MARSHALL - Dr. LeRoy Affolter said he was looking at the end of his career with a mix of feelings.
"It's kind of hard to express," Affolter said. In some ways, it would be hard to leave his practice. "But, I think it's time to pass the torch," he said.
Affolter, who has had an optometry practice in Marshall for more than 50 years, will be retiring at the end of the month.
Photo by Deb Gau
Dr. LeRoy Affolter has served generations of patients during his long career. He gave his last eye exam Monday. “I want to say thank you to all the patients who have entrusted their visual care to our office for a great number of years,” he said Monday. “After 55 years, it’s still enjoyable.”
On Monday, it was clear that things were starting to wind down at Affolter's offices on 3rd Street. Affolter said there was still work to be done this week. Some patients would be coming in to pick up lenses, and he was taking a lot of phone calls. "On Friday, I saw someone who first came here in 1950," he said. But he would be giving his last eye exam on Monday.
Affolter got his start in optometry in 1958, working alongside his father-in-law, Dr. Fred Rohlin, at Rohlin's practice in Marshall. The business dated back to 1936, when the Rohlin family moved to Marshall. At first, the office was on the upper story of the First National Bank building on Main Street, where the Hunan Lion restaurant is today, Affolter said. In 1964, they moved to the 3rd Street offices.
Working together with Rohlin, Affolter said, "I took him as a mentor. I saw the attentiveness he always gave to patients, and I tried to continue that."
Over time, there have been changes in the field of eye care. For example, Affolter said, there have been big advances in medications to help with eye conditions, and with pre- and post-surgery care. But the core of the job, helping people to see better, has stayed constant.
"That's the joy of the profession," Affolter said. Having such a long-lived practice in one community, he said, was "the ideal type of thing." It meant he had the chance to help people's vision through all the stages of their lives.
"We have had a couple of continuous patients, since 1935, 1936," Affolter said. "I've probably seen up to four generations of family patients," he said - seeing youngsters grow up and have children of their own.
He said it's difficult to estimate how many people's lives would have been affected in the 55 years he's been in practice.
"I don't really think I kept a full count," he said, but he knew there have been many - everyone from longtime area residents to college students returning home for the holidays.
Some of the most memorable experiences he's had have been seeing the changes that came over people when they can see the world in sharper focus.
"Visual correction opens up a whole new world," he said. "It affects their whole personality as well as the functioning (of their eyes)."
"I've heard things from patients, like 'Now I can see there's leaves on the trees,'" or words on the blackboard at school, he said. "Or, 'I can see my bobber when I go fishing,'" he added with a smile.
Affolter sold his practice to the Avera Marshall medical group in May, and has continued to work with patients as one of the group's care providers. The goal in making that decision, he said, was to have a continuation of patients' care ready when he retired. He said he's received a lot of support and words of appreciation from former and current patients, and he felt grateful in return.
"I want to say thank you to all the patients who have entrusted their visual care to our office for a great number of years," he said. "After 55 years, it's still enjoyable."