“Doc” Tucker retires from 41 years in Center, Mo.


"Doc" Tucker received a plaque from State Rep. Louis Riggs at his retirement party on Sunday afternoon. From Left, Ralls County Commissioner John Lake, Rep. Louis Riggs, and Mark "Doc" Tucker. Photo by Megan Duncan

CENTER, Mo. — Monica Huff, of New London, Mo., stood tearful in front of a crowd gathered in the Mark Twain High School Cafeteria on Sunday afternoon.   

She was there, as were the others filling the room, for Dr. Mark Tucker, who retired at the end of last month.

Lovingly referred to as “Doc” Tucker by his patients in all of Ralls County, his retirement brought an end to an era. 

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart for containing my mother’s diabetes and keeping her alive for more years so I could make more memories. You kept my father alive for more years with his COPD so I could have more memories with him as well,” Huff said. “Those memories will always be with me and cherish each and every one of them. Thank you again, Dr. Tucker.”

Below the surface of the eating, mingling, laughing and crying at the party was an undercurrent of friendship and appreciation.

“Doc” Tucker was a different kind of doctor.

He wasn’t a doctor who walked in with a clipboard, gave a quick prognosis, and went on to the next patient. 

“Doc” Tucker was a community doctor. 

He went into homes and sat beside patients in their living rooms as he explained everything they needed to know, as many times as they needed him to.

His glance never wandering to a clock, Tucker stayed as long as his patient needed him to.

John Lake, presiding commissioner of Ralls County, is a friend and patient of Tucker. Lake said “Doc” was especially kind to his mother. 

“When we have a meeting with him, he tells her everything. It doesn’t matter if it takes two hours,” Lake said. “I think that is a lost art. Most young doctors get you in and then try to hurry to the next one.” 

Tucker moved to Center when a committee formed 41 years ago to hire an area doctor to staff the new clinic coming to town.

It was the Dunlop Clinic Steering Committee, and while they interviewed several for the job, they knew Tucker was the right fit.

He was fresh out of medical school and came from Kirksville, Mo. with his wife Ruth and two children, James and Megan.

Tucker signed an agreement to come to Center on Aug. 1, 1981 and he saw his first patient on Aug. 1, 1982 at the same location he retired from last month.

There are two members of the Dunlop Clinic Steering Committee that are still living: Judy Couch and JoAnn Neuschafer.

They are also responsible, along with John and Sharon Lake, for putting together his retirement party.

“We interviewed several physicians, and Doc Tucker was one of them. He just was a fit for us. He was what we were looking for,” Couch said. “After that, he was my physician, and he was wonderful.”

Those who spoke of Tucker, many with tears and choked words, referred to him not just as a doctor but as a friend and someone whose entire family embraced the community.

“He lived in Center, but he was interested in the entire community. His whole family was always involved. Whether it was 4-H or school, they were always very supportive of everything,” Neuschafer said in her speech. “They made this their home and they are our friends, not just our physician.”

The mayor of Center, Dennis McMillen, said he is sad they are losing Tucker as a physician, he is happy they aren’t losing him in the community.

“Whoever is going to take his place will have some very big shoes to fill. They will get blisters on their feet trying to fill his shoes,” McMillen said. “They have done so much for the community besides just being the doctor.”

McMillen said Tucker’s wife, Ruth, also embraced the community, serving on Center City Council and the school board. 

Tucker’s influence also shines bright in his kids.

After years of watching their father treat a community, with interrupted dinners as people came to the door for Tucker’s help and countless house calls.

Plus, their time at the clinic embracing, sitting on the staff’s lap and receiving snacks that were kept on hand just for them.  

They also joined the medical profession. Megan Kretz, nurse practitioner, and Dr. James Tucker both practice at the Hannibal Regional Medical Group. 

In his speech, James recalled a day when he went with his dad on a house call and the patient requested that he do the stitches instead of his dad.  

“We labored at it all afternoon and got it done,” James said, laughing with the crowd. “I think it looked okay. It was a wonderful experience and very formative to me.”

Kretz worked with her dad one summer and saw the impact he made by being that “small-town health provider.”

“As a doctor, he was the one who always sat with the patients and listened to them. He went above and beyond, and was never about the in-and-out,” she said. “I was a nurse for 10 years because I loved the idea of being at the bedside and just being there as a nurse with his patients. Then I decided to go that extra step, because I wanted to do family practice like he always did. I could see the impact he made on his patients.”

Tucker found it hard to find words to express what the people in the room meant to him too. 

“It’s hard to talk. You get tears in your eyes when you hear it,” he said. “Most of the people you heard speaking today, I took care of their parents and I remember when they were little kids running around the room. I also took care of them when they were kids.”

Tucker said one of the greatest memories of his career is being the physician on the Great River Honor Flight, which transports local veterans to Washington D.C. to visit monuments in one day. He also served on the Great River Honor Flight board, which he is now retired from.

“When we got out of St. Louis airport and on the drive home to Hannibal or Quincy, every overpass had people on it cheering for those veterans,” he said with glassy eyes. “I was bawling by the time we got back. It makes me cry even now.”

Tucker is retiring from the medical profession, but he is moving on to the best profession he could ever think of—being a grandpa.

Kretz calls him “The Grandpa of the Century.” 

“He says his new job is an Uber driver for his grandkids,” Kretz said. “He is very fun. As a grandpa, he is so silly and goofy. I think that is his goal now, to be as present with them as possible.”

Tucker agreed with the goal and said being a grandpa is the best job he’s ever had.

“The greatest honor of anything was becoming a grandfather. People ask me if becoming a doctor was the best thing? No, it was becoming a grandpa,” he said. “All the grandpas are called different things like Papa, or other names. I am called grandpa and I just think that’s greatest thing I could ever be.”

Lake said Blessing Health System officials have confirmed they are actively seeking a new doctor to replace Tucker. Until then, a doctor is staffing the Center office, located on Mo. 19, several days a week to see patients.

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