Larry William Piebenga MD, 80, passed away on February 10, 2018 at St. Luke’s Heart Institute. The world is not as good without him.
Larry was born in Volga, SD on January 5, 1938. His family moved to Oskaloosa, IA, and Fredonia, KS before settling in Springdale, AR when he was nine years old. He became a true Razorback attending both college (graduating in three years Phi Beta Kappa) and medical school at the University of Arkansas. Following graduation he spent his internship year at Detroit Receiving Hospital and then enlisted in the Navy as a Medical Officer on the nuclear submarine, Casimir Pulaski, and then became Squadron Medical Officer in Groton, CT.
In 1968 Larry chose ophthalmology as his career path and finished his residency (winning the award for best research paper) and a cornea fellowship at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia. Upon choosing Kansas City as home in 1972, he was immensely dedicated to his private practice patients for 32 years.
He was one of the first trained cornea specialists/transplant surgeons in the area and remained committed to his profession as a Clinical Associate Professor-UMKC School of Medicine and Director of Corneal Services at the Eye Foundation of Kansas City. He also trained generations of UMKC ophthalmology residents and published on the emerging technology of excimer laser vision correction in the 1990’s. He served on the Board of the Vision Research Foundation of Kansas City since inception. The Larry W. Piebenga Lectureship in Cornea and External Disease was established in his honor. He was the recipient of numerous awards including Teacher of the Year and the Hal Foster Award for exemplary dedication and service to ophthalmology and the local medical community.
Larry retired in 2003 and enjoyed every moment of his new freedom; leisurely reading the WSJ and The KC Star front to back each morning, cutting the lawn multiple times a week when necessary, taking on even more home projects, traveling both in the US and beyond, attending Vanguard Club meetings, the Kansas City Symphony and the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, helping to unload surplus groceries at a soup kitchen with his St. Luke’s Cardiac Rehab buddies and catching most of his granddaughters’ events in SC and PA. He loved sailing, golfing, reading voraciously and indulging his soft spot for sports cars. It can’t be put into words - his kindness, overall warmth, wisdom and wit that made him such an incredible person, the best husband/father/grandfather, friend and colleague ever. He celebrated his 80th birthday with all of his family just 5 weeks ago in Jamaica. He would say, “That’s the way to do it!” He lived life fully right up to the end.
Larry is survived by his wife of 51 years, Betsy Dawe Piebenga, son, Jon (wife Ansara, granddaughters Ava and Lauren) of Mt. Pleasant, SC and daughter, Elise (husband Michael Negrey, granddaughters Mia and Emily) of Wayne, PA, sister, Jan Hargis (husband Ken) of Bentonville, AR, in-laws Susan Gervich (husband David), Charles Dawe (wife Linda), Janice Dawe (husband Lawrence Kaplan) and much loved nieces and nephews.
His parents, J.G. and Mamye Piebenga, parents-in-law Vernon and Elaine Dawe and nephew Martin Hays preceded him in death.
A celebration of Larry’s life will be held on Thursday, February 15 at 10:30 AM at Mission Hills Country Club at 5400 Mission Drive, Mission Hills, KS 66208.
In lieu of flowers, donations are suggested to St. Luke’s Foundation Heart Institute (4225 Baltimore Ave. KC, MO 64111), Children’s Mercy’s Department of Nephrology (2401 Gillham Rd. KC, MO 64108), or the charity of your choice.