In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

November 18, 2014

The Live POETS Society

By In the Loop

Members of the POETS Group get together each week to reminisce and talk about the latest developments at Mayo Clinic.It threw us a little off our rhythm, recently, when we learned there's a group of Mayo poets that gathers each Friday in a meeting room in the Kahler Hotel in Rochester. Well, it's a group of POETS, really, but we'll come back to that. This past Friday, members of the little-known-but-not-that-secretive group gathered to celebrate the birthday of one of their own. That might not seem like a big deal, but getting 101 candles on a cake is no mean feat.

Lewis Woolner, M.D., an emeritus Mayo pathologist, was the birthday boy. He used the moment to share a verse that he clearly enjoyed and that struck a chord with the others gathered for the occasion.

I get up each morning and dust off my wits,
Open the paper, and read the Obits.
If I'm not there, I know I'm not dead,
So I eat a good breakfast and go back to bed!

Dr. Woolner has an impressive resume to match his impressive run, as do many in the company he keeps at the POETS gatherings. He was born in Prince Edward Island, Canada, and raised on a potato farm before coming to the cornfields of Southeast Minnesota. He was introduced to Mayo Clinic on a stop during his honeymoon to visit well-known Mayo pathologist Malcolm Dockerty, M.D., also from Prince Edward Island. (Further questioning revealed that Rochester may not have been the primary honeymoon destination.) Dr. Woolner joined the Mayo staff as a surgical pathologist in 1948. Known as one of the best ever diagnostic surgical pathologists at Mayo, he is often compared to Mayo's first pathologist, Louis Wilson, M.D., who had the same initials and a similar upbringing.

Dr. Lewis Woolner celebrates his 101st birthday.

Lewis Woolner, M.D.

Now, lest you think these POETS are all about rhymes and resumes, we'll confess, as they did with sly grins, that POETS stands for something other than metered or free verse. We're told it's an acronym for, um, "Pee On Everything, Tomorrow's Saturday." (Well, that's one version.) The acronym comes from way, way back when many in the group were active physicians and administrators. The group may have begun with Mayo administrator Slade Schuster in the 1950s, but since one of its guiding principles is, "No minutes, no rules, no dues," we can't document that. Today, members get together to reminisce, and talk about clinic happenings, the health care environment, world events, and much more. To ensure there's good conversation and discussion, the group's membership is capped at 12 members. And to ensure that conversation and discussion remains civil, politics and religion are off limits. (So, perhaps two rules.)

The group's current members are all emeritus Mayo staff. Its newest member, although in his 80s, has been part of the POETS Group for just four years. (He calls himself the baby of the group.) He's been part of the Mayo family since the 1960s, however – a time we're told members worried about things like having to work Saturdays to pay for the Mayo Building. (The more things change …)

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Tags: Emeritus Staff, History, POETS Group, Staff Stories

Gentleman of the POETS club. I enjoyed this article and thank you for mentioning my father. Slade often mentioned the POETS club which met, of course, on Fridays, to justify its scurrilous acronym. If any of you retirees are old enough to remember him, you are indeed old. That he raised a rhyming son may have been a source of embarrassment to him for all I know, but here is a rhyme about the good old soul I scribbled just this month. Carry on!


It’s several sorts of
Shrub or tree
Of the genus Rhooz.
It’s autumn leaves…
So crimson…
Enchant the
Woodland views.
My Father’s yard
Had sumac
Sixty years ago;
In all my childhood
The flaming
Sumac glow.
But one day
Father startled me
With a lexical surprise.
He said,
“You must say
Shoo-mac, son;
The spelling rule applies,”
I’d always called it
Soo-mac, and all
My friends had too,
And though my dad was
Never wrong,
This seemed
Somehow askew.
I knew he was a
Wordsmith and
Loved our
English tongue.
But shoo-mac?
It hurt the ear;
There must be
Something wrong.
“‘Spelling rule’
What spelling rule?”
I challenged him
At last,
And knew at once
I’d broke a bond
By speaking back
Too fast.
Then he turned
His grey eye on me
With that steady
Gaze he had,
And I felt at once
The shame that comes
From challenging
Your Dad.
And speaking slowly
Like a lord,
“The rule is this,” he said.
“S must be sounded
As sh
When followed by a U..
As in ‘surely sugar,’ son.
The rule is fast and true.”
“Surely sugar!”
He had me!
His evidence ironclad;
And here a silly
Had dared
To test his Dad.
But he was a
Merry prankster,
And if I’d had a clue,
I’d have known
When Father said a thing,
He might be
Testing YOU…
And in the entire
English tongue of
S-u pronounced as shoo,
He’d done his
Homework carefully
And found the only two.
I could have countered, I
Suppose, with
Surf, and
But “surely sugar”
Had me by
The brain,
The Dad,
The tongue.
I said “shoomac” then
For years,
And earned the ridicule
Of peers,
Never noting
Sullen, suet, suck,
And such…
Supreme, surreal,
Nor had Father
Told a lie.
He never would,
Of course.
“Shoomac” is acceptable,
If you check your
Webster source.
So I never doubted
Dad again,
And that has
Served me well.
For he taught me
How to hunt, and fish,
Play chess, and scout,
And ski,
And how to read,
And love good writing,
Both prose and poetry…
How to drive,
And how to garden and
Prepare the soil for seed,
And how to love my
Bratty sister,
And care for those in need.
Now he’s been gone
These twenty years,
Dead at 93.
And still those grey
Minerva eyes
With love
Look down on me.
He was surely sugar,
And surely sugar
He will be,
While each autumn
Blazes crimson
In my sumac,
Shoomac tree.

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