We meet a lot of people on this walk of life. While they are all of value, there’s a handful that make a profound impact on your worldview, even if you only are with them for a short time. One of those in my life, and the life of many others in the veterinary field, was Dr. John Kruckeberg. When I had heard he passed after his battle with cancer this last week, I knew it would take more than a card in the mail to pay tribute to this great man.
Dr. John was a great man, but not for the reasons that most would consider. He was not loud or boisterous, but quiet and friendly. He didn’t develop a enormous veterinary business, or uncover some great scientific advancement. Rather, his greatness came from his compassion and humility. I got to know him through a couple veterinary mission trips to Reservations in the western states. While this only totaled three weeks, in those three weeks I saw what it meant to be a servant leader as a veterinarian.
For a short bio on his life, John served in the military at the start of his career, then ran a practice in Tennessee for a few decades. In the 90s he felt a calling to reach out to people living on the various Reservations in this country by providing low-cost veterinary care, in conjunction with an organization called the Christian Veterinary Mission. For the next two decades he spent weeks at a time setting up vet clinics in church halls and homes to do basic veterinary care.
I, along with countless other veterinarians, technicians, and vet students, joined him on these trips. In locations from the deserts of the Navajo reservation in eastern Arizona to the plains of the Oglala Sioux reservation in west river South Dakota, Dr. John would take teams to spay and neuter small animals, castrate horses, preg check cows, and do all sorts of veterinary care. The teams would try to work with resident churches to supplement the church’s spiritual mission.
On all of these trips, it was readily apparent John felt his most important mission was to the people he met. With residents of the area, he would not just work on their animal, but take the time to talk with and listen to them about whatever was on their minds. With the veterinary students that often accompanied him on these trips, he would be patient in answering their questions or helping them work through a medical technique.
My favorite memory of working with him was driving on a winding road through the hills on the Arizona/New Mexico line. We were going to another town to look at some horses. As we went through the hills, he told stories about previous mission trips and all the adventures that had occurred. He asked about my life goals and plans I had, offering a little advice from time to time. The trip was nothing extravagant or crazy exciting, but what still sticks in my mind was John’s warm personality.
Of course, I’m not the only one who recognized this. He was recognized last year by the Tennessee Veterinary Medical Association with a Lifetime Achievement award. The video about the award can be seen by clicking here.
Most of all though, I think what Dr. John exemplified was what a person can do if they commit their life to Christ. I’m sure he would be the first to say he wasn’t the originator of all this action, but rather he followed the call Jesus had for him. From this side of that line between heaven and earth, I’d like to thank him for living that call and being the example his was as a servant of the LORD.