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William Thomas Youens: A Man Of Vision

William Thomas Youens was the fourth of five children born to Willis George Youens, M.D. and Fay Burford Youens of Columbus, Texas.His father served as a physician in France during World War I, and returned to Columbus to continue his general practice and his family. William Thomas was delivered by a Weimar doctor at the family home in the 600 block of Milam Street in Columbus, in December 1920.His oldest sibling was Mary Elizabeth; then Harry Thomas; Willis George, Jr.; and a younger brother who died in infancy.Thomas, unable to pronounce his name, would answer “Tot, Tot,” when asked his name as a toddler.The nickname “Tot” stuck with him for the rest of his life.

Early on, Tot and his brother Willis both showed an affinity for following in their dad’s footsteps.When their family dog was attacked by a larger vicious dog, both boys took great care to cleanse its wounds and use their mother’s sewing kit to suture the numerous cuts.Their dog fully recovered.

Tot was an outstanding student as he advanced through the Columbus Public School system.It was the depression years, and Tot earned extra money by working for his uncle, Albert Hahn, on a dairy farm.He had a passion for collecting arrowheads and became known for his large collection, found around the Redgate Creek area.During high school, Tot was an excellent tennis player who won the state doubles title with his tennis partner Selton Kickler from Frelsburg.Tot graduated from Columbus High School with the class of 1938.

As World War II was breaking out in Europe, Tot went year-round to the University of Texas at Austin.His mother moved to Austin to run a men’s boarding house on 24th Street near the campus.He, his older brother, Willis, and another Columbus native, O.P. Moore, lived in the house.Tot managed to receive his degree in only 3 years.He especially excelled in German while at the University and became fluent in the language by the time he graduated.

As Tot entered medical school at the University of Texas at Galveston, America entered WWII.An accelerated program was instituted to produce the number of doctors the military would need for the war effort.Tot joined the same medical fraternity, Alpha Kappa Kappa, as his brother Willis, and served as the house manager for which he received room and board. Another of his fraternity brothers living in the house was Denton Cooley (future famous Houston heart and thoracic surgeon).During medical school, Tot married Myrl “Bootsie” Rau who was also from Columbus, and had their first child, Carolyn, in 1942.He received his Medical Degree in 1943 and proceeded to his internship at Hermann Hospital in Houston.Between this time and serving in the U.S. Army, the Youens family grew by two more sons, William Thomas (Billy), Jr. and Karl, both born at Hermann Hospital; and later, daughter Janet, born in Columbus, in 1947.

Upon completion of his internship, Tot enlisted in the Army and was stationed at Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Washington. He reported for duty in early 1945, and was joined by his wife and three children.Many German Prisoners of War were being sent to Army hospitals across the country.Because of his fluency in German, Tot took care of many of these POWs.Shortly after arriving at Fort Lewis, the war in Europe ended, and he was assigned to Camp Swift in Bastrop Texas where many German POWs were sent.During his time caring for the POWs, he connected with an interesting German soldier who was an artist.The soldier took particular interest in a fine writing pen that Tot had been given as a graduation gift.The soldier offered to trade two of his paintings for Tot’s pen.Tot accepted the trade and today, his family treasures the one remaining painting as an important family heirloom!

With the end of the war by August 1945, Tot and his family returned to Texas where he joined Dr. A.H. Potthast in Weimar in a family practice.His brother Willis, who had served in England, returned to join Dr. Harvey Renger’s family practice in Hallettsville.Shortly after their return to Texas, Dr. Potthast died; and Tot and Willis bought his practice and established a joint family practice in Weimar.By 1949, the two brothers opened the Youens Memorial Hospital, named for their father, which served as the first hospital in Weimar.As a side note, my wife, Yvonne Seifert Lowe who grew up in Weimar, was delivered by Dr. Willis Youens in Hallettsville in November 1946.

In 1950, Tot decided he wanted to specialize in ophthalmology rather than continue in family practice.He was accepted into the ophthalmology residency program at Hermann Hospital in Houston.It required attending a basic science school at Harvard University in Boston for a number of months followed by returning to Hermann Hospital for clinical and surgical training for several years.

Before leaving his residency, Tot began inquiring about a loan to buy the expensive equipment required to establish an ophthalmology practice.He was told it was unlikely that he could secure such a loan because the small community of Columbus could not support an ophthalmologist.Undeterred by this advice, Tot approached members of his family who believed in his determination.With a family loan, he managed to purchase the necessary equipment and opened an office in his mother’s Columbus home in April 1953.He traveled to Hallettsville once a week and saw patients in Dr. Harvey Renger’s office; and also performed eye surgery in the Hallettsville Hospital.His brother, Dr. Willis Youens in Weimar, referred patients to him in Columbus; and he used the Columbus Hospital to do their surgery.

Tot’s rapport with patients was exceptional.His language skills in German and ability to learn enough Czech to communicate with the large German and Czech population of south central Texas grew his practice rapidly.He captured the large rural population between Houston and San Antonio, and from Austin down to the Gulf Coast.Tot also had a knack for recruiting a staff that complemented his charisma.Soon, he was providing eye care comparable to the care being delivered in the medical centers of Houston, Austin, and San Antonio; and his notoriety spread.

By 1959, the Youens Eye Clinic had become so busy that Tot invited Dr. Corrine Westphal to join his practice.In 1964, Dr. Todd Barfield joined the clinic shortly after completing his training at Hermann Hospital.The practice continued to flourish; and in 1967, Dr. H.T. Youens, Jr., Tot’s nephew, finished his ophthalmology residency at Hermann Hospital and was welcomed into the clinic.

Tot was an innovative thinker and always considering new ways to solve difficult problems.He attended both national and international ophthalmology meetings and used the opportunity to pick the brains of the most noted clinicians of the times.Tot introduced several ideas, particularly in lid and orbital reconstruction that were accepted by the academic community.

I began my ophthalmology residency at Hermann Hospital in 1969.I met Tot and his associates, Drs. Todd Barfield and H.T. Youens, Jr., during my training.They were active in the Hermann Eye Alumni organization and came to Houston to meetings and even staff residents learning to perform eye surgery.When Dr. Westphal decided to move to her hometown of Cuero and slowly retire, the Youens Eye Clinic began looking for a replacement.I was offered the opportunity to “moonlight” on Saturday mornings in Columbus at the end of 1970.Becoming close to my wife’s family in Weimar, during my years at Hermann Hospital, made it clear to both of us that the Youens Eye Clinic was the perfect fit for our future.

In November 1971, Tot became ill and was diagnosed with colon cancer.After his surgery, he was unable to return to the busy practice he had built.Drs. Todd Barfield and H.T. Youens, Jr., negotiated an arrangement with the Hermann Hospital eye program to send a senior resident to Columbus 4 days a week from January through June 1972 to alleviate their overload.I was one of three senior residents during that time and spent more time than the other two seniors because I could stay in Weimar with my wife’s family and not have to travel back and forth to Houston each day.

By July 1972, the Youens Eye Clinic managed to hire and train more nursing staff to handle the overload they faced.I had a 2-year military obligation, but the Clinic was willing to postpone taking in a new ophthalmologist until I returned.I was stationed at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, located 1,000 miles from Columbus.I was able to use leave time and return for a week at a time every several months to give some relief.Sadly, W.T. “Tot” Youens succumbed to his cancer in August 1973 at the age of 52.

W.T. “Tot” Youens’ vision of establishing an eye clinic in Columbus, Texas was realized.His creation, now the Columbus Eye Associates, has had a major impact on the City of Columbus and Colorado County.It has created many jobs and brought many visitors for eye care who required food services and hotel rooms for now more than 65 years.A quote of unknown origin probably describes Tot’s accomplishment best:“To create where there was nothing is truly a noble deed.”

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