IU honors its own trail blazer, retired Gary physician - May 4, 2018

Chicago Tribune • May 4, 2018 12:05 pm

Written by Carole Carlson, Post-Tribune

When Dr. Clarence Boone was 10 years old, his stepfather became seriously ill.

A doctor came to their Gary home, but instead of examining the patient, he sang lullabies.

“I didn’t like that,” said Boone. He made up his mind that day to become a doctor and heal patients.

Undertaking such a lofty goal in 1952, when blacks weren’t allowed to vote in some states, didn’t faze Boone who grew up in Gary and graduated from integrated Froebel High in 1949.

He went on to Indiana University, receiving a degree in anatomy and physiology. Boone then made history as one of five black students enrolled at the Indiana University School of Medicine. He was the only one to graduate in four years.

His alma mater celebrated his accomplishments May 3 by dedicating a lecture hall in Boone’s name in the Dunes/Medical Professional Building at Indiana University Northwest in Gary, also home to the IU School of Medicine-Northwest.

Besides the hundreds of babies he delivered, much of Boone’s life was devoted to IU. He served on the Board of Trustees, and a stint as president of the IU Alumni Association. He received its Distinguished Alumni Service Award in 2003.

“I think he bleeds cream and crimson,” said Dr. Steve Simpson, a Gary physician who spoke at the dedication.

Boone, 86, quietly credits those who helped him reach his goals.

At Froebel, a teacher watchdogged his studies after she found out he planned to become a doctor.

At the Bloomington campus, Boone fell under the wing of IU president and chancellor Herman B. Wells who housed Boone at his own residence, monitoring his progress and supporting him.

Wells, a social progressive, dismantled many of IU’s segregationist policies as the Civil Rights movement was still in its infancy. He also oversaw IU’s greatest enrollment growth and led the university down on a new cultural path.

Wells and Boone formed a strong bond.

“He was encouraging… outside of providing a place to eat and sleep, he was like a father away from home,” Boone said of Wells. “Through the years, he followed me and kept me in his mind. I am what I am today because of IU.”

Even his close association to Wells couldn’t shield him from 1950s realities. Boone hoped to complete his residency in Indianapolis, but a medical school administrator discouraged the notion. “He was honest and frank and said he said it wasn’t time for a colored to do residency in ob/gyn at IU,” Boone recalled.

So Boone went to St. Louis, working in a hospital that primarily served African-Americans. While delivering babies, he also witnessed a number of women who sought treatment after botched abortions.

After serving in the military, Boone returned in Gary in 1964. As an obstetrician and gynecologist, he ministered to patients and delivered an untold numbers of babies. At St. Timothy Church in Gary, former patients often remind him he brought them into the world.

“I tell all the young ladies I was the first man in their life,” Boone said, prompting a smile from Blanche Boone, his wife of 64 years who he met on the Bloomington campus. She went on to teach kindergarten in the Gary Community School Corp.

When he began his practice in Gary, he also served as medical director for Planned Parenthood of Northwest Indiana. His involvement later led the state’s Right to Life organization to protest his appointment as an IU trustee.

Boone maintained his Gary practice for 35 years, retiring in 2000.

“Many of us would not be here, except for Dr. Boone,” said Patrick Bankston, associate dean of the IU Northwest medical school. He said Boone and other Gary physicians helped draft legislation establishing a medical school on IUN’s campus in the 1970s. The school began with four students.

Some of the 80 medical students now enrolled at the campus looked on as Boone and his wife listened to a group of speakers during the dedication.

State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, said Boone helped lead the struggle to retain Methodist Hospitals-Northlake campus after it announced construction of a new hospital in Merrillville.

Clarence Boone Jr., of Bloomington, hailed his father as a strong role model. He and his siblings knew the obstacles their father faced and overcame. “He had expectations without having to preach to us. The premium he put on our family was education.”

Boone looked humbled as he listened to others praise his accomplishments inside a medical school lecture room he never envisioned would sprout up in Gary.

“I am here today because of what others have done… I feel obliged to go back and help,” he said.

Carole Carlson is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.