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Medical school tour spurs fond memories of the first class of med students in Wichita

Janice Fahrenholtz recalls experiences in Wichita while her late husband, Randy, was in medical school, including the overwhelming support of the community.

Dania Jumpa, third-year medical student, talks with Janice Fahrenholtz in the Hazel Fenske Student Center as Fahrenholtz toured KU School of Medicine-Wichita.
Dania Jumpa, third-year medical student, talks with Janice Fahrenholtz in the Hazel Fenske Student Center while touring KU School of Medicine-Wichita.

A wave of nostalgia and fond memories came over Janice Fahrenholtz during a recent tour of the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita.

Her late husband, Randall Fahrenholtz, was among the first class of 15 medical students in Wichita, after starting medical school in 1972 in Kansas City and graduating three years later – yes, just three years later – in May of 1975 in Wichita, nearly 50 years ago.

The thought of completing medical school in three years boggled the mind of Dania Jumpa, third-year medical student who volunteered to lead Janice on a tour through KU School of Medicine-Wichita.

A Tribune native, Janice lives in Wichita now and wanted to visit the medical school, recalling how excited her husband was to complete his medical degree and clinical training in Wichita after starting his degree at KU School of Medicine in Kansas City.

“He felt like he won the lottery and got to come” to Wichita, she said.

As they walked through KU School of Medicine-Wichita, Janice paused to reflect on how she met her husband and their experiences while he was in medical school, including the overwhelming support from a community she said was “thrilled” to have future doctors training in Wichita.

A musical meeting and a medical beginning

Randy Fahrenholtz was initially interested in being a veterinarian but had an older brother, Dan, who went to KU School of Medicine. Eventually, Randy “decided to take care of people instead of animals,” Janice recalled.

Both brothers were gifted musicians and in the Sterling College choir, which stopped by her church to perform; Janice was in high school in Tribune at the time. Janice and Randy fell in love when she, too, went to Sterling College and joined the choir. They married in July of 1972, just days before he started medical school.

Randy Fahrenholtz medical school file photo
Randy Fahrenholtz
(File photo)

The Kansas Legislature in the 1970s, eager to increase the number of physicians in Kansas, thought a three-year term in medical school instead of four years would help speed up the process. While it did for a time, the effects of speeding up medical school began to take its toll on both students and faculty, Janice said, and within a few years, medical school reverted to a four-year term.

“Students truly had to study every spare minute they had,” Janice said, recalling how she had no more than an hour to eat dinner with Randy each day, and he’d take a two-hour break on Sundays. “They were really under horrific pressure. Some students quit or requested breaks. It was stressful for spouses, too.”

Completing medical school in three years meant they got one week off in July and two weeks off over Christmas, she said. This quickly became a problem in the area of research.

“Faculty members were used to having research assistants in the summer, so it left absolutely no students available for research, and KU prides itself on being a research institution,” she said. “Ultimately, there were too many sacrifices – the mental health of students, and the research and prestige of the university was at stake.”

‘Welcomed with open arms’

In Wichita, with a smaller class of medical students, Randy felt like he had more hands-on opportunities during training, Janice said.

George Farha, M.D., talks to a group of students in a black-and-white photo
George Farha, M.D., talks to a group of 
medical students. (File photo.)

“The medical community was so excited to have a medical school here,” she recalled. “We were welcomed with open arms.

“Many different physicians invited us to their homes and took us to restaurants. Dr. Reed and his wife were so gracious and hosted us every two to three months. And probably all the students spent time with Dr. Farha.”

Cramer Reed, M.D., was the first dean of KU School of Medicine-Wichita, while George Farha, M.D., was the first chair of the Department of Surgery at KU School of Medicine-Wichita.

Janice also recalled with fondness Hazel Fenske, one of the medical school’s first staff members “who really served as a counselor for the students.”

Hazel Fenske, seated at a desk with a typewriter, smiling
Hazel Fenske (File photo)

Fenske “shortly became the best friend and tireless champion of the Wichita medical students, kind of like a grandma to them,” states Craig Miner’s book, “History of The University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita, 1970-2003.”

“She’d listen and encourage them to keep going,” Janice said of Fenske. “Because there were no activities at the time, or no time for it.”

Janice smiled as she walked through the Hazel Fenske Student Center at KU School of Medicine-Wichita, a nod to the medical school staff member who radiated with positivity and always wore a smile.

Rural practice, reminiscing

After graduating from medical school, Randy was among the first to train in family practice at Wesley Medical Center, Janice said. He went on to practice in Kingman, Wichita, Garden Plain and Tribune, and was active in the communities he served.

Randy joined the medical team at Greeley County Health Services in 2005, according to the Greeley Health website.

“An experienced provider, Dr. Fahrenholtz brought an enthusiasm for rural health care and an appreciation for the rural lifestyle,” the site states. “Dr. Fahrenholtz quickly gained a very loyal following in the community in his first six months of practice. He also demonstrated a real interest in furthering patient care when possible and took a lead role in the development of a cardiovascular program for intermediate and high-risk women in our area.”

Randy developed something similar to Parkinson’s disease and retired a bit earlier than he’d planned, Janice said, although “he always loved family practice.”

“He liked the variety – one day he’d have a patient who was a baby and the next day, a patient who was 85.”

Of practicing in rural areas, “I think it takes a special person who certainly has a serving heart … to really care for people,” Janice said.

Janice Fahrenholtz stands with Garold Minns, M.D., for a photo in the dean's office at KU School of Medicine-Wichita.
Janice Fahrenholtz and Garold Minns, M.D.

She remembered Garold Minns, M.D., from her husband’s time in medical school and met with Minns, now dean of KU School of Medicine-Wichita, while touring the medical school.

“It really did my heart good to come and see things now,” she said. “With Dr. Minns, we were able to reminisce about those times, and I knew he deeply understood because he lived it.”

One benefit of the three-year medical school term Randy completed was the strong bonds he developed with his classmates, as they were “a tight-knit group that supported each other,” with many becoming lifelong friends.

Meeting Janice gave Jumpa “a great admiration for those in that time” along with a feeling of “awe and appreciation” for the experience.

“Medical school is not a walk in the park in four years, so to then constrain that timeline to three years and expect the same results was a massive task for those students,” Jumpa said. “I am quite grateful that they advocated to put it back to a four-year program, but it makes me commend those greatly who came before.

“I absolutely loved to hear about various pivotal physicians in Wichita’s history and their stories. (Janice) was not only able to share their great achievements but insights to who they were as people.”

Learn more

To learn more about the history of KU School of Medicine-Wichita, see the anniversary edition of Embark magazine.

See more photos from Janice Fahrenholtz's tour of KU School of Medicine-Wichita.

KU School of Medicine-Wichita