Wainwright’s garage when it was cold and rainy.
During two high school summers, he worked carrying fifty pound kegs of nails for construction and planting grass in the yards of newly built homes in North San Antonio. He loved “adventure” even then, and when he was 15, he and two other friends of similar age used the money they had made to drive all over the West by themselves in a 1946 Chevrolet. They camped out as they traveled as far as Yellowstone Park and then down through the Great Salt Lake area and on to Los Angeles, eventually sleeping outside a bar in Las Vegas when their car needed repair and they were almost out of money.
He graduated from Alamo Heights High School in San Antonio, from Rice University, where he majored in biology, and from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. After an internship at Hermann Hospital in Houston, he served two years in the U. S. Army Medical Corps at Chitose Base, in Hokkaido, Japan, which was one of the U. S. “listening posts” during the Cold War. He did his residency in pathology at UTMB and at the University of Arkansas Medical Center in Little Rock, where he also did a residency year in pediatrics, and completed his formal training with a fellowship in pediatric pathology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in Ohio.
He was board-certified in anatomic and clinical pathology in 1974. He was the pathologist at Huntsville Memorial Hospital for more than thirty-eight years, much of that time as a solo practitioner.
He married Judy Lou Rowe in 1969, just after he returned from work in Pleiku as a “Volunteer Physician for Vietnam”, a trip which included a free round-the-world air ticket. He and Judy had four sons, Richard, Edward, Andrew and William. For the sixteen years when his sons were Boy Scout age, he spent much of his free time as an assistant leader, and eventually, as chairman of the Troop 98 committee. He spent many weekends camping out with the scouts, and every Christmas during those years was planned around helping the troop sell Christmas trees. He and his wife also had season tickets to the Houston Symphony for most of their marriage, which gave him some relief from being on call 24/7, as he loved classical music. He fished as often as possible with his sons, often at Lake Livingston and several times in Northern Saskatchewan.
After he joined Baylor College of Medicine’s Department of Pathology in 1999, and all of his sons were out of high school, he found more time to travel and indulge his well-developed sense of adventure. His great interests were in fishing, riding steam trains, and seeing solar eclipses, so many of his journeys with his wife and/or his sons were focused on those activities, as well as visiting his sons and their families, all of whom live at a distance.
He was quite proud that he had visited all seven continents, and had fished on six of them (including rivers in Mongolia, Botswana, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, and even just off Manhattan Island), ridden the Trans-Siberian, the Trans-Australian and Trans-Canada railroads, the “Devil’s Nose” train in Ecuador, Rovos Rail and the “Blue Train” in South Africa, and seen eclipses from Bolivia, Egypt, Easter Island, the Black Sea and various oceans.
On one trip he rode the Bluebell (steam) Railway in England, and returned to the U. S. on one of the last flights of the Concorde. He floated the Grand Canyon with the Sierra Club and also managed to find someone to take him gliding through the Grand Tetons. He was a great “teller of tales” about all his adventures, and usually embroidered them only a little. He also loved to walk and to bicycle about his own neighborhood, and was, for many years, a regular fixture of the afternoon there.
He also took great pleasure in being able to make donations to establish endowed scholarships and grants at several universities, including one in honor of his great grandmother at SHSU. He was a good, quiet man who loved his family deeply, who enjoyed being with and hearing from his friends, who found pathology (and science generally) as well as the world around us fascinating, and who loved to play with his model trains, especially those of the Southern Pacific.
He was a member of First United Methodist Church, Huntsville, the Walker-Madison-Trinity County Medical Society, the Texas Medical Association, the Houston Society of Pathologists, the American Society for Clinical Pathology, the College of American Pathologists, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, The Sons of the Republic of Texas and the German Texan Society.
His parents and his grandparents, Frank and Clementine (December) Koehl, Dr. William Waynman and Victoria (Bongard) Hampton, died many years ago. He is survived by his wife, Judy, his four sons and their wives and children, Richard Koehl, Andrea Sankari, and their daughters Penelope and Gwendolyn of New York City, Edward and Laura (Konczal) Koehl, and their children Benjamin and Josephine of Moreland Hills, Ohio, Andrew Koehl, Beatrice Lok, and their daughters Clarice and Daphne of Hong Kong, and William and Eleanor (Dickson) Koehl, of Baltimore, Maryland, as well as his younger brother, Stephen Koehl, and his uncle, Kenneth Koehl and his wife, Betty. He is also survived by his brothers in law, A. Richard Rowe III and James E. Cox, as well as numerous nieces, nephews and cousins.
Memorials in lieu of flowers may be made to the First United Methodist Church, 1016 Sam Houston Avenue, Huntsville TX 77320 for their scouting or music programs, to the Josey Foundation, 1300 11th Street, Suite 630, Huntsville TX 77340 for the upkeep of the Josey Scout Lodge, to the Victoria Fauth Bongard Scholarship at Sam Houston State University, in care of University Advancement, Box 2537, Huntsville TX 77341, or to a charity of your choice.
Condolences may be left at www.shmfh.com