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KM Historical Museum Exhibit Features Dr. George Plonk
KM Historical Museum Exhibit Features Dr. George Plonk
An oral history interview featuring Dr. George W. Plonk was recently recorded at Kings Mountain Historical Museum in conjunction with the Museum’s current exhibit, “Say Ahh!” The Incredible Medical History of Kings Mountain, and in honor of Dr. Plonk’s 95th birthday.  The interviewer was Scott Neisler, former Mayor of the City of Kings Mountain and current General Manager of radio station AM 1450 WGNC.  Dr. Plonk, the interviewee, was Kings Mountain Hospital’s first surgeon; he tended and mended the citizens of this region as one of its most respected doctors for over forty years.  The interview is now on display as part of the “Say Ahh!” exhibit; open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
Dr. Plonk opens the interview by talking about the doctors that came before him, namely Dr. James Wright Tracy, and his role in founding the City of Kings Mountain.  He also describes the doctors of his childhood.  George Plonk was born in 1919.  He grew up with nine siblings on a farm between Kings Mountain and Cherryville.  Of the ten Plonk children, all but the youngest were born with the assistance of a midwife at home; the last-born son was birthed with the assistance of a doctor, Dr. Stokes.  This was representative of a regional trend taking place in the first half of the 20th century, towards more accessible professional healthcare in rural North Carolina.
Dr. Anthony and Dr. Hord were the Plonks’ family doctors, and Dr. Plonk recalls that in those days some fresh ears of corn or whatever else was in season on the local farms were often used as payment to those doctors who made house calls to the people of Kings Mountain.
Dr. Plonk describes the academic journey that led him to a career in surgery: from a one-room schoolhouse, to Kings Mountain High School, to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to Jefferson Medical School in Philadelphia, to the University of Pennsylvania.  Of his degrees on display with the “Say Ahh!” exhibit, the 1937 certificate from the American Board of Surgery declaring that he is a Board-certified surgeon is the one Dr. Plonk is most proud to have earned.  He also recalls in the interview the mentors he had though his early years of studying and practicing medicine that inspired his own caring, compassionate his bedside manner.
During WWII, Dr. Plonk served two years in the U.S. Army, including serving as a physician in Europe.  In the interview, Dr. Plonk explains how he learned about the use of bone screws for the first time from prisoners of war who had been treated with them before they were released back to the Fracture Ward where he was stationed.  This speaks to a key theme in the “Say Ahh!” exhibit: how advances in military medicine translated into significant progress in civilian medicine.
Dr. Plonk recounts the years following his military service, working first in a general practice in Murphy, NC for two years, and eventually in Raleigh, NC, from 1952 until 1957.  Kings Mountain Hospital opened in 1951, and in its early years, surgeons from other hospitals traveled to perform the surgeries conducted there.  However, in 1957, Dr. Plonk and his wife Margaret decided to return to their hometown, and Dr. Plonk became Kings Mountain Hospital’s first resident surgeon.
In the interview, Dr. Plonk explains how the first few years of surgery at Kings Mountain Hospital were challenging.  By that point, he and his wife had five children, and even though they were living in a one-bedroom apartment in his wife’s parent’s house, it was still difficult to make ends meet.
Dr. Plonk still had the opportunity to return to his practice in Raleigh, and he had made up his mind that was what he had to do to support his family.  Fortunately, a group of concerned citizens circulated a petition urging Dr. Plonk to stay in Kings Mountain.  Honored by the effort, and by the number of signatures, he decided to stay, continuing to practice medicine in Kings Mountain until his retirement in the 1980s.
Towards the end of the interview, Dr. Plonk divulges the details of some of his more harrowing and memorable surgeries, and reflects on what he describes as a rewarding career as a surgeon in his hometown.  Dr. Plonk frequently runs into his former surgical patients around town and receives expressions of their gratitude – it’s not uncommon for him to hear, “I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for you.”
The interview also reveals many of the profound changes in the field of medicine Dr. Plonk has witnessed over his lifetime.  He first saw medical care in Kings Mountain transition from backcountry home medicine to professional doctors making house calls; then he watched Kings Mountain Hospital grow from a 24-bed facility in 1951 to the full service hospital it is today, with 102 beds and state-of-the-art technology.  He saw the development of life-saving antibiotics and vaccines, as well as advances in anesthetics, cancer-fighting medicines, and minimally invasive surgical techniques.  He still keeps up-to-date of advances in modern medicine.
Kings Mountain Historical Museum is extremely grateful to Dr. Plonk for sharing his stories, and to Scott Neisler and Shelby Camera Video & Photography for their assistance with the production of the oral history interview.  As the Museum prepared the “Say Ahh!” exhibit, we felt it was a critical time to capture Dr. Plonk’s unique perspective on Kings Mountain’s medical history.  Thanks to exhibit sponsorship from Cleveland County HealthCare System and Ragan & Reba Harper, the Museum was not only able to produce the recording, but also to purchase a new audiovisual setup to display it.  The recording will be archived at the Museum and made available to the public for future research and educational purposes.  We invite everyone to view the interview during open hours at the Museum from now until the “Say Ahh!” exhibit concludes on October 25, 2014.
CURRENT EXHIBIT: “Say Ahh!” The Incredible Medical History of Kings Mountain
From doctors and dentists, to pharmacies and folk remedies, this exhibit presents an historical overview of all things related to health and well-being in Kings Mountain and the surrounding region.  The display celebrates the medical pioneers of this area, and highlights the evolution of science and technology in medicine over the past three centuries.  Military and Red Cross medical history, as well as iconic Kings Mountain providers like Griffin Drug Center, Kings Mountain Hospital, and Baker Dental Care are represented.
ADMISSION IS FREE!  Donations are appreciated.  All donations go towards fulfilling the Museum’s mission to collect, preserve, and interpret history through exhibits, educational programs, tours, and other appropriate means, in order to foster a deeper understanding of the history of our community and the region.  To find out more about upcoming exhibits and events, please visit us at: www.kingsmountainmuseum.org or call (704) 739-1019.  You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, & Pinterest.  The museum is located at 100 E. Mountain St., Kings Mountain, NC.
- Provided by Adria L. Focht


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