Theodor Sattelmaier was born on February 16, 1897, in the small German farming village of Schluchtern.
As a teenage soldier in the First World War, young Sattelmaier suffered the twin deprivations of exposure and starvation while witnessing firsthand the traumatic death and destruction of one of history’s most horrific, senseless, and encompassing conflicts.
Young Theodor emerged from war determined to dedicate his future to saving lives. He studied pre-clinical medicine at the world famous Heidelberg University and received his doctorate from the University of Munich. Perhaps sick and tired of the old ways, or perhaps thankful for the opportunity his survival provided when so many others, comrades and enemies alike, were not spared, Theodor Sattelmaier set out for a new world, for a new promise.
He set out for America.
Arriving at Ellis Island speaking not a word of English, Dr. Sattelmaier made his way to Philadelphia, where he served for a year as Chief Resident at Northwestern General Hospital. Then he sat for, and passed with a score of 93, the Maryland Board of Physician’s test.
He took the test entirely in Latin.
In 1925, he placed an advertisement in The Baltimore Sun seeking a place in Maryland to practice medicine. The ad was answered by three established doctors, including Kent Island’s retiring John Benton and a doctor from Cambridge.
On his first visit to the Eastern Shore, Dr. Sattelmaier boarded the ferry Philadelphia (Smokey Joe to her friends) at her Light Street pier in Baltimore and took the two hour and a half hour voyage down the Chesapeake Bay to Love Point. He visited Dr. Benton there on Kent Island, and the doctor from Cambridge; then returned to Pennsylvania to ponder before accepting Dr. Benton’s offer a short time later.
Dr. Sattelmaier married Dr. Benton’s daughter, Elizabeth, in 1930. The couple had two children.
Dr. Sattelmaier had a thick German accent and a “hawk nose” bearing “the traditional dueling scars of a Heidelberg graduate.”
And because he was a man of character in every sense of the word character, in February of 1967, in honor of Doctor Sattelmaier’s 70th birthday, his adopted hometown celebrated with a big party.
“Visibly shaken by the reception and outpouring of goodwill and respect,” Dr. Sattelmaier made a short speech. The 70 year old with more than 40 years of service in the pursuit of preserving life, mostly said, “I will try my best to earn your confidence in me.”
“When I was born I was delivered by Dr. Sattelmaier.” The retired business man Bill Denny once told me, “My dad saw Dr. Snyder, but my mother and I went to Doc. He was rough. He’d sew you up and give you nothing for the pain. He’d always say in that accent, “Vat are you crying for?” And I’d say “Because it hurts”. He’d answer, “Vell, it doesn’t hut me. Shtop yelling so loud.” He’d sew you up like a piece of linen cloth. There was nothing ever gentle about him.”
Kenny Bullen, a longtime member of the KIVFD, says, “He was older when I came along, but he still made house calls. When I was a kid, you couldn’t play sick from school because he’d come to your house. He was rough. You’d go in there, in his office, and he’d be working on you, making you cry and he’d say, “Shut up, boy. It don’t hurt.” But I believed in him. If he told you were going to die, you’d better pack your suitcase.”
And Mr. Jimmy Ewing, who owned Kent Island’s Circle Restaurant for a quarter century and passed away last year, told me one of my all-time favorite stories from a decade of recording local oral histories.
Jimmy Ewing told me, “The Circle wasn’t always a success. I spent many sleepless nights, and more than once decided to close the place and go to work for somebody else. One man changed my mind for me, and I’ve been grateful to him ever since. Dr. Sattelmaier stopped by one day for a sandwich. I told him some of my troubles. He listened until I had finished pouring out my heart and then in his familiar accented English said…”Stick it out Jimmy. It won’t always be this bad. Tomorrow is going to be better, you’ll see.” Though I still had my doubts, something about his encouraging and sincere remarks stuck with me. And from then on things kept getting better and better. I’ll always be glad for the day old Doc stopped by and gave a worried man a much needed shot in the arm. He taught me not to worry. “Worry,” Doc Sattelmaier said, “is a bad disease.”
Dr. Sattelmaier, a “Grand Old Gentleman of Medicine,” died on May 3, 1987.