ALTON — If you live in the Riverbend and have ever needed a spinal adjustment, there’s a good possibility Dr. Bemis helped you. But which Dr. Bemis?
Kristina Bemis’ recent graduation from chiropractic school makes her the ninth member of the Bemis family to put the initials “DC” behind her name. With four generations of chiropractors, the family recently observed 100 years of providing chiropractic care.
It all started with Francis E. Bemis, the patriarch and first in the family to graduate from Palmer School of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa. A native New Englander, once he graduated in 1915, he never set foot in the Midwest again. He got into chiropractic by way of a heart problem. His doctor was treating him with arsenic and, understandably, Francis kept getting sicker.
“A friend told him he should try a new doctor in town,” says his grandson, Frank C. Bemis, who graduated in 1965. The doctor detected a problem with a nerve branching off the thoracic nerve, made an adjustment and made a believer of Francis.
Chiropractic is a natural form of health care that uses spinal adjustments to correct misalignments in the spine and restore proper function to the nervous system, helping your body to heal naturally.
“He was a remarkable country doctor. His knowledge of health was phenomenal. He was very independent and very intelligent,” says Frank C., who visited his grandfather in Malone, N.Y., several summers.
“His office was like the Norman Rockwell picture, with a roll-top desk. He wore a starched collared shirt and bow tie. My grandmother would come out (to the yard) and tell him he had a patient waiting. His office was upstairs, so the patient would put $3 on the newel post. Bookkeeping was by car license plate.”
Francis practiced 52 years until he passed away in 1967.
Frank E. followed his father into chiropractic and practiced in Crowne Point, N.Y., until enlisting in the Navy in 1943. While taking refresher courses after World War II, he ran into an old friend.
“Conrad Schenck suggested he move to Alton because it was such a booming town. That was in 1946,” says Gerry Bemis Sr., Frank’s brother. “Most of dad’s (New York) patients were French-Canadians. He lived halfway between Montreal and Ottawa. They’d point to where the pain was and he took care of them.”
Gerry, 67, says he considered going to pre-med during his undergraduate days but then decided to go into the chiropractic field. He graduated in 1973.
“It isn’t just the family business. It’s the non-surgical, non-drug approach to health. It’s a natural healing.”
Frank’s decision to become a chiropractor came when he was in the eighth grade.
“It was obvious we lived a happy life, happier than a lot of other folks because of our chiropractic care and lifestyle,” Frank said.
The Bemis family included two daughters: Faye, who passed away three years ago, and Kate, now 64 and a university dean in Oregon.
Frank was in practice with his dad until the elder man had a heart attack April 14, 1956. The next day, Frank opened the office alone.
“It was baptism by fire, but I celebrated 50 years of practice March 1,” he says.
The fourth generation of Bemis chiropractors include Frank’s children David, Ryan and Kristina, and Gerry’s sons Jerry Jr. and Geoffrey. Frank and Kristina share a practice.
Ryan owns Bemis Wilderman Chiropractic alongside Chris Wilderman.
The chiropractic field has seen a few changes since 1895. Kristina’s entry into practice is just one of them. Gerry says when he was in school “just 10 percent of the students were women. Today, it’s more like 40 percent.”
Other changes include using acupuncture for weight loss and smoking cessation, nutrition counseling and therapies such as cranio-sacral. These illustrate a change in thinking from a pain process to a wellness process, Frank says.
But the core of chiropractic care is “fundamentally the same,” Gerry says. “It’s just more refined. My grandfather treated patients during the flu pandemic of 1918 with chiropractic, adjusting them and keeping their nervous system healthy and flexible.”
“Treating the spine is number one,” Frank says.
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