Dr. Bill Rice has helped countless patients over the years, but now it was his time for some overdue recognition for the former St. Cloud Hospital physician with Parkinson’s disease.
On Wednesday, he was presented with an American flag that was flown over the Alaska military base where he was the first medical director of the Yukon Command before Alaska became a state.
“He was excited when we told him about it,” said Millie Rice, who was by her husband’s side as he sat in his wheelchair, weakened by the degenerative disease and barely able to speak.
Two member of the honor guard — both World War II veterans — formally presented the flag that flew over Fort Wainwright to the 81-year-old at his St. Cloud home.
“I was able to secure a flag that flew over the old Ladd Air Force Base through the Department of Defense,” said Carl Maijer, The Rices’ son-in-law.
The 56-year-old Maijer works as a consultant to the Department of the Interior as a liaison between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of Education.
“We were talking about how this country really needs to honor its elderly a little bit better, especially those who served in the armed services,” Maijer said of the flag presentation.
“He’s been quite ill, and at this stage of his life, they start to reflect back on their past, so I think it’s apropos that we’re doing this for him.”
Ladd Air Force Base in Alaska was renamed Fort Wainwright in 1961 in honor of the general who led delaying tactics on Bataan and Corregidor in the Philippines against a “superior Japanese force” in World War II, according to the military installation’s website.
The physician and his wife settled in St. Cloud in 1959 after his two years in Alaska and started his career as a family doctor during a time when X-ray technology was still limited in its use.
“It’s something that’s hard to describe,” Rice said about his lifetime passion of being a physician and helping others. “If you don’t like it, you don’t do it.”
“He witnessed both of his parents go through some very serious medical problems, and he knew from that time on that he really wanted to do something to help people,” Millie Rice said.
The doctor became the hospital chief of staff in the 1970s and was president of the Anesthesia Associates after he did an anesthesiology residency at the University of Minnesota.
“He really loves people for one thing; he was orphaned at quite a young age,” she said of her husband’s lifelong passion of practicing medicine and being around others.
The University of Nebraska medical school graduate now has anxiety and difficulty talking to others because of his Parkinson’s, according to his wife.
“I worked for a few years while he was in medical school, but by the time we had eight children, I pretty much stayed at home,” she said of their early years together.
The couple now has 24 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Their daughter Mary Rice is married to Maijer.
“We saw that there were really good educational opportunities and felt the people were warm and friendly,” Millie Rice said of moving to St. Cloud from Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1959.
Between practicing medicine and raising a family, he was involved with Catholic Charities, United Cerebral Palsy and the Boy Scouts, among other community organizations.
“In anesthesia, they oftentimes did multiple cases — eight, 10 people a day,” she said. “And when he was in family practice, one time he had counted way over a hundred in just a year of baby deliveries he had done.”
The Winona native also helped spearhead Cathedral High School’s hockey program in 1972 before he retired in 1996.
“When he retired, people said he was the kindest doctor they ever had at the hospital,” Millie Rice said.