Dr. Jack Donovan, a Jefferson native, recently retired from his chiropractic practice in Carroll after nearly 70 years. In 2002, Palmer College of Chiropractic inducted him as a fellow into the Palmer Academy of Chiropractic.Jack Donovan’s parents, Margaret and Dr. H.B. Donovan, left, are pictured with the founders of Palmer College, Drs. B.J. and Mabel Heath Palmer. H.B. Donovan was a practicing chiropractor in Jefferson for 50 years, the first of 23 chiropractors (to date) in the family.


The first family of chiropractic care


Special to The Jefferson Herald

Patrick Donovan was admittedly stunned this past summer when he learned that his dad, Dr. Jack Donovan, was retiring from his chiropractic practice.

“I guess I thought he would practice forever,” Patrick Donovan said. “But I guess everyone deserves to take a break at 92.”

A Jefferson native whose own father inspired a family legacy (to date) of 23 chiropractors, Jack Donovan bowed out of the profession this year at age 91, having made a name for himself as one of Carroll’s most admired residents and a founding partner of Parker University in Texas.

As Jack Donovan recently gave a tour of the office he occupied as a chiropractor for most of his 67 years in Carroll, you could see the passion for the profession in his face and hear in his voice that he hasn’t quite let go.

“It was hard to do, but I no longer have the stamina,” he explained, smiling ruefully.

Born of good Irish stock, he traces his origins back to great-grandparents Jeremiah and Mary Donovan, who with all the family except infant Timothy, came over from Cork, Ireland, in 1862, settling in Joliet, Ill. 

Timothy Donovan, Jack’s grandfather, followed when he was 14. Timothy moved to Iowa in 1883, and in 1889 married Ellegien Korthuis, who had immigrated with her family to Storm Lake from Holland in 1884.

They had nine children, of whom Henry Benjamin (known as “Harry” or “H.B.”) was the second, born in Cherokee in 1892.

Harry Donovan, Jack’s father, met his wife, Margaret, in the Sutherland area, where they married. Their children were Richard, John (Jack), Harriett and Barbara. They settled in the O’Brien County area. 

Jack’s father, Harry, was one of the first Ford dealers in Iowa back in the years of 1915-25 — an era when cars were started in the front with a crank. 

By the mid-1920s, when Harry was in his 30s, after cranking endless cars, he had torn up his arm and shoulder, creating a neck injury and severe arm pain. 

He went to Dr. Hazel Larson, a chiropractor in Sioux City, who treated him and corrected the problem.

Harry Donovan was so impressed that in 1925 he decided to go to chiropractic school.  

He moved his family to Davenport to attend Palmer Chiropractic College, obtaining his degree in three years.

As the family traveled through Jefferson on their return to Sioux City in 1930, he saw a chiropractic office next to a gas station and asked the owner if he could buy the practice, which he did and maintained it for 50 years into his late 80s.

Harry’s practice started the profession in the family, inspiring a legacy of 23 chiropractors to date in the family.

Harry’s sister, Caroline Mellon, also entered the chiropractic profession as well as Jack’s brother, Richard, who practiced in Jefferson for many years.

Asking Jack if he followed the family dream, he said that he didn’t know it was his dream until he got to chiropractic college, although he hadn’t originally planned to go there.

Jack grew up in Jefferson and after high school went to the University of South Dakota for two years. When he ran out of money for college, his father said, “I would like you to try chiropractic college at Palmer.”   

Jack was reluctant, but decided to try the school.

“I knew where I was supposed to be,” he recalled. “I was happy to be there — and if you feel it’s right, you are in the right place.  I embraced the profession and never looked back.”

At that time, Jack had joined the Air National Guard in Des Moines, hoping to stay in the states during the Korean conflict. The week following his sign-up, his unit was called up and he was on a train to Brooks Army Hospital Burn Center in Dallas. He was later assigned to a medical unit in Bangor, Maine, as he said, a beautiful area of the country to experience.

After four years of service, he returned to finish college.

Jack said he had always planned to set up his practice in Carroll. While the family lived in Jefferson, they traveled back to Sutherland through Carroll to visit grandparents.  

He remembered playing football in high school against the Carroll Tigers and thought that Carroll was a good town. He especially valued the Catholic churches and school system.

His first office, opened on July 1, 1953, was in the downstairs half of the building where Rancho Grande Restaurant on Main Street is located today.  He lived above the office. The Ruesch  grocery store took up the north half.

In those days, with no air conditioning, it was pretty miserable.

He finally talked Ruesch into letting him put in an air conditioner.  Jack met his wife, the former Darlene Baumhover, while she was working at Commercial Savings Bank on the corner of Main and 5th streets. Jack and Darlene were married in 1954.

His next office was the brick building he built on Third Street.

Jack practiced there until he retired on July 1, 2020.

Jack said he is glad he was able to contribute to Carroll’s community well-being — and he was busy. Name a cause or a project and Dr. Jack was probably in it or leading it.

Jack joined the Chamber of Commerce as soon as he came to town, serving as chairman of the professional bureau in 1959.  Becoming a Rotarian, he was elected vice president and president in 1959-61. He was part of the Carroll Jaycees in the early 1960s, organizing one of the first donkey basketball games.

The new courthouse bond issue was a project he supported in 1964, and in 1965-68, Jack turned his efforts to helping form and then serve as president on the St. Lawrence Advisory School Board. He also took his turn as president of the Kuemper Parents Club.   Appointed to the Carroll Library board in 1966, he served as president and trustee for 12 years, giving JoAnn Comito credit for spearheading the board’s start. 

At the same time, Jack was tapped to head the Carroll Chamber of Commerce board as president in 1966 for two terms. 

During those years, Jack remained active in his alma mater, Palmer Chiropractic College, sponsoring Career Day in 1968.

In 1969, he was key to the group that campaigned for the acquisition of the railroad land where the Great Western Depot was located. Between 1969 and 1971, Jack pulled his weight in supporting the building of St. Anthony Regional Hospital.

Named Citizen of the Year in 1972, he continued his efforts, co-chairing a 1975 study and successful bond issue for the Carroll Recreation Center.

All of these activities — and more — were accomplished while he was a sole chiropractic practitioner working six days a week from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and some hours Sunday mornings.

He reserved his greatest passion for the chiropractic profession.

As he would later explain, he enjoyed learning like a sponge about the mission and techniques of natural health care.  He appreciated the opportunity to spread the word and teach people to take responsibility for their bodies and their health.  

He subscribed to the conviction of, “Educate the patient to respect his own judgment.”   

He explained that negative feelings make the body defensive, leading to stress — that accumulation of stress causes pain.

An injury at a donkey basketball game in 1960 led him to discover that, “Everything in life is a lesson; if you learn the lesson, be thankful and grateful.”

Jack found a way to apply that lesson.

The donkey he was riding in the basketball game bucked and Jack fell off, injuring his knee. He traveled to Texas when he heard of a Dr. Van Rumpth there who specialized in such injuries.  He was doubtful when the doctor told him he had a back problem, but the doctor explained, “After treatment, you’ll never need to see me again.”

The doctor treated him with a non-force procedure. Jack said he was very impressed and felt 95 percent better.

He came back to Iowa and started a new phase of his practice: a concept of “force to non-force,” which was a technique primarily done with the hands.  


Advancing the profession  

The high point of his career in the chiropractic profession was reached, according to Jack, with the opportunity to collaborate with Dr. James Parker in a major chiropractic undertaking in the late 1970s.  

Jack was a partner in the founding of Parker College of Chiropractic (now Parker University) in Dallas. He commented that this project was a new mission where his “adult energy” was placed. 

Jack had attended a seminar of Parker’s in Wisconsin in 1954 and kept in touch with him.

He was inspired by Parker’s philosophy of, “Developing how you want to be and how to get there.” He said that Parker’s mission was to teach people how to get well and stay well.  

“Knowing him through the years inspired me in the development of my career to help others and ultimately to participate in establishing the university,” Jack said. “It has been a great learning experience.”

Jack was honored in 1972 by the Parker Chiropractic Research Foundation, United States of America. His plaque stated, “For outstanding contributions and dedicated service to Chiropractic, this Foundation, his patients and community.”

Developing the new university began in the mid-1970s, as Parker invited Jack to be one of 12 chiropractors to found Parker University. At the time, Palmer Chiropractic College had become crowded and had a long waiting list of students. The profession needed to expand.

Parker presented the idea of starting a university in Texas.   The 12 collaborators invested financially, as well as their time and talents, to set up a nonprofit corporation, find an initial site and prepare the school to open on Sept. 12, 1982.  

Starting with 40 students, the university expanded to a campus of five acres and several buildings in Dallas. Today the university serves 1,600 students. In October of 2019, a tornado destroyed all but a new Neurological College. The $45 million in damages are currently being replaced with new buildings.

Unfortunately in the mid-1980s, Jack was sidelined with unexpected heart problems that necessitated six months of recovery and rehabilitation. The illness was a virus that attacked a ventricle in his heart.

He was given emergency treatment at St. Anthony Hospital and flown by helicopter to an Omaha hospital where he received a pacemaker. During his recovery at home, he suffered drug side effects that affected his bones.

His nephew, Dr. Stephen Donovan, who was a chiropractor in Perry, gave Jack daily treatment that led to his recovery. 

In 2015, Dr. Peter Juergens, a Carroll native, purchased Jack’s building and took over the chiropractic practice. Jack continued working part-time for the last five years.

He recalled with gratification the geriatric and pediatric patients he was able to help. He described the satisfaction of relieving a patient of pain, confessing he felt that relief and joy almost as much as the patient.

At the age of 91, Jack is in good health with his fifth pacemaker.

Son Dave Donovan — whose career in law took him to the NFL, where he worked from 2005 to 2011 as general counsel to the COO of the Washington Redskins — retired in 2018.

“For years,” Dave Donovan said, “we joked that I would retire before Dad did, and I won that bet.”

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