FAREWELL, DR. JAN
Dr. Jan Christensen was a fixture at
Gunnison Valley Hospital for 34 years
By Kristi Shields and Suzanne Dean
GUNNISON—Dr. Jan Christensen, 73, who passed away on July 14 after a battle with cancer, was remembered by family members and people in the medical community this week for being kind hearted, generous, patient and humorous.
Dr. Christensen and his wife, Ruth, set up his private practice in Gunnison in 1978. He practiced for 34 years, specializing in family medicine, especially with the older population. He helped expand and renovate Gunnison Valley Hospital, bringing in modern facilities and equipment.
The Christensens’ daughter, Thamina, said, “He helped Gunnison be that medical hub in the community.”
In an interview in the Sanpete Messenger at the time he retired from practice in 2011, he recalled growing up in Riverside, California when the area was rural “with orange groves everywhere.” Over time, the region became urban with congestion, pollution and crime.
However, his grandparents lived in Manti, and he had aunts, uncles and cousins in Sanpete County.
“I always thought if I ever controlled my own destiny, I’d leave California and come to Sanpete County,” he said at the time of his retirement. “This has been our life ever since, and it’s been a good life.”
He graduated from BYU and then went to the Loma Linda School of Medicine in California.
As a rotation in his medical schooling, he was sent back to Switzerland where he had previously served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Thamina recalled her father saying that “the first time he learned religious German, the next time he went he learned medical German.”
Thamina said learning German was the foundation for many things in his life. She told about a time when a German couple was in a car accident and he was able to help the family by translating.
Over his years in practice, dozens of families thanked him in obituaries and cards of thanks published in local newspapers.
In 2005, an obituary for a Manti man who died from heart disease including a thanks to Dr. Christensen for taking care of the man for 22 years including saving his life nine times.
One card of thanks said, “We appreciate the years of care from Dr. Jan Christensen and his staff. They always made dad feel like a priority and well taken care of.”
And another published tribute said, “Dr. Jan Christensen and his fine staff have always been there for both mom and dad.”
Dozens of people attended a retirement reception for Dr. Christensen in 2011. Mark Dalley, administrator of Gunnison Valley Hospital, told the crowd, “We pride ourselves in associating with doctors like Dr. Christensen who are committed to their practice(s) and making Gunnison Valley Hospital known for its medical expertise. He’s a very genuine, caring individual (and) is always willing to help people out.”
Dr. Christensen responded by saying, “It’s been my real pleasure that my life’s work involves the close association with my friends and neighbors.”
Last week following Dr. Christensen’s death, Dalley added to his earlier remarks, saying, “I can tell you that the people here [at Gunnison Valley Hospital] had great respect for him…He definitely made a huge impact on this community and this hospital — for good.”
Local people posted tributes on social media pages. One neighbor wrote, “I was never afraid of doctors because of your dad.”
“What a wonderful man,” another friend said. “Our valley has lost one of our best.”
Dr. Christensen served the community outside of his practice. For example, in 2003, he arranged for the director of the Utah Office of Hispanic Affairs, and staff from the Mexican Consulate in Salt Lake City and the Utah Department of Workforce Services to spend a day in Sanpete County meeting with local Latinos one-on-one about education, employment and immigration concerns.
His name was on the sponsor list for the Junior Livestock Show. He helped get a new skilled nursing facility (now Mission at Community Living) built in Centerfield and was one of the people wielding a shovel at the ground breaking.
He and his wife, Ruth, founded a 15-member band, performed in the community, and helped out with stage productions at Gunnison Valley High School.
He served as an LDS bishop and in the stake presidency. He and his wife served as missionaries in Mexico and Vancouver, Canada. In Mexico, he was a medical advisor for the church.
Away from his medical practice, he loved music, being in the mountains and visiting the beach, his family members said.
He always made people feel important and really listened to them, Thamina said. He taught his children that if you want friends, you need to be a friend first. He emphasized the importance of learning people’s names, and told his children that by saying hello to people, it made people remember you and see you as a friendly person.
Thamina said his mantra was: “Always be kind to people because you never know who’s in trouble or when you will need help back.”
“[He was the] best of dads, the best of men,” Thamina said.
No matter how busy he got with calls from patients or ward members, he would always sit down for family dinner, she said.
Another daughter of Jan, Suzanne (Suzy), said, “He was busy, but he always made time for us.”
Another daughter of Jan’s, Lucille, said “He encouraged us to be independent but was always there for us when we needed him.”
Suzy said whenever she needed help, the person she thought to call was her father. She said whenever one of her children was sick, she would call him, and he was there to help her understand what was happening and how to process it.
“He was there to give medical background but also fatherly advice,” Suzy said. “I could talk to him about anything. We just had fun together; he was like my best friend.”
Thamina added that most people knew him as Dr. Jan, as opposed to Dr. Christensen, because he was more of a friend than a formal doctor.
The Christensen family is having a virtual service on Sunday, July 26 at 6 p.m. A viewing will take place at Memorial Mountain View Mortuary, 3115 Bengal Blvd. in Cottonwood Heights, Salt Lake County, on Monday July 27 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. followed by a private graveside service.