When Winter Came: A Country Doctor’s Journey to Fight the Flu Pandemic of 1918

Maintain isolation – practice good hygiene – wear a mask – be kind. We all know these methods of fighting COVID-19, but this prescription comes from the 1918 experience of Dr. Pierre Sartor, who battled the worldwide influenza pandemic in his small town of Titonka, Iowa.

Dr. Sartor wrote an inspiring first-person account which lay forgotten in a lockbox of family artifacts until it was discovered decades later by his granddaughter, Beth Obermeyer. Beth knew her grandfather through her teenage years and grew up absorbing family stories. Based upon Dr. Sartor’s memoir and her years of research, she vividly reconstructs his life from childhood in Luxembourg through medical training in America to the early months of the influenza pandemic in small town Iowa.

Dr. Sartor was so successful in treating his patients that he later was named General Practitioner of the Year by the Iowa State Medical Society. He established a close collaboration with Mayo Clinic, about 130 miles away.

Beth’s story is rooted in a certain time and place. Yet it speaks across generations to the qualities that make a compassionate, skilled physician – a compelling example of doing the best of things in the worst of times. Because, when winter comes, we all want a doctor like Pierre Sartor.

The Author

Beth Obermeyer used her journalism degree and a lifetime of dance and music to start her own event/public relations company. On the faculty of the Minnesota Dance Theatre, Beth soloed with the Minnesota Orchestra in the Tap-Dance Concerto as well as opposite Christopher Plummer, Gregory Hines, and Garrison Keillor, all in Minnesota performances. Beth’s journalism degree is from Iowa State University where she was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority.

My Thoughts

When Winter Came is an immigrant story, of a sickly boy who was eventually healed. That experience led to medical school in a big city in his new country, but he longed to serve in a small town setting, using the same kindly medical care he’d experienced.

Dr. Pierre Sartor was new in his northern Iowa town when the influenza pandemic broke out. He forged a partnership with what is now Mayo Clinic, which was beneficial his entire career. The author’s father, who at age 12 began driving his father to patients, also became a doctor. Dr. Pierre Sartor’s box of treasures was passed to his son, who later gave it to the author, setting her on an exciting journey of discovery. She reveals even more of that at the end of the book.

An important chapter in Iowa history, medical history, and of a well-loved Iowa country doctor, who had immigrated from Luxembourg. A beautiful book.

The author’s recent interview by John Busbee on The Culture Buzz.

Her website.


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