BY C.R. NELSON, For the Observer-Reporter
WAYNESBURG -“ What did it take to keep a good old-fashioned country veterinarian like Elmer "Doc" Marx going barn door to barn door on the old Greene County roads for 35 years?
As far as wife Brenda can figure, it took 2,647 and a half drivers and as for the half, "we never knew for sure who he was, but he was short."
Welcome for a little while, to the world of Dr. Marx, a world that came together for old time's sake Oct. 17 at Greene County Fairgrounds, the one sure place where a legendary horse doctor might enjoy a horse and carriage ride with an honor guard of family and friends whistling the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" as his carriage passed by.
For 35 years, Marx was known to area patients and owners alike by his soothing presence, quiet firmness and some well-whistled bars of this Civil War ditty that had the power to bring an animal's ears up even as the syringes and lip twitches came out.
Now he was back for a visit and it seemed like half the county had turned out to see him.
The event was the brainchild of Dr. Jennifer Behm, who took over the reins at Waynesburg Animal Hospital when Marx retired to Juneau, Alaska, in 1989. The celebration also was organized with help from a small army of best friends and family members.
The word went out to the community to write memories and anecdotes down for posterity and to round up photos and memorabilia for the big day. It was time to celebrate 50 years of caring for all creatures great and small at Waynesburg Animal Hospital by honoring the man who opened its doors in 1954.
Last Sunday, the number of people waiting to swap memories and share a hug seemed endless. Elmer and Brenda sat beaming at the head of the reception line while most of their 12 children and a bright sprinkling of their 32 grandchildren, in town for the occasion, visited and laughed, and countless stories filled the air. The fair building had become an impromptu museum, with tables of photographs, testimonials, artifacts and tools of the veterinary trade. They told the story of the every-day-and-into-the-night life of Greene County's 'last old time vet' and those who helped him keep his appointed rounds.
"I drove for Doc," retired state trooper John Rock said. "I had a horse with bad legs, so I had a huge vet bill that I had to work off. I asked him what I could do and he said 'you know, I was hoping you'd ask.'"
Rock's schedule soon included forays into the Marx family kitchen for Brenda's big pre-dawn country breakfast before loading the car with a day's worth of medicine and supplies.
"We'd start at six, seven in the morning and get back around five or six. Then he'd have office hours. We'd go out on emergency calls when they came in. I knew the roads, and I could get him there and more important, he could sleep. He was the James Herriot of Greene County."
Dr. Marx had a reputation in the horse world for astute diagnosis, a seemingly endless store of tried and true remedies that worked and, to top it off, a radiation therapy machine that dissolved calcium deposits in the ankles and knees of hard-working race horses.
"We used to got to Cumberland, Md., The Meadows, Wheeling Downs, wherever they had tracks. Doc was on the road all the time," Rock said.
When Marx left Greene County for his wife's lifelong dream of living in the state of Alaska he didn't leave the veterinary life behind. He continued to practice until last year. Now that he's retired, that doesn't mean he's not been busy.
Over the years, some of the Marx family has moved to Alaska and now the next generation is just next-door, adding to the warm bustle of a big family.
"Dad's been a professional grandfather for 15 years now," son Klaus said. "All the kids love going over there. My oldest is getting big enough, and now he asks if he can walk over by himself."
For Doc and Brenda, the trip from Alaska included a 1,000-mile ferry ride to the West Coast, then a weeklong drive to Greene County. By Wednesday morning they were ready to get back on the road after days of visiting and receiving visitors at daughter Gretchen's home near Waynesburg.
"On the way across the country I was thinking there's so many people I'd like to see that we won't see," Brenda said, then she brightened and said with a grin. "But everybody needs to come up and visit, Alaska's a beautiful place."
"I wonder if many of us have ever heard him speak of things other than medicine, animals, farming or the virtues of Volkswagens," son Gus noted in the program that became an instant souvenir at Sunday's gathering. One day, while driving somewhere around New Freeport, Gus heard his father sum up his opinion of the land he called home for so many years. "He said 'I think Greene County is probably the most beautiful place on earth.'"
For those who want to arrange to visit, or just say hello, e-mail Brenda Marx at firstname.lastname@example.org (Make sure you use big print) or call (907) 789-2871.