Podiatrist headed Dr. Scholl College
Thanks to the work of George Geppner, a museum in North Chicago has fishskin slippers from Greenland, “lily feet” shoes used in Chinese foot- binding and a size- 35 boot made for Robert Wadlow, the 8- foot, 11- inch “Alton Giant” from downstate Illinois who died in 1940 but still holds the Guinness record for world’s tallest man.
Mr. Geppner, former president of the Dr. William M. Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine, died Jan. 14 at 95.
He helped establish the Feet First Museum at the college, which is part of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in North Chicago. In addition to antique footwear, the museum tells the story of Scholl, a foot care pioneer who built an empire on fallen arches, corns, calluses and bunions that remains a well- known brand.
Mr. Geppner grew up in Boston during the Great Depression. His mother, Kitty, widowed when he was 7, had to work multiple jobs to feed three kids. So young George learned “29 different ways to make hamburger,” said his brother Ed.
The frugality of that era made him a cautious spender. At the Scholl College, he cultivated benefactors whose donations helped students graduate with less debt, according to the school’s dean, Nancy Parsley.
“He really was passionate about that,” Parsley said. “I give him so much credit and so much gratitude for establishing a strong student scholarship program that continues to assist today’s students.”
Under Mr. Geppner’s leadership, the college launched programs to help the homeless, sending students and faculty to shelters and free clinics. They trimmed toenails and calluses, handed out shoes, socks and foot cream and checked feet for serious health problems.
“He was very proud of that, and they would do donations of shoes to the homeless also,” said his daughter Theresa Geppner.
Ed Geppner focused on his brother’s humility in a eulogy about Mr. Geppner, saying, “You were always the same person as a college president that you were as a college student.”
After high school in Massachusetts, Mr. Geppner studied to become an X- ray technician. That led him to be assigned to the Army Medical Corps in Europe in World War II. Afterward, he used the GI bill to come to Chicago and enroll in what’s now called the Dr. William M. Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine.
He’d done Army basic training near Peoria, where he met Marjorie A. Gorham. They reconnected when he returned to Illinois for college, got married and raised five children in Peoria, where he practiced podiatry for 30 years.
In 1980, he returned to his alma mater as vice president, then served as president of the Scholl College from 1982 to 1990 and remained there till 2003 as a historian and archivist, Parsley said.
He saw podiatry expand from its focus on foot problems of growing youngsters and senior citizens. After running became a popular pastime in the 1970s and 1980s, “He said [ the profession] was just so interesting, and he was dealing with all ages,” his daughter said. “It changed podiatry, sports medicine.”
Mr. Geppner also wrote books, including “Dr. Scholl — Man or Myth” and “Podiatric Medicine and the Dr. William M. Scholl College.”
For more than 60 years, he kept fit by playing tennis, often at Peoria Park District courts, and later, when the Geppners moved to the Chicago area, at the East Bank Club and Wilmette’s Centennial Park and Recreation Complex. His love of the sport dated to his teens, when he was dejected over failing to make the high school football team. His mother “went out the next day and got him a tennis racket, and his love of tennis came from there,” Theresa Geppner said.
Mr. Geppner played tennis until his knees rebelled in his early 80s, then he took up golf, even scoring a holein- one once at the Reservation Golf Course in Mulberry, Florida, according to his brother.
He never lost his “pahk the cah” Boston accent, nor his deep- seated hatred of Brussels sprouts. “They were fed Brussels sprouts in the war so much,” his daughter said.
He loved family reunions on Cape Cod, a good cigar and a cold Budweiser. He enjoyed books about Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln, even dressing up as Lincoln and giving an annual speech to residents when he and his wife moved into Covenant Village of Northbrook.
Mr. Geppner’s wife died in 2012. In addition to his daughter and brother, he is survived by daughters Nancy Geppner Mueller and Patti Geppner Ostrander, sons Michael and Robert, 10 grandchildren and three great- granddaughters. Services have been held.