Dr. Gunnar Memorial

It hardly seems possible that it has been four years since Dr. Rolf Gunnar left this earth.  Despite that, the legacies he left and that define his incredible life live on.

I am sure that, were he here to ask, Rolf would tell us that it is his surviving children – Jocelyn, Rolf, Jr., and Bill – and his adult grandchildren – Ela, Freddie, Liz, Tom, and Jocelyn – of whom he is most proud and represent his most significant legacy.  He adored his youngest grandchildren, Warren and Audrey, and there is no doubt they will also be shining stars.  The third generation, the great-grandchildren, will undoubtedly also carry on that Gunnar tradition of excellence and accomplishment.

Rolf was a passionate and brilliant practitioner of the art and science of medicine.  His second great legacy is represented in the thousands of young physicians and medical students who benefited from his superb teaching and mentorship, as well as the many thousands of patients who were well-served by his incomparable skills as a clinician.  Many of the young physicians who trained with him have gone on to become well-known, highly successful and very respected within their own fields.  However, they have undoubtedly not forgotten the great man who helped hone their clinical skills and shape their careers and character.  He was adored by his patients, and provided to them the highest level of care until the age of 85 when he retired from medicine to devote full-time to the new career he entered into at age 80.

The awards and recognitions received during his long and storied career are enormous.  His great wisdom and insight made him highly sought after as a leader in many professional medical organizations.  His accomplishments are almost beyond comprehension, as attested to by his 35-page curriculum vitae!  Many times over many years, he was listed as one of the “Top Doctors” in the country. In 1986, he was awarded the Stritch Medal of Loyola University Medical School. On the plaque that accompanies the Medal is written this fitting testimonial The results of superior quality medical practice touch many – patients, students, colleagues.  You have earned the utmost respect of your peers during a most exceptional career.  Loyola honors you – the physicians’ physician – and takes great pride in your achievements.”  He was, indeed, the physicians’ physician, eventually providing medical care to several of those who had been his mentors.

In addition to his clinical and academic careers, Rolf simultaneously dedicated a great deal of his time and energy to the American College of Physicians (ACP).  Through several decades he served on numerous committees and in several leadership roles.  To name only a few, Governor for the Northern Illinois Region,1980-1984; Treasurer and Finance Committee Chair, 1985-1991; Chairman, Board of Regents, 1992-1994.  In 1995, he was named a Master of the College. In 2015, in recognition of his many contributions, the ACP awarded Rolf the Chapter Centennial Legacy Award for Northern Illinois (essentially, ACP’s physician of the century for the Northern Illinois Region).

And then came BraveHearts, the third and final legacy he would leave to this world.  Rolf lost his beloved first wife, Merian, in 2004.  Several months after that I invited him to visit a little therapeutic riding facility that I had started in 2002.  At that time, we were serving about eight children with special needs using four horses and one therapeutic riding instructor.  We did not own the property and were only allowed to use the indoor arena for four hours on Saturday mornings.  Driving home from that first visit, I asked Rolf what he thought.  His immediate response was “I have to do this.  I have to get involved.”  And so, at the tender age of 80, Rolf Gunnar embarked on an entirely new career, taking over as Chair of the Board of Directors.  That was also the start of the meteoric growth of BraveHearts.  In 2007, Rolf and I were discussing ways to expand our outreach as well as to distinguish the organization from others in the area.  During the Korean War, Captain Rolf Gunnar served as a physician on the frontlines, earning battle stars for the actions at Bloody Ridge, Heartbreak Ridge and Iron Triangle.  He was awarded the Bronze Star with V Device for Valor after being subjected to intense enemy fire while rendering medical aid to a severely wounded soldier and evacuating him to a battalion aid station.  It was his war experience that made Rolf sensitive to the plight of those returning from combat who were experiencing the ravages of physical, emotional and/or mental trauma.  With a grant from the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs, in July of 2007 we welcomed our first group of eight military veterans from Hines VA Hospital.  Since then, our veterans’ program has grown exponentially, serving 1,064 veterans from 31 states in 2019.  Although Covid limited our ability to provide programming as usual in 2020, we were still able to serve 604 veterans.  All veterans are able to participate with one family member at no cost to them.  Although our programs for children and non-veteran adults continue to be large and highly successful, it is the program for veterans that has become the hallmark of BraveHearts.  We are the largest and most innovative program of its kind in the entire country, and our reputation is now international.

THANKS FOR STAYING WITH ME THUS FAR!  I KNOW THIS IS A LONG MESSAGE.

So, you are probably asking yourself what the point is of this letter.  Is this an informational piece?  Is this a donation request?  Well, the answer to both questions is YES.  There is no doubt that Rolf’s legacy at BraveHearts will live on in perpetuity.  That is how deeply his presence and contributions were, and continue to be, honored.  Those who were privileged to know him speak of him as a kind man – a gentleman and a gentle man.  For me, personally, it was an honor to walk with him through the last decade of his life.  So greatly was he revered by the Board of Directors he brilliantly led that they made it a point to make sure the beautiful little chapel dedicated to him was built before he left us, even though there were other projects that should have taken priority.  Rolf was very ill by the time the chapel was completed, but he insisted on being at its January 14th dedication, at which we also celebrated his 91st birthday.  That was the last time he was able to leave the house.  He died on March 18, 2017.

Among the many things that were important to him and to all of us at BraveHearts are these three:

  • Continuation, sustainability, and growth of the BraveHearts program for military veterans
  • Building a strong endowment to help carry BraveHearts well into the future
  • Maintenance of the Dr. Rolf M. Gunnar Memorial Chapel and the adjoining Serenity Garden

Your support in any of these three areas will honor this great and good man in a way that would be the most meaningful to his memory.

In closing, when we get through this crazy virus, I would love for you to visit us at BraveHearts to see firsthand the difference we are making in the lives of people who come to us for hope and healing.  You can call me directly to set up a visit – 708-854-6074.  Thank you so much for taking the time to read this letter!

God bless,

Marge Tautkus Gunnar,
Founder & Secretary of the Board

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Donation Total: $25.00 One Time