Sheridan Thiringer leaves 50 years of private practice in Forest Grove

When Dr. Sheridan Thiringer began practicing medicine in 1964, he saw kids with earaches and sports injuries. He delivered babies. Now those patients are treated by specialists. And even for the specialists, medicine has changed. Earaches aren’t treated with antibiotics any longer, for example.

After rolling with it in Forest Grove for 50 years, the 75-year-old Thiringer will see his last patient at the Maple Street Clinic next Tuesday, Dec. 17.

"I keep up with changes,” Thiringer said, pointing to the copies of articles from medical journals scattered around his office at the Maple Street Clinic. “You keep an open mind and roll with it.”

After rolling with it in Forest Grove for 50 years, the 75-year-old Thiringer will see his last patient at the Maple Street Clinic next Tuesday, Dec. 17.

But it’s not exactly a full retirement. He’ll still be the medical director of Tuality Home Health and medical coordinator of the geriatric unit at Tuality in Hillsboro. And he’ll still raise beef cattle, make sausage and sauerkraut and harvest apples on his Vernonia farm.

“My dad always said the harder you work, the luckier you get,” recalled Thiringer’s son, Kim — which may explain why Thiringer always says, “I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”

In addition to practicing family medicine, Thiringer has been an assistant county coroner, medical investigator, team physician for Pacific University, an instructor in the first Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) program in Oregon, an aviation medical officer certified to examine both private pilots and air-traffic controllers, a physician at the U.S. Embassy in London, England, when he was in the Navy — and besides all that, he was instrumental in establishing health care standards for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

That’s just a partial list of his professional jobs. On his iPhone, Thiringer keeps photos of some of the produce he’s harvested from his garden: giant cabbages and cauliflower of blue-ribbon quality. As Kim remembers growing up, when his father wasn’t practicing medicine, he was hunting, fishing, cooking, cutting hay for animals on their farm or fixing machinery.

Thiringer says his luck began with his parents. They taught him honesty and how to take care of himself. His father was born in Kansas in a sod house with a dirt floor, and as a young man went from washing dishes in a bakery to becoming a chiropractor and moving to Spokane, where Thiringer was born.

“A lot of farmers had back injuries that medicine couldn’t fix,” Thiringer remembers. “People came from all over to see him.” Thiringer decided to combine the best of both traditional medicine and chiropractic and became an osteopath.

Today, most of Thiringer’s patients come for help managing diabetes or high blood pressure. While pills may have a place, Thiringer prescribes lifestyle changes as well as medication. “Inactivity is killing us,” he said. “Our diets are atrocious. I tell my patients to get off their butt and walk, to eat broccoli for dinner.” It probably helps that he takes his own advice.

Yet it’s a balance, he emphasized. “Set reasonable goals. Stay out of debt. Don’t spend money you don’t have. Don’t be afraid to get help making decisions. Limit stresses.” And, he added, be part of a community. “After I was divorced, (former Forest Grove United Church of Christ minister) Rich Osburn was a godsend. Both my kids spent time with him and his family. The teachers and coaches my kids had were spectacular.”

Osburn, now retired, said the two are good friends even though Thiringer was not Osburn’s physician and Osburn was not Thiringer’s pastor.

“We’ve been there for each other over the years. When my wife broke her neck, he recommended a surgeon. He was there to comfort us when our daughter died,” Osburn recalled. “I officiated at the wedding of him and his wife Judy. We share a common outlook on values. He’s compassionate, energetic and has a great sense of humor.”

That sense of community made an impression on Thiringer’s daughter, Sherrie Thiringer Richards, 56, a finance and business consultant in Michigan. So did her dad’s way of exposing his children to the cycle of life.

“From the time we were little, my brother and I were each given a calf,” she said. “We knew it was going to wind up being food one day, but in the meantime it brought us joy and we gave it the best quality of life we could. Dad was always kind of a philosopher. He’d call the cows in the morning and give them a pep talk. ‘Well girls, it’s going to be a great day,’ he’d say.”

Kim Thiringer, now a physician himself, remembers watching his dad practice rural medicine. “There was nobody else around, so he and his partners did everything from A to Z.”

One time, Kim went with him to the mortuary where a teenaged boy, perhaps a year or two older than Kim, had just died in a head-on crash. Thiringer had already told the distraught parents of their son’s death when he had to tell them their daughter was dead at the scene. A deep and pained scream came from the mother as she learned both of her children were gone. “That made an impression on Kim,” Thiringer remembered.

A different part of the incident stuck with Kim. He remembers the father of the dead children saying. “’I told my kids so many times to be careful.’ Then he pointed his finger at me. ‘You’ve got to be careful.’ I was close to getting my driver’s license. It made an impression.”

Being a coroner meant calls in the night. Thiringer remembers going to the scene of what was believed to be an accident on the Wilson River Highway. “The driver had died of carbon monoxide poisoning. You could tell by the skin color. I looked underneath the car and saw the pipe had been deliberately bent. It was a suicide and not an accident,” Thiringer said.

More recently, as he sees each patient for the last time now, Thiringer is feeling a little emotional. “That’s tough, saying goodbye,” he said. “I tell them I hope I’ve taught them how to take care of themselves.”

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