Article By: Erika Wanger
Photos By: Josh Triggs
“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.”
Somehow this quote from Abraham Lincoln not only seems quite appropriate but also truly exemplifies the life and career of H. Alexander Wanger, MD. It is no exaggeration to say that Dr. Wanger is responsible for delivering entire families in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, Berkeley and Jefferson counties more specifically. Throughout the course of his illustrious career as Martinsburg’s premier OBGYN, he has touched the lives of far too many individuals and families to count. What follows is my feeble attempt to share the story of his life long career and the events that lead him there.
Dr. Wanger was born in 1939 to physician parents Halvard Wanger, MD and Sarah Elizabeth McFetridge, MD. He was raised along side a brother and two sisters in what would become one of Shepherdstown’s most loved and respected medical families. Young Alex attended school in Shepherdstown until he reached his high school years when he went to live with his aunt in Ohio and ultimately graduated from Saint Clairesville high school in 1957. After graduation he returned to Shepherdstown, finding jobs to be scarce and with all of his friends attending college, he decided to follow suite, enrolling at Shepherd College. Starting college with the idea of pre-med, there came a point that he questioned his reasons for choosing medicine as a career path. He wondered if this was his true calling or if perhaps the choice had been made based on his parents and his elder brother William H. Wanger who by this time was also a practicing physician in his own right. After contemplating changing his major to education for a short time and then giving serious consideration to attending the Gettysburg Seminary to become a Lutheran pastor, he settled on medical school and graduated in 1961.
After graduating from Shepherd College, he went to work in the pulmonary function lab at the VA Medical Center in Martinsburg, WV for one year after which he began medical school at West Virginia University in 1962. After graduating in 1966, Dr. Wanger went on to do his internship at WVU followed by one year of OBGYN residency there as well. With the Vietnam War in full swing and the existence of the Doctors Draft Law that allowed them to draft doctors regardless of their circumstances (his being his first wife and two daughters, Brita Kay and Sarah Jane) he joined the United States Navy. His first year was spent in Rachgia, Vietnam where he served on an advisory team to a civilian hospital. He was essentially a Naval Officer on loan to the USAID that is part of the State Department. After fulfilling his obligation, he returned to the naval base in Bethesda, MD where he was invited to finish his OBGYN residency at Bethesda Naval Hospital.
With his first marriage having ended, Dr. Wanger went on to marry his current wife Linda Kogelschatz in 1971. Shortly after their marriage, he and his new wife moved to Guam where he was assigned to the US Naval Hospital for a period of two years. The couple liked living there so much that he extended his time there for a third year. They went on to have their daughter Emily who was born in Guam. But after much urging from his brother Bill and the generosity of Dr. Jack Kilmer who was retiring from his OBGYN practice in Martinsburg and chose to turn his patients over to Dr. Wanger, they returned to the Eastern Panhandle on July 4, 1974 and went on to purchase a house on North Rosemont Avenue where they were blessed with their son David Wanger and his family lived there happily and he enjoyed the fact that it was conveniently located close to both Kings Daughters and City Hospitals. These days they can be found enjoying his retirement at their current home in Shepherdstown, WV.
Dr. Wanger practiced as a board certified OBGYN in Martinsburg for 43 years. From 1971 to 2000 he had a private practice located on Tavern Road and then he joined Shenandoah Community Health Center in 2000 that also happened to be the first private practice to have a AIEM certified ultrasound site in WV, where he remained until his retirement in September of 2017. In June of 1991 he was featured in an article in The Journal of the American Medical Association along side the Shenandoah Community Health Center’s maternity program in Martinsburg. The article focused on the need to improve the maternity prospects of less fortunate rural women. Considering himself and his medical practice to be traditional in nature, Dr. Wanger absolutely loved to take care of women and expectant mothers no matter their economic status or personal circumstances. He also served as Chairman of the American College of West Virginia for a period of three years.
Abraham Lincoln said, “ Whatever you are, be a good one.” Well Dr. H. Alexander Wanger certainly did just that. In fact those who know him on either a personal or a professional level would say he most definitely surpassed that advise. His dedication to his patients and staff is rivaled only by his compassion and integrity as a man. A humble man, Dr. Wanger credits his longtime staff for much of his success. He asked me personally to convey his heart-felt thanks and appreciation to Sissy Poland, Chris Mason, Jane Butler, and Marianne Roach for their longtime dedication and friendship. He credits his grandfather, his parents, and his brother for being some of the most influential people in his life. He gives his wife Linda much of the credit for both his personal as well as professional success; after all she worked side-by-side with him as an ultra sound tech. and essentially ran the department.
Dr. Wanger delivered his last baby on September 19, 2017 and that moment would be bitter sweet for him, his longtime staff, and of course his many patients. When asked what he enjoyed the most about being an doctor he replied “I enjoyed doing GYN surgery and of course OB.” Actually I think it was delivering those beautiful bundles of joy. Having delivered over 10,000 babies over his career he must have loved it, that’s for sure. “I miss my patients the most” was his answer to my next question. I suppose you can figure out for yourselves what that question was.
Allow me to share a memory from a patient that was about 8 1/2 months pregnant and also happened to be an RN who worked the night shift at City Hospital. As she worked mopping the floor of her unit, which was one of her duties, Dr. Wanger happened through the unit and promptly took the mop and instructed her to take a seat behind the nurse’s station, with that he proceeded to finish mopping the floor of the unit. I think that sums him up beautifully.
On a personal note, I am more than proud to say that Dr. Wanger is Uncle Alex to my sisters and I. Over the years he has leant his support both personally and professionally to us delivering most of our babies and even a couple of our grandbabies. I really must take this opportunity to say thank you for taking such good care of us and our babies and their babies too.
H. Alexander Wanger, MD practiced obstetrics and gynecology for a grand total of 51 years during his illustrious career. Although he would never admit to it, he sacrificed a lot of sleep and a great deal of personal time to take care of the thousands of expectant mothers who put their trust in him to bring healthy, happy babies into the world. Now please join me in lifting a glass and toasting to H. Alexander Wanger, MD. Here’s to an amazing career as Martinsburg’s finest OBGYN, a humble man with great integrity, a kind and loving grandson, son, brother, husband, father, and uncle, as well as a loyal boss and friend. May your retirement years be filled with all of the joy and happiness that you have so freely given to all of us who have been fortunate enough to know you. Cheers Uncle Alex!