BY KIRSTEN (WINKLER) SASS
The family of Dr. Winkler shares the story of a man by the name of Volker Winkler. A man we called Papa. He was born on April 17, 1952, in Heidelberg, Germany. At the age of two his family moved to Southern Ontario, Canada where he grew up. There he became a part of a group of families, also from Germany, who called themselves the “Youngen Groupe” and formed friendships that would last the remainder of his life. He went to university and later medical school at the University of Western Ontario, in London, Ontario, Canada. While in medical school he made friends with a group of guys who later dubbed themselves the “Backrow Boys” – partially from their choice of classroom seating, and partially from their sense of humor and sometimes unconventional ways. All went on to become successful and well respected doctors. Those friendships carried through the remainder of his life as well.
While in University, he met the woman who would become his wife, Tina Marie Haggard. They loved to tell the story that Papa
they knew four days after meeting that they would get married. As the story goes, they were traveling to see her family in East Tenn., when they ran out of money. It just so happened the small town where they stopped was searching for a family doctor, so they decided to stay until they had saved enough money to continue on their way.
Six children and over 30 years later, they were still there. On 1978, Dr. Volker Winkler began seeing patients in McKenzie, Tenn. – working alongside Dr. S.S. Walker in a little medical practice beside a gas station in downtown McKenzie. Six children were born: Kirsten, Jesse, Benjamin, Robyn, Ty and Roman. As he gained more patients, he moved on to open his own medical clinic.
Always operating under the belief that patients should be treated as family, and to take care of “Every Patient, Every Time”, the practice continued to grow and eventually partnered with two other physicians: Dr. Terry Colotta, and Dr. Bryan Merrick. Together they created the McKenzie Medical Center that is today – over 300 employees and 37 providers including orthopedic, general surgeon, and OB/GYN, within a facility that includes lab, radiology, and a fitness department.
Our Papa was also an athlete. He ran countless marathons, including the Boston Marathon. He also did well over 100 triathlons (swim, bike, run events), was a 17-time Ironman finisher (Swim 2.4 miles, Bike 112 miles, Run 26.2 miles) and competed at the World Championship Ironman in Kona, Hawai’i. He inspired many along the way to test themselves, and there are many local people who are accomplished triathletes and who have done an Ironman because of him.
Tuesday, February 20, was a typical day for him. He met a group of people he was training with (and training) at the Paris Civic Center Pool to swim. He went to work at McKenzie Medical Center. And he went home to head out for a ride on his elliptigo (a cross between a bike and an elliptical machine that is ridden on the road – and yes, with a helmet). Beyond that, we do not know what happened. He was found shortly after he left his home, on the road with a head injury. He was taken to the McKenzie Regional Emergency Room and then airlifted to Vanderbilt. Despite the best possible medical care, the extent of his injuries were too severe, and he passed peacefully on February 24.
Our Papa was a man who lived life to its fullest, and largely on his terms. We take comfort in the knowledge that he was doing something he loved, that he did not suffer, and that we will all remember him as the strong, smart, witty, and intelligent man that he was.
He was dearly loved by his family, his friends, his peers, his employees, and his patients. And, he will be missed. As sad and tragic as the circumstances are, he would not want people to grieve and mourn his passing, but to celebrate a life well lived – all that he was, gave, and did for countless people. He will live on in the lives that he has touched.