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Olivia, Minn., mouring the loss of longtime doctor, spiritual leader

Dr. Paul Thompson died Sunday at his home from injuries he suffered in an accidental fall. He was 69 years old. Submitted

OLIVIA -- Dr. Paul Thompson was everything that a small-town doctor could be, dedicated to his work, genuinely caring about his patients and always helping others.

"A kind and godly man, so grace-filled," said Michal Ann Haakenson of Olivia.

Haakenson and her husband, Dr. Robert Haakenson, are among the many in Olivia mourning the loss of the longtime medical doctor and friend. Thompson, 69, died March 27 at his home from injuries he suffered in an accidental fall.

News of his death is likely reverberating in Bolivia and Ecuador as well, where he spent much of his childhood as the son of missionary parents, and where he returned frequently as an adult to serve. He was planning a return trip this summer as part of his most recent project to rebuild a Christian radio station in Bolivia.

Thompson's death came as a shock to many, said attorney Curt Reese of Olivia. A friend of Thompson's, Reese is also a member of a weekly Bible study that Thompson led at Master's Cafe.

"We're adjusting, but we need to go through the grieving process," Reese said.

Thompson received his medical degree at the University of Minnesota in 1970, and practiced in Park Ridge, Ill., Long Prairie, Minn., and as a missionary in Bolivia before arriving in Olivia in 1980.

Olivia became the destination for Dr. Thompson and his wife, Lois, because it is where Dr. Paul Buhr was practicing.

Buhr, who has served as a missionary doctor in Madasgascar, has known Thompson as a friend for 52 years.

He said their paths first crossed at Concordia College and later as fellow students attending medical school at the University of Minnesota. They served an internship together in Illinois.

Thompson spoke fluent Spanish, and cared for Spanish-speaking patients while Buhr cared for English-speaking patients.

Thompson's fluency in Spanish proved helpful in Olivia as well, where he served the growing Latino community, Buhr said.

Thompson's service to others extended well beyond his medical practice. Don Orth, president of the Home Town Bank in Olivia, considers Thompson "his spiritual mentor" for his role in leading weekly Bible studies.

Thompson quietly helped people with all kinds of needs, whether it was to acquire furniture to start up a house or for temporary housing when they arrived to work in area farm fields, said Orth.

"I think he did a lot of work that nobody knew of," said Orth.

He knew just about everyone in the greater Olivia community, and just about everyone knew him. Perhaps the biggest loss, Buhr said, is the role that his friend and colleague surely would have played in the years ahead. "He would have been a wonderful man about town," Buhr said.

Thompson's first wife, Lois, died in 2002; he married Mary Jo Wetzel in 2005.

Thompson began to take time off from his medical practice to travel in recent years, but remained dedicated to others, Buhr said. He was currently practicing medicine part-time.

He was by all measures a skilled and caring physician, and his intelligence was apparent to all who knew him, according to friends.

As to the source of his passion for helping other, Michal Ann Haakenson said that can only be explained by his faith in God. "He believed that he was on earth for a God-given purpose," she said.

He is survived by his wife, Mary Jo Thompson of Olivia; and two sons, Steve of Fargo, N.D., and Matt of Kerkhoven. Another son, Mark, is deceased.

His funeral service is at 11 a.m. Monday at Cross of Calvary Lutheran Church in Olivia.

Thompson's full obituary can be read of Page A10 of today's edition of the Tribune.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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