There are literally thousands of people in the Berwyn area who can say the very first person they met in life was Dr. Robert McNerland, who died from cancer at the age of 88 on May 4.
Even in death, “Dr. Bob” is larger than life.
Dr. McNerland, who practiced at MacNeal Hospital as well as Masonic and Cook County hospitals, was known by those close to him as a guy who loved to tell jokes, loved to laugh and loved people. He certainly brought enough of them into the world: McNerland is believed to have delivered as many as 3,000 babies in the area during his illustrious medical career. He even had a saying: “See a baby, know God.”
He retired after 30 years of Ob-Gyn practice and moved to Indian Head Park. For the past six months he had been staying with, and cared for, by Judy Arnold, his companion for the past four years.
Arnold, a former nurse, met McNerland in 1955, when she was pregnant with her first child. He would go on to deliver all there of Arnold’s children. They would occasionally run into each other over the years. Then, four years ago, they met again at a colleague’s retirement party, and became an item.
“It was a case of admiration on my part,” she said. “I always liked him. We’ve had some really nice times, and his family is really wonderful, they opened up a new vista for me. My daughter and my two sons have been very fond of Dr. Bob, as they called him.”
Arnold said McNerland was was very interested in other people, very charismatic and very caring. He was a man of many interests as well. He loved bicycling and would go on 50 and 60-mile bike trips with his brother, Wayne. He was a voracious reader and correspondent, having penned hundreds of letters to friends and family across the country.
There was a bit of endearing eccentricity about the Doctor with the perpetual smile as well. He was fiercely proud of his Scottish and Norwegian heritage, but he loved Berwyn and its Bohemian roots.
A member of the Scottish Rite and a 32nd Degree Mason, he was a past president of the Dobrovsky Club for Masons. As a member of the Northwest Suburban Shriners Club, he was a regular fixture in parades across the area, driving his miniature ‘57 Chevy.
He was a also member of the Sons of Norway and Ceska Beseda, and a past master of the Sunrise Lodge in Westchester.
Terry McNerland said her father certainly led an interesting life. He grew up in Oak Park and attended Oak Park High School. During World War II he served in the Army Medical Corps in Europe and achieved the rank of technical sergeant, first class. He came home and graduated from University of Illinois Medical School. He had a family practice for 10 years, was named assistant professor of Medicine at Loyola and awarded the Golden Apple award for teaching by his students.
He was a member of the Robert E. Coulter American Legion Post 1941 in La Grange and the VFW in Downers Grove.
“When I was growing up, he was a general practitioner. I remember him being very busy,” his daughter said. “Then he did his residency for Ob-Gyn at the age of 40. I remember at the time thinking: He’s s so old, how can he go to school?”
Her father liked doing new things, she said. Even into his 80s, he was game for someting new. During a visit to her home in Seattle, Terry, her Dad and her nephew visited the Museum of Flight. A flight simulator caught the boy’s eye, but he needed an adult to accompany him on a flight. Terry said she wasn’t all that thrilled at the prospect, but her 82-year-old father was certainly game.
“He also was always ready to go dancing, anytime,” she said.
Terry added you could count on the unexpected when it came to her Dad.
“He would come home late from surgery and he would say; ‘Where’s the caramel corn?’”