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The Only Doctor In Town: Dr. Harold G. Gressler

It was a sunny day in 1950 when a 10-year-old Claire Moore played "Tag Your It" before school began. Things took a turn when she collided head-on with a classmate, leaving her with a cut above her right eye.

With a pulsating gash, a face full of blood, and eyes full of tears, she thought it was all over until one Dr. Harold. G. Gressler, the only doctor in town, came to her rescue and saved the day.

"Dr. Gressler and I didn't talk much, but he was professional and made me feel like everything was going to be all right," said 81-year-old Claire Moore of Collinsville. "He sewed my wound and put nine stitches in my eyebrow. He did an excellent job.”

Moore was not the only one Gressler treated as a patient. During his career, he was responsible for doctoring hundreds of local citizens at his facility, the Collinsville Hospital/Clinic, which was the only medical office in town. 

The hospital contained 32 beds and an emergency room while the clinic consisted of an office and an operating room. It was officially established by the World War ll veteran in 1949.

Gressler relocated to Alabama with his wife, Vera Smith of Jacksonville, Florida, and two children, Irma and Herman, from Amherst, Ohio. He was searching for a place to not only call home forever but to live out his dream of becoming a doctor.

"He was a medic in the Navy and received all of his education there, but he felt that it was his calling to be a healer someday," said James Coker, grandson of Gressler. "They recruited him to work in other places, and he could have. But it was something about Collinsville and the valley area that got his attention, and he fell in love with it."

When Gressler was not at the hospital, he attended to the needs of patients at home and delivered babies, many of who still reside in Collinsville and are now in their 70's and 80's. Coker said there were times where Gressler would not charge patients, especially those in a financial bind. Some citizens who received treatment showed appreciation by gifting him with freshly grown produce and meat from livestock.

"He did not mind helping people by not charging or giving discounts and would accept food as currency. One time a lady gave him $2 and sausages for his services after he delivered her baby. Another time, a sick man gave him $5 and cabbage from the farm," Coker recalled.

Gressler wore many hats as he administered the hospital. In addition, he managed to own and operate a sewing factory and served three terms as mayor. 

Though the Collinsville Hospital/Clinic officially closed in 1967 after Gressler, the only licensed doctor in the facility, grew older, his acts of service to the community did not stop there.

Coker said Gressler left the lower section of the hospital open for older citizens for long-term care. The 49-bed facility, known as Collinsville Nursing Home, remained at the original location until relocating in 1972 to North Valley Avenue under Collinsville Healthcare and Rehab and Senior Living.

Gressler’s descendants currently own and operate the nursing home, which is the of largest employer in Collinsville behind Koch Foods.

Gressler continued to practice medicine and opened another clinic in the area, which he successfully operated until he died in 1982 at the age of 77.

Coker said, since his grandfather's passing nearly 40 years ago, his family, as well as members of the tight-knit community, keep his legacy alive. He said others can learn from the impact his grandfather made.

"My grandfather was very instrumental in Collinsville, and he did many great things, and he came from hundreds of miles away and followed his dream," Coker said. “I want people to know that it's not about where you are from but where you are going or how far away home is but the legacy you leave behind."