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Interview with Harry Van Velsor, May 17, 2005 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Harry Van Velsor, May 17, 2005
May 17, 2005
Dr. Van Velsor served the Wilmington area as a physician, specialty dermatology, for fifty years. He arrived here in the Public Health Service to over see VD Clinic and found the area open for his specialty. His memories recall James Walker Hosptial, where he helped coach the student nurse's basketball team, Community Hospital, New Hanover Hospital as well as his private practice. He talks some about the Medical Society and various members. His legacy to the area includes his founding of the NC Jazz Festival through his band Dixieland Society of the Lower Cape Fear.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Van Velsor, Dr. Harry Interviewer: Mims, LuAnn / Parnell, Jerry Date of Interview: 5/17/2005 Series: Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length 60

Mims: Today is May the seventeenth, two thousand and five. I'm LuAnn Mims with Gerry Parnell. We are continuing our Health Services program for the Randall Library and we are talking today with Dr. Harry Van Velsor, who was a dermatologist here in Wilmington from approximately 1952 until his retirement in 2002. We would like to start today by finding out a little bit more about your background. Can you tell us where you were born and grew up?

Van Velsor: Well, I was born in Troy, New York, February 4th, 1924. My parents were in academia. My dad was a director of athletics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute which was a very famous college. And he was there for forty years. My mother taught German in Emma Willard School for Girls which was also a very prestigious girl's school in Troy, New York. So I was more or less surrounded by very intelligent parents. Unfortunately I...I wasn't very intelligent when I was a young kid, but I enjoyed all of the activities that young boys did in a small town. Troy, New York was noted for Arrow Shirts. That's where Arrow shirts started. And besides RPI they had a very prestigious woman's college. So it was...Troy was a nice town to be brought up in. Had lots of friends that I grew up with. Went to public school for the first eight or eight years.

Then I went to Albany Academy for Boys, which was a private school in Albany. It was a military school. And I graduated and after that I went to RPI for a couple years...didn't graduate, but I had been accepted to medical school, Albany Medical College, so I started there.

Mims: What made you choose to go there?

Van Velsor: Well, it was the only medical college...Troy didn't have any medical college. And Albany was the only other one within a hundred miles. And Albany Medical College was founded in the, oh, 1800s, so it had quite a reputation. And I enrolled, and...and graduated. After I graduated, I joined the public health service. And they decided to send me to a little town called Wilmington, North Carolina, which naturally I'd never heard of...heard of Wilmington, Delaware and other Wilmington's in the United States. Came down here as a VD control officer. And I spent two years in that position which fulfilled my obligation to the government. And then I looked around...built, I found an office on 920 Grace Street and put out my shingle in the practice of Dermatology. And word spread that there's a competent dermatologist in town, and another one, Dr. Bill Phillips, who came about the same time. And both our practices took off simultaneously.

Mims: Well, um, initially, what led you into medicine? Had you been interested all along?

Van Velsor: Well, always wanted to be a doctor, but things never worked out for him. He was brought up in the depression, you know, didn't have money to go to medical school. Being in physical education, he was sort of borderline. And so he was...he had it all in the back of his mind ever since I was born that this kid's gonna become a doctor. And he didn't coerce me, but he urged me.

Mims: You had a natural interest in it anyway, and their support...

Van Velsor: Absolutely. all my life.

Mims: When you were medical school, you had to do an internship...or with the..?

Van Velsor: Medical school came first. Then I went to an internship...rotating internship which means you got to all the different, you know...

Mims: All the different practices.

Van Velsor: And that was in Newark City Hospital, which was the most exciting year I've ever spent in medicine, because in city hospitals the interns do everything. If they get in a bind, they call the attending, but remember, this is city hospital, the attending men don't get any money for coming in and treating patients, so they let most of the work be done by the interns, which is great! I...I'll give you a...this...this is a true story...first time...first night I'm surgical service, July first, get a call from the emergency room and I go down there and there's a sixteen-seventeen year old young lady who has a fever and she got a pain in her right lower quadrant. So the first thing any medical student says...young lady with appendix...and that's what I thought too. So we did some blood work-up and she had a blood count, high blood count, and I called the attending man and I said...told him what it was...what I thought it was. He says, "Sounds like it, get her in the operating room, I'll meet you there in a half an hour."

So the nurse would take her up there in the O.R. and I'm standing around waiting for the attending man to come in, he comes in, scrubs up, pushes her tummy like that, and she goes "uh", like that, and says, "Good diagnosis doc"...handed me the scalpel and says "go ahead." And I...I didn't... "What?" medical, we didn't do appendectomies. So I mean, you're on the fire line! So, you know, he said, "This is where to go," and we did, and we got it out and everything...patient did fine.

Mims: Wow!

Van Velsor: But that's how it went for a whole year...not...not like that, but there...there...a lot of exciting things like that happened.

Mims: Right. How did you come by to select dermatology as your interest?

Van Velsor: Well, I found out that...doing all this other stuff in internship, I didn't...I didn't like surgery and I didn't like a lot of internal medicine, and I didn't want to deliver babies, which I did. All of these I did, but I ferreted out the things I didn't want to do and I ended up with dermatology. But I did a lot of everything. Didn't have any dermatology training in Newark City Hospital, but I found out that all these other specialties that I went through, I didn't really like. So that's how I ended up in dermatology.

Mims: Well, did you have to take training somewhere else for your specialty then?

Van Velsor: Yea. Then I went to Saint Luke's Presbyterian Hospital, which was two of the biggest hospitals in New York and they had top notch dermatologists, and I was lucky to get in and then I spent four years there.

Mims: Four years? That was your residency?

Van Velsor: Yep. And then after that I took my boards and passed my boards and then I was a...a genuine board certified dermatologist.

Mims: Now, there was a time that board certification was not necessary.

Van Velsor: That's right.

Mims: Um, how...

Van Velsor: Nowadays, you can't get on hospital privileges unless you have your boards, no matter what specialty you're in.

Mims: Well, we're looking for the push factor, as to why...what would be beneficial of being a board it credentialing at the hospital, you say, or just general...?

Van Velsor: Oh. See, when you're...when you're in training for dermatology, after you get...learn as much as you can at the hospital, then you have to take your boards. And if you...if you had good training and have any sense at all, you're gonna pass them. And once you have your boards, if you're board certified, then you can get into almost any hospital that you apply to. But back in the old days they...they weren't so strict, you know, if a doctor was real good, didn't have a lot of fatalities in his practice, and everything, they let him practice Wilmington...without being certified by this particular board. Of course in those days, most of the doctors were general practitioners, they did everything. They delivered babies, they did...they did hernias, they did, you know, took care of heart attacks, they did everything. There were no specialists back in the twenties and thirties. Specialty groups came in in the 30s and 40s.

Mims: Is that when the emergence of dermatology as a specialty came?

Van Velsor: Yep.

Mims: Why do you think developed like that?

Van Velsor: Oh, it's hard to tell. I guess they saw that all the other specialties were getting specialized, so that the dermatologists, the...the big shot dermatologists probably sat around at a meeting one day and said, "You know, we ought to have board examinations for our guys that are graduating and be sure that they learn enough about dermatology so that they'll be good when they get on their own." I expect that's they way it worked.

Mims: Well, talking to Dr. Barefoot's daughter, Graham Barefoot's daughter, she was talking about the treatment of skin cancer by using...

Van Velsor: X-ray.

Mims: X-ray.

Van Velsor: Sure.

Mims: And I could see that that would be, that there would be a need for you to know what you were doing when you're combining these two things.

Van Velsor: Yep.

Mims: Did you know Dr. Barefoot at all?

Van Velsor: Very well. Sure. He was happy when I came to town.

Mims: Was he?

Van Velsor: Yea.

Mims: You could send him patients?

Van Velsor: Yea! Because, we used to, when I was in training, we treated a number of skin cancers with X-ray.

Mims: It seems like that's like a...almost an oxymoron, you know, it's like...!

Van Velsor: Well, it''s like, it's, you know, the way that I used to treat a simple...the simplest skin cancer, called a basal cell, and it looks like a little bump, sort of pearly colored, and it's been there a long while, and it usually occurred...down here it was very common, because it occurred in people who were out in the sunlight all the time...fishermen and farmers. And they'd come in my office and say, "Ah, doc, I got this little scab cancer." They called it a scab cancer because it didn't scab over. And so I'd put a little Novocain underneath it, take a little piece of it out for biopsy, and then with a little scraper, scrape out the rest of it. And it had a mushy feeling. And then you got to the bottom of it, you got to the normal skin which felt gritty, so you knew that you were underneath and you'd got the whole thing out.

And then you just put a bandage on and they go home. Probably charge them thirty bucks or thirty-five bucks. And then they take the band-aid off in a couple weeks, and everything heals up and they got a little scar.

Mims: That's incredible!

Van Velsor: And it was simple. Took fifteen minutes maybe.

Mims: And if that is left...

Van Velsor: And if worked.

Mims: ...if it stays on there too long, then it can can spread, or...?

Van Velsor: Well, no, it...yea, it will get large...I mean, some...I've seen some of 'em that big.

Mims: Um hum, quarter size.

Van Velsor: ...and, but the average one was no bigger than this.

Mims: Um hum.

Van Velsor: But that was the most common, still the most common skin cancer in the world. Basal cell, B-A-S-A- L. Basal cell.

Mims: Well, what...what kind of skin cancer would be treated with the radiology?

Van Velsor: Well, basal cell would be. And the next most serious one would be squamous cell. Now that can spread and metastasize and kill people. So I didn't great squamous cells, I turned them over to the surgeon right then and there so they can cut everything out and so there won't be any spread. And of course, the worst one, and still is, is melanoma. Because it is missed...misdiagnosed. People say, "Oh, I have this freckle down here, but I've had it for five years," and it could be a melanoma. And once melanoma spreads, the patient is gone. It has to be removed post haste.

Mims: What...what did people do before dermatologists came and knew how to treat this?

Van Velsor: Well, a lot...a lot of people died from that cancer...from the skin cancer.

Mims: Well, like you're saying, with some much exposure to the sun in this area...

Van Velsor: Absolutely, down here, this neck of the woods, was just a hotbed for that. Melanoma isn't as...I mean, basal cell and squamous cell are definitely caused by sunlight...excessive sun. Melanoma is not. Sometimes melanoma runs in families, sometimes it's just something that pops up. But sunlight doesn't have that much effect of the development of melanoma, it's the other two.

Mims: It's more hereditary...hereditary, is that what you're saying?

Van Velsor: Hereditary, but there's a lot of melanoma, and of course, nowadays, all doctors, dermatologists especially, but every doctor looks at a patient's entire skin because, you know, you look at a face, you look at the arms or something, if you don't look at the back and there's a black melanoma back there, no one ever looks at it, and pretty soon, sometimes the patient ends up with metastatic disease and dies.

Mims: Um.

Van Velsor: So it's just a matter of observing every square inch of skin.

Mims: When you came into town, there was already formed a medical society here. Did you join in with that immediately, or...?

Van Velsor: What, now say again?

Mims: The...the local medical society.

Van Velsor: Yea, oh yea, I joined the medical society right away.

Mims: Um hum. We're just kind of interested in how that worked. I know, talking to Dr. Williams, he said at one time, every member of the medical society could have sat at one table...

Van Velsor: That's right.

Mims: ...and of course it's much larger now.

Van Velsor: Oh yea.

Mims: When you joined, how many many physicians were on board?

Van Velsor: Oh my goodness! Well, when I opened my office at 920 Grace Street, the...Dr. Warshauer was across the street, Dr. Fales and Dr. Koseruba...there were about fifteen...fifteen or twenty doctors who were practicing when I came.

Mims: Um hum.

Van Velsor: And not all of 'em had their boards.

Mims: Well, that's what we're finding out is that a lot of 'em were grandfathered from that GP, kind of...

Van Velsor: Sure.

Mims: Dr. Fales, kind of...

Van Velsor: Oh sure.

Mims: ... 'Jack of all trades.'

Van Velsor: That's right. He's great, he was a great doctor, good surgeon, everything. Ah, I mean, you don't have to have your boards to be a good...

Mims: Right.

Van Velsor: ...physician. But, as time goes by and lawyers are getting...if you don't have your boards and you do something wrong, you'' might be in serious trouble!

Mims: Plus people now have an awareness that they want somebody who has met that scrutiny of that board. So, not so much when you came, but nowadays, it' definitely have to do it.

Van Velsor: Well back in the old days, you know, Dr. Fales, Dr. Koseruba, in other words, made their name by being really good. And, of course, they didn't have as many patients and they could sit down and say, "Now, Mrs. Murphy, your child is going to be fine if we do this...," and we typically tell her know, and that's the old fashion doc that your parents and grandparents, you know, had.

Mims: Right.

Van Velsor: But nowadays, you know, everything can make diagnoses more, you learn more about your specialty and you don't have to rely so much on your personality to cure the patient. Although a good personality sure helps.

Mims: Probably so. As a dermatologist we had talked a little off camera that didn't really admit that many people to the hospital...

Van Velsor: Oh, rare patient...and the ones that I had to put in the hospital were...had diseases that could kill 'em. There are some diseases, the most notable one is called pemphigus which is a disease that develops from nowhere, no...but it develops great big blisters all over the body. And many of 'em get infected, and the patient usually dies from infection. Prior to the days of cortisone, all those patients died. There was nothing you could do except give 'em tender loving care. You knew in your heart that they were gonna die. And...and in New York City, for some reason, we saw scads of patients of pemphigus. Down at Belleview they used to have a ward with nothing but pemphigus patients. And, I hate to bring this up, but as patients...pemphigus patients were dying, they became infected, and the odor, you could not stand. I mean, you could...even without going down...down to Belleview, you could go in a room where there was a pemphigus patient and you wouldn't have to see the patient, you say (sniffing sound) "That patient's got pemphigus."

Mims: Well, is it from the infection?

Van Velsor: From the infection. No one knows to this day what causes pemphigus. But with the advent of cortisone pills you can cure 'em. And fortunately I was...came along when cortisone was being invented, so there were a number of patients that were cured as compared to the ones prior to that that we couldn't cure. So, I mean, that was absolutely the greatest thing that ever happened to dermatology, was cortisone, and HCTH, and now it's prednisone. But it's all the same thing. But prior to that, lupus erythematosus, disease that affects women.

Mims: Um hum.

Van Velsor: A fatal disease. Was always fatal back in those days. And they were young women in their thirties that died.

Mims: That's a systemic type disease, right?

Van Velsor: Yea.

Mims: It's infection?

Van Velsor: Absolutely. Yep. It's not contagious, have no idea what...but it tends to run in families, but back in those days it was a fatal disease. Lupus and pemphigus were two things that just were...

Mims: How about something like leprosy, would you ever see any of that?

Van Velsor: Well, yea. But the few cases of leprosy...I mean, we saw a number of leprosy cases. I remember once, the guys from Belleview presented a symposium, and they had twelve patients with leprosy in one room. I said, "Oh my God!" I hadn't seen twelve cases in my whole life...and they were typical. But, see, the leprosarium has been open down in Carville, Louisiana since the early days of the century. And so over the country, if any doctor had a patient with leprosy, they'd just ship him down Carville. And they...they were doing great things there. And I don't...I don't know if the...they have some knew antibiotics and I don't know what the cure rate is, it depends a lot if you get 'em at certain stage.

Mims: Or what type it is, or something.

Van Velsor: Yea. And that can...leprosy in the advanced stage is a terrible thing to look at.

Mims: Well, when you would admit people to hospitals, which hospital would you put the patient's in, in your early practice? Was it James Walker, or would you use Community, I mean, not Community, but Bullocks Hospital?

Van Velsor: Well, I...I...the black doctors called me in on a number of patients in the Community Hospital.

Mims: Um hum.

Van Velsor: And...because they didn't have any black dermatologists. But being right across the street from the James Walker, naturally they would call me because my office was closer than Dr. Phillips' office. So I saw a number of patients in the hospital, but usually I'd just go over and consult with the doctor and tell 'em what to do, and then I wouldn't follow the patient up. His regular doctor would.

Mims: Would you ever see anyone at Bullocks...did you...or...?

Van Velsor: At where?

Mims: Bullocks, the hospital that was downtown on Front Street.

Van Velsor: No. I...I don't ever recall being invited down to the Bullocks.

Mims: They were primarily industrial. They saw a lot of Workmen's Comps.

Van Velsor: Yea, yea. They...the docs that worked down at Bullocks didn't...they were not in with the regular group that was in the other hospital.

Mims: We've kinda some of this...that they did their own little thing.

Van Velsor: They did their own little thing, and off the record, the most of us...

Mims: Um, we...we have it on good authority, um, that your involvement with James Walker hospital did go into the school of, that you coached the girls basketball team. How did you come by that?

Van Velsor: I don't know. One of of the teachers was a friend of mine and, I don't know, we started talking, they'd talk about getting a girls basketball team up. They had a...a league downtown that played in the, where is it...

Mims: Like Isaac Bear, or...?

Van Velsor:, at the white building on the corner of...I'm having a senior center, the old community center...

Mims: Oh, the...

Van Velsor: ...painted white, you know, the...

Mims: ...the USO!

Van Velsor: was the US...the US...

Mims: Oh, on Orange and Second.

Van Velsor: Yea, sure.

Mims: Oh, okay!

Van Velsor: That's where we played.

Mims: Really?

Van Velsor: Yea. And there were a lot of good teams, girls teams, in town at the time.

Mims: Really? Like from where, can you recall?

Van Velsor: Oh, gosh...

Mims: Where there...where there high school teams?

Van Velsor: No, no. These are girls that'd been out of high school, and they had a bunch of good players.

Mims: Um hum.

Van Velsor: The girls basketball team from...of mine that was...we won once, the tournament, but there were other girls who came from out in the country and they played a heck of a lot more basketball I think, but we had a lot of fun. And the girls were really, really nice, well behaved, student nurses, and it was a lot of fun for all...the people would show up by the hundreds down there to watch the girls play. This was back in the '50s.

Mims: Yea, we're not sure if they had one in the '40s. It looks like it started sometime in the '50s.

Van Velsor: Yea.

Mims: And the team name was the Cardinals?

Van Velsor: Cardinals.

Mims: Do you know why they were called that?

Van Velsor: No I don't.

Mims: We don't either.

Van Velsor: No.

Mims: We know their uniforms were like red silk.

Van Velsor: They were, they were. Yea.

Mims: And how...would there be like a try-out session, or was anybody that wanted to come, could they play, or how did that work?

Van Velsor: No, they had a league.

Mims: Okay.

Van Velsor: That's six or seven teams in the league.

Mims: Um hum.

Van Velsor: And...

Mims: Six or seven teams in the league.

Van Velsor: ...don't know how many teams there were in that league, but there were probably four, five, or six. And as I say, it was great. A lot of good, a lot of good ballplayers on all the teams. And it was fun.

Mims: Well, we know that nurses are, as students, they're totally thrown into this hospital environment and we...we're kind of interested that they had extra curricular stuff for them to participate in, and this basketball team was one of 'em. They had like a glee club, and...

Van Velsor: Um hum.

Mims: Were you involve with anything else, or just the basketball?

Van Velsor: No.

Mims: Did you ever teach?

Van Velsor: Well, yea, now, I know, they would have during the year, they would have surgeon, internist, OB/GYNE, dermatologist, to give lectures to the student nurses. I mean, that was an ongoing thing. I mean they used all...all the physicians who wanted to, to give lectures on their specialty.

Mims: Was this there at the school of nursing?

Van Velsor: At the school of nursing.

Mims: 'Cause we know that at one point early on in their training, they took classes at what was Wilmington College, at the old Isaac Bear Building, that was started in like nineteen fifty one we think. So, um, that was like, pre-clinical type stuff.

Van Velsor: Hum.

Mims: But the rest of their training, you know, we're still trying to put together how they came about knowing about these certain rotations, other than just instruction by the nurses.

Van Velsor: Yea. Well, the lectures that I gave...just walked across the street and...and the nurses, they had a room in the hospital, and...they had a, you know, place about twice as big as this room, and had twenty or twenty five nurses...and we'd give...I'd give a series of lectures on the simple...poison ivy, acne, and things like that. And I'd show...I had a...I had a great collection of slides that we'd show 'em so they could have an idea of what the diseases looked like.

Mims: Um hum.

Van Velsor: And other doctors gave similar lectures in their specialties too. So they...that's how the nurses got most of their clinical education, from hearing the doctors lectures and seeing their slides.

Mims: Now we know that James Walker closes its doors in 1967. This was because the new hospital was constructed, New Hanover.

Van Velsor: Um hum.

Mims: Um, during the time of the building, were you ever consulted on...on any part of the building, or did you participate in any of the events that went with it?

Van Velsor: No. Not at all. I...I don't think I'd have anything to add to that anyway.

Mims: Well, what did you think about it? We know that the gist of it was that...that the facilities at James Walker were so antiquated that, you know, there needed to be something new and instead of just building onto James Walker, they decided on building a new hospital...

Van Velsor: Right.

Mims: ...and close down James Walker and Community.

Van Velsor: Right.

Mims: So, you know, of course, looking back it was a smart move to do, but you were here during the time of all the controversy. How did you feel about that?

Van Velsor: Well, I thought it was great, I thought it was great. Because I was ready to move from 920 Grace Street to South 16th Street where I built my office. So I had my office going up about the same time that the new hospital was going up, so I was sitting in the lap of luxury, cause I'd just go down, a couple of blocks down to the new hospital to see patients.

Mims: So, you' built an office on South 16th Street?

Van Velsor: Um hum.

Mims: We're finding a lot of doctors did that, like at the time of construction?

Van Velsor: Absolutely, absolutely, sure. 'Cause there was a lot of empty land out there when the new hospital was being built, so a lot of docs jumped in, like Dr. Warshauer, Dr. Tidler, and a lot of 'em were...the...the Crouch brothers were right next door to me, and we had a nice little community.

Mims: It seems like it and of course everything was kind of newish, you know, cause there wasn't anything out there but trees.

Van Velsor: That's...that's right. That's right.

Mims: Um, so then, weren't too sad about the closing of James Walker.

Van Velsor: No, not at all. No.

Mims: Looking back, you know, we...we kind of wished they had saved a little more of it than what they did, but, you know...

Van Velsor: Yea, but, what could they do with it, I mean, it...?

Mims: Not too much...

Van Velsor: It's in a, not in a very desirable location, I don't know, I...I was not unhappy.

Mims: During your practice can you tell us what you did, you know, involved in the community? Do you re...we know that a lot of doctors participated in community events or clubs...

Van Velsor: Well, I was a member of the Civitan Club for decades. And Civitans did lots of things, just like all the other clubs did. And I always participated somewhat in the Azalea Festival, not as a participant, but behind the scenes. And then, cause I think of the best things I did for the community was to start the North Carolina Jazz Festival.

Mims: Tell us a little about that.

Van Velsor: Well, I've always been interested in jazz music and I've always played the piano and saxophone...when I came to Wilmington I formed a little band. And the band is still operational...have six members of the band, and we're all from sixty to eighty years of age, playing old-timey jazz and swing. Nothing like what the kids are listening to nowadays, this bebop and hippity-hop, and whatever they call it. So anyway, with this band in operation, then I said, "It'd be nice to have a jazz festival." So there was a...a piano player, an of the great old jazz piano players who...from Chicago, who's name was Art Hodes, H-O-D-E-S. And he was famous all over the world. And one night I was at a medical meeting in Chicago, all by myself, sitting at the bar, having a couple of drinks, and waiting for the band to start. It was a big, big hotshot band.

And bartender and I got to be friends, and they had an upright piano like that against the wall, and I said, "Bar...," it was early, about seven or seven thirty, I said, "could I go up and play the piano?" "Yea! Doc, go on ahead!" So I went over and I'm sitting down there playing, and after a little while I feel a presence over my right shoulder, and this voice, this gravely voice says, "Hey that sounds pretty good," says, "can I join you?"

And I look, and there's Art Hodes, the greatest name...I said "Oh man!" So he sits down, and we're playing four hands, and I said, "Lord, if I die tonight, I've lived!" Anyway, it was great. Then, my sister, who lived in Chicago, who used to come down here to the beach during the summer, she got to know Art. And she booked him into the Blockade Runner for a couple weeks during the summer.

Well, there again, Art thought he'd died and gone to heaven, got out of Chicago, come down to the beach, play, and get...make money! And so, he did that two years in a row, and then I...we got to talk to him one time, and I said, "You know, I'd like to think about starting a jazz festival." He says, "If you need any help, call me; I'll give you the names of..." So I started out with him telling me who's hot on the trombone, on the this, that, and the other, and we collected fifteen musicians for the first thing...sent out invitations to everybody, and had about five hundred people in the audience.

And these guys just got up and...just like they're doing now, one of the men in the group...we had put a group of anywhere from four to six or seven on the stage and one...the leader tells the guy, "We're gonna play Honeysuckle Rose in F." No music stands or anything. It's all up here. So it's "ba ba da ba dom, ba ba da ba..." they do just like they've practiced for years, and some of 'em never played with the other guys at all in their lives. But they're so competent. And this goes on right now. The group that I had lined up for this coming January/February are gonna be just like that.

Parnell: What year did you start this festival?

Van Velsor: Eighty, 1980.

Mims: And where was it held the first year?

Van Velsor: I think it's always been held at the Hilton.

Mims: At the Hilton. I didn't know whether...

Van Velsor: Cause that's the only...that's has the best acoustics there and they can put in the...the round tables, like in a nightclub...rather than having it like in an auditorium. And everyone has a good view, and it''s just worked out fine. I mean, there's bigger places in town, but if you get to big a place, then you're sitting too far away, and the audiences says, "gees I...I couldn't see that guy, you know, he was so far away." So the Hilton ballroom is just the right dimensions.

Mims: Well where did your interest in jazz come from, like your...?

Van Velsor: Well, I...I've played in my high school swing band, and, but really really got going when I first met Art Hodes.

Mims: Really?

Van Velsor: I mean, he sparked it.

Mims: Cause I guess that's a person that would need to spark it!

Van Velsor: Yea.

Mims: Who are some of the people in your band now?

Van Velsor: Okay. These guys have been with me for...Dr. Richard Conrad, who was a dentist...

Mims: We have him on...we have him interviewed.

Van Velsor: Right, yep, yep. He plays clarinet, and he is an excellent jazz player.

Mims: Um hum.

Van Velsor: Umm, on trombone, it''s sort of different...our trombonist we used to have has...has retired. So we sort of look around for...put Jack Pindell, P-I-N-D-E-L-L. He teaches music in the high school...

Mims: Oh, okay.

Van Velsor: ...marvelous player. Bobby DeNicola, D-E capitol N-I-C-O-L-A, DeNicola...who's brother, Tony, is on...plays drums, and he is on the big circuit. I mean, he's a big shot drummer.

Mims: Hum.

Van Velsor: But Bobby plays trumpet. And then on base we have Norman Tyson, T-Y -S-O-N. And drums is Tony Harold, H-A-R-O-L-D. And sometimes I play the piano, and sometimes I play the soprano sax. It depends on whose available. Some of these musicians play two instruments.

Mims: You guys get together and practice, or just...?

Van Velsor: Well, usually, we...if...if we have a job on a weekend, we'll get together during the week to run over some songs, but we've been together so long that we just get together, and I usually, being the leader, I make...make out a list of songs and we...I get up there and say, "Alright, let's play Ain't She Sweet," you know, and everyone knows what key that's in, we don't even have to tell 'em, we've been playing it for so long.

Mims: Uh huh.

Van Velsor: And High Society and the Saints, and things like that.

Parnell: Does your group have a name?

Van Velsor: The Dixieland Society of the Lower Cape Fear.

Parnell: I have heard of that name.

Van Velsor: Yep.

Mims: Yea, we had Dr. Conrad...was interviewed, so...and he talked about his clarinet playing, but he did not talk about the band.

Van Velsor: Yea.

Mims: So...

Van Velsor: Well, he plays with a lot of groups.

Mims: Does he?

Van Velsor: I mean, without putting us down, Conrad is probably the best musician that we have in our band.

Mims: Um hum. He sounded like it, cause there was a little bit of him playing his clarinet on the...the tape that I got to hear. Cause I didn't do...get to do the interview.

Van Velsor: Oh, yea.

Mims: It sounded really nice, though. And I can't think of some of the people he talked about, but...

Van Velsor: Yea, well he plays with a lot of different groups.

Mims: Right.

Van Velsor: He is...he is great.

Mims: Well, so, um, as you were starting to retire from your practice, how did that go about. Did you bring in a partner or anything?

Van Velsor: No. I didn't slow down. I just came to the day when I said, "This is it."

Mims: Really?

Van Velsor: Because getting a partner and, I don't know, it just didn't appeal to me. And when you work fifty years without being sued...say, the chances are, you know, you know. The way it is nowadays, the way those damn lawyers sue everyone for everything,' know, if...if they sue you for a half a million dollars, you, I mean that...

Mims: That's it!

Van Velsor: ...that hurts! So I figured I've...I've gotten off without ever being sued or anything and...and I mean, I would have liked to have gone on, but why...I'm glad I did, because then my wife, who...she retired as a vice president of CP& she was getting ready to retire too, so she retired a year after I did. So it worked out very nicely.

Mims: Um, your office building now, who is in it? Is it the Kassens, or...?

Van Velsor: The...someone went by it the other day, and the parking lot is jammed full of cars of disreputable appearance, and they thought from the racket going on that it must be a drug house or a house of ill repute or some...some...

Mims: Is this the one on Grace Street or the one on 16th Street?

Van Velsor: On 16th Street.

Mims: I thought another physician maybe bought it.

Van Velsor: No.

Mims: No.

Van Velsor: No. I sold it to another physician, and then he rented it or something and it's...apparently it's fallen into disreputable hands that the person...and I'm afraid to go by and knock on the door and say "Who is in there?" But no, you know, the...I'm happy, you know, I...I feel I've done...I haven't done any harm. You know, that's one of the first things they teach you in medical school - do no harm. And there's a Latin expression for it that escapes me right now, but do no harm is one of the first things they teach you in medical school, which makes sense.

Mims: It does.

Van Velsor: And I don't recall anything...I mean, a lot of, you know, you don't cure everyone...

Mims: Right.

Van Velsor: But I don't ever recall...I know I've never caused any person to die. Maybe some of 'em had gotten worse under my care, and had to see another doctor, but I don't ever know that I have done anything...

Mims: Well, you were talking about, like, the advantages that bringing in certain medication, like the, can you think of anything else that deeply affected your specialty?

Van Velsor: Well the antibiotics.

Mims: Okay.

Van Velsor: See back in the day...the early days, penicillin was the only antibiotic we had and the more you use penicillin, the more the germs got resistant to it, and then over the years, it became less effective. And then the new antibiotics, you know, Aureomycin and all the mycins came on, and they changed the...they killed a lot of germs that penicillin wouldn't touch. But those, antibiotics and cortisone, the greatest things that ever happened.

Mims: How about the big treatments like when you were talking a little bit about the radiology, is that still something that used or is it something different?

Van Velsor: Not as much. But there are a lot of different things in radiology now. All these fancy things...they can put tubes down and put radioactive stuff...I mean, it''s mind boggling what they can do. But it's not like the old days where you just...I used to use X-ray on some cases. I used to have an X-ray machine in my office.

Mims: Hum.

Van Velsor: Every dermatologist did.

Mims: Really?

Van Velsor: Because X-ray would do, like, what cortisone would do. It would stop inflammation. And X-ray went back to the turn of the century whereas cortisone only came on in the forties.

Mims: Um hum.

Van Velsor: So we used a lot of X-ray judiciously for especially severe acne. You know kids that had the awful, god-awful acne, that you knew was gonna leave terrible scars later on, we would use X-ray on that and clear 'em up.

Parnell: The X-ray would cause the acne to dry up?

Van Velsor: Yea.

Parnell: Okay, and with you treated it on the basal cell, what would it do to would kill the cells, but...

Van Velsor: Yea, it'd kill the cells and it'd just scab over.

Parnell: Okay, then you wouldn't have to go in and cut it out like you did before.

Van Velsor: Yea. But, using X-ray on a simple basal cell is overkill. I mean, I know there are a lot, there are some doctors that used it a lot. And they'd get maybe eight or ten treatments at fifty dollars a treatment, that's four hundred bucks. I'd do a basal cell for fifty bucks just doing, it was overkill. X-ray was a wonderful, wonderful treatment for certain things.

Mims: How would you keep...keep up with all the changes like the newest way of treating things?

Van Velsor: Well, you go to a meeting in Chicago every year...they had a meeting at the academy and you listened to all these new things that have come out and you hear the big professors talk. It's annual meeting, seven day meet all the other dermatologists all over the world. Everyone goes to that, and you...and of course, re...everyone gets the journal and you read about new medicines and...and then of course all the drug companies are just looking, looking, looking for new stuff to put out. And...

Mims: I think this is something that people don't stop and think about, is how responsible physicians are for not only maintaining their practice, but...

Van Velsor: Oh yea!

Mims: ...for finding out the newest...

Parnell: Keeping up with everything.

Mims: Yea, keeping up with everything.

Van Velsor: Oh yea.

Mims: It's a constant learning environment.

Van Velsor: Oh yea, you have to, you have to, yea. And then nowadays, you know, there's something new coming out all the time.

Mims: Any...anybody else in your family ever go into medicine?

Van Velsor: Yea, I have a nurse, Pam. She lives right across the canal from...she's married to a Psychiatrist here. And...she used to work in my office when she was going to high school. She was darn good too. And I...her younger sister, Ginger, who lives down in South Carolina also is a nurse, and she still works. So, we've got two out of three daughters who are nurses. They're both married and with...with children, so they don't work full time, but they're still...

Mims: We've noticed there's a trend, you know, in families, that...

Van Velsor: Yea, there is. And...and as I say, they all worked in my office and there was periods of time I'd pay 'em and they liked that too. And...but it's been's been a wonderful, wonderful 81 years, I'll tell ya. I've been blessed with know, you talk with a lot of people that have had tragedies, like loosing a child or some god-awful thing like that, and I've just been blessed, for what reason, I do not know. It's just the luck of the draw.

Mims: How much time have we got?

Parnell: About ten minutes.

Mims: We've got just a few minutes left. If we could talk to you and ask you, kind of talk about some people you may have come in contact with. Like you mentioned your office was near Dr. Warshauer.

Van Velsor: Yea.

Mims: Is that Sam Warshauer?

Van Velsor: Yea. He was right across the street at 920 Grace Street.

Mims: Okay.

Van Velsor: He was there before I was.

Mims: We talked to him and Dr. Koseruba.

Van Velsor: Yea.

Mims: Unfortunately Dr. Fales has passed, so we haven't got a chance to talk to him. What was he like?

Van Velsor: Ah, he was a neat guy! He was just lovable. He was competent. Everyone loved...I never heard anyone say anything bad about Robert Fales.

Mims: He...he did a lot for preserving history of the old ways locally. Some of his memories that he scripted into books.

Van Velsor: Uh, huh, uh huh.

Mims: know, he ah, you know, has done a lot for that and so we didn't know whether he shared any of his experiences with you or just in general talking about his old horse and buggy kind of days out in the sound area.

Van Velsor: He was here in the early days. Yea. He and I always got along fine. He got along well with everyone.

Mims: Who were some of the surgeons that you may have dealt with?

Van Velsor: Well, Dr. Koonce had a big reputation in town. He was excellent, excellent surgeon. Um, let me see now, there's so much...Bob Williams came to town about the same time I did. He was a board trained surgeon. Uh, let me see, of course, Bert Williams and oohhh...

Mims: Was Dr. Tinsley here yet?

Van Velsor: Dr. Tinsley came later. He's one of the new...the new ones. I'm trying to think now...I'm having sort of a...

Mims: We can look at the book and we forget about who we've talked about. Um, you know, um, of course some of the X-ray doctors, Dr. Barefoot was one...

Van Velsor: Oh my goodness!

Mims: And his associate was Dr. Dowse or...?

Van Velsor: Never knew him.

Mims: Never knew him?

Van Velsor: Dr. Barefoot was a prince amongst princes. Nicest guy in the world.

Mims: talking to his daughter, we, you know, we just couldn't...this was...this was a nineteen fifty eight annual, it gives you some of the doctors that served at James Walker...

Van Velsor: Oh goodness.

Mims: We're becoming more and more familiar with them, but we still don't know who they are as people, some of the ones that have passed away.

Van Velsor: Emory Grubbs.

Mims: Yea!

Van Velsor: He would...Emory did me the greatest favor anyone's ever done in my life. When I was on 920 Grace Street and I was looking for...I had a series or two or three young ditsy blondes that were helping me in the office and they weren't much good, and he knew that I was looking for someone. He called me one day and he said, "Harry, I think I've got someone for you." So he sent me this lady over, beautiful black hair, gorgeous white skin, nice built lady...very...and she worked for a doctor down in Mississippi before came up here with her husband who was in the service. And her name was Dora Holder, and I hired her on the spot. And she died two years ago. And for years Dora and I just ran the place. And then about ten years ago...ten or fifteen years ago, Connie Register who was younger than both of Dora and me, joined us and the three of I've only had two ladies working for me for fifty years.

Mims: Wow! That says a lot!

Parnell: Yea!

Van Velsor: Well, we all got along fine and they were both...of course Dora had a lot of experience working for a GP down...down in Mississippi, so she came in well trained, and then she trained Connie. And we were...we were just a wonderful trio. It was great.

Mims: And that really helps your practice, because if you've got that continuity instead of having to stop and retraining...

Van Velsor: Oh absolutely!

Mims:'re patient's get to know that person.

Van Velsor: And every once and a while we'd bring in one of my daughters, you know, and they'd learn things from Dora and Connie. So that helped them in their future life. So as I say, that's another thing that was blessed, especially getting Dora, because Dora and I just to be...we were inseparable, I mean, she was just great.

Mims: Now there's training for people to be, you know, in the office. But in those days it was sort of self taught, wasn't it?

Van Velsor: Yea...oh she knew...she had the most prodigious memory for names and faces of any person I've met in my life!

Mims: She was in the right place then, because...

Van Velsor: Absolutely!

Mims: ...nothing like feeling welcome if you're called by name.

Van Velsor: Oh absolutely! She...I mean, it was just, it was miraculous.

Mims: Can you think of any other physicians that you came in contact with? Who were some of the newer dermatologists that came in?

Van Velsor: Well, Bill Phillips and I came about the same time. Katy Kassens and her husband, Bill, is an internist. I think Katy worked with Bill Phillips for a while before she went into her own practice. And she's doing very well. Now there's a whole rash of pretty young ladies who are in dermatology.

Mims: Dr. [Laura] Tanner is one. She's been here for a while.

Van Velsor: Dr. Tanner. She's been here before the...the new group came in. She's...she's really good too. And...

Mims: And people are still coming into town. There's one that came just a couple of years ago, wasn't it?

Van Velsor: Absolutely!

Mims: Kind of a French sounding name, I can't think of what it is...seems like it starts with a C.

Van Velsor: Yea, it's...well you know, how Wilmington is growing. I mean, its...its unbelievable. I hate to get out on the highway now. Sheesh, it''s something!

Mims: Well, we're about at the end of the tape and we want to thank you for doing this for us today.

Van Velsor: Well, thank you, I have enjoyed it.

Parnell: One quick question. How many years did you coach the basketball team?

Van Velsor: Seems to me it wasn't all that many years. Five years maximum.

Parnell: Okay.

Van Velsor: I don't think it was any longer than that.

Mims: But here you've got a busy practice, you know, you maybe have got a family, and now you're coaching girls, you know, you stayed pretty busy.

Van Velsor: Yea.

Mims: And then you probably did your music the whole time.

Van Velsor: Yea. Yea.

Mims: So...

Van Velsor: That's one...that's one thing my dad taught me. He said, "You gotta get some hobbies."

Mims: Well, that's what we're finding, is that somebody has longevity...

Van Velsor: Talking about...I want to take two downstairs. I'm going to show you a hobby...

###End of Tape###

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