STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
MARBLE FALLS — When Marble Falls residents were sick, they knew Dr. Ivan Shepperd was always in. In six decades of caring for Highland Lakes residents, Shepperd never took a sick day.
Shepperd died Saturday, July 21, at the of age 93, and his passing is the end to a remarkable era in local medicine as well as his service to the community.
He opened his medical practice in 1948 on the corner of Main and Second streets then partnered with his brothers, Joe and Ray, to found Shepperd Memorial Hospital in Burnet, the only facility of its kind in the Highland Lakes at the time. There was also Allen Clinic, opened by Dr. George Allen, but it was smaller than Shepperd hospital.
“He did all the antiseptics for surgeries and delivered babies,” said Bertie Burnam, a former employee who worked for the doctor for 42 years. “After (age) 65, he did all the antiseptics for the other doctors. Dr. Ray did a lot of surgeries. They had a lot of patients in Shepperd hospital.”
Along with working in his office and the hospital, Shepperd also made house calls.
Ivan Shepperd was born Aug. 6, 1924, in Thornton and was raised in Liberty Hill. He was the youngest child of Ivy and Arthur Shepperd. He attended the University of Texas at Austin, where he met Virginia Wirtz, his college crush.
After the two married in December 1944, they moved to Galveston so Ivan could attend the University of Texas Medical School. Upon his graduation, the couple moved to Marble Falls to begin his practice, which lasted 61 years.
During one of those Thursday Rotary lunches, the life of Bertie Burnam changed. She was working as a waitress at Buck’s Pantry, where the Rotarians met, during the summer before her high school senior year when Shepperd offered her a job at his Marble Falls practice. Burnam accepted and worked part-time while attending high school classes.
After Burnam graduated from high school, she worked at the practice full time until it closed in 2009. Shepperd and his nurses trained Burnam to be a receptionist, a lab technician, a bookkeeper, and anything else the office needed. She enjoyed every bit of it and made friends with many of the patients.
“I was everywhere,” she said. “I enjoyed working with Dr. Shepperd. He was a very easy and kind person to work for. He taught me everything. He was a very good teacher. He was a teacher of respect. He gave you self-esteem.”
She was so integral to the practice that she only missed a few days of work due to an issue with her vertabrae. Shepperd drove her to work and let her sit on the couch in the office as she told the person filling in for her where to find things.
Shepperd split his workday between the hospital and his Marble Falls office. Because of the number of patients at the hospital, it wasn’t unusual for him to not arrive at his Marble Falls office until lunchtime.
As a balance to his work life, Shepperd raised and showed bulldogs, pursued photography, went camping and bird-watching, and gardened.
He had a witty sense of humor, Burnam said, and was known to brighten the day of his patients and staff with a funny joke.
She could only recall one patient who died in his office, a baby brought in by its parents, who were also Shepperd’s patients. Even when it seemed obvious the child had passed, Shepperd told his staff to call another doctor to come help.
“He couldn’t quit trying to save that baby,” Burnam said. “I think that’s one thing I’ll remember is how he wanted to save that baby.”
Neither the doctors, nor the staff, nor the parents ever figured out why the baby died.
Janie Cunningham, a member of Trinity Episcopal Church and its administrative assistant and organist, moved to town with her parents when she was 5. Her family became members of Trinity, and Shepperd was their doctor.
Shepperd, who was raised as a Baptist, served as the church’s first senior warden, while Virginia was the church organist for many years. Cunningham said she always hoped the Shepperds would be in church on Sunday because their family of 10 doubled the number of attendees.
“All the Shepperds were here taking up the first two rows,” Cunningham said. “It was a very small church, and they were always active.”
The Shepperds hosted a fish fry each year at their home, a two-story dwelling on RR 1431 that was also the residence of a menagerie of animals, including birds, snakes, and hamsters. Fountains of all types provided beverages, and tables and chairs were set up across the property to make this gathering the social event of the year.
“I think he did it because he enjoyed the company of all the townspeople who wanted to come,” Burnam said.
Burnam told the doctor many times that she didn’t think he was charging enough for his services. He would just shrug. He never increased his fees. She thinks it was because Shepperd saw how many of his patients lived on the small wages they were earning.
“That’s the way he felt,” she said. “To me, (the rate) was very low. To him, it was a very fair rate.”
Virginia and Ivan Shepperd had eight children: Catherine, Elizabeth, Virginia, Margaret, Milton, Ivan, and James and John, who are identical twins.
Just like their dad and uncles, some of the Shepperd children went into medicine. Catherine is an anesthesiologist, and Milton is a doctor, visiting area nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to treat the residents. Margaret is a speech pathologist, and James earned his Ph.D. and teaches psychology.
Cunningham moved away from the Highland Lakes, but when she returned after 20 years, she would often talk with Shepperd.
“Dr. Shepperd never changed,” she said. “His mind was always as sharp as a tack.”
A service for Ivan Shepperd is 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18, at Trinity Episcopal Church, 909 Avenue D. The cross in the Trinity’s sanctuary is dedicated to Virginia Shepperd.
Ivan Shepperd will be buried near his wife in the Trinity cemetery.
“After Virginia died, he said this is where he felt the closest to her,” Cunningham said of the church.