By Charlotte Underwood
ELK VALLEY, TN (WLAF) – Dr. Charles Henry Wilkens left behind a life of service and a legacy of love and kindness, according to those who knew him. Dr. Wilkens passed away on December 26 after a tragic farming accident where he lived in Elk Valley. He was 82 years old. He was known by many as “the praying physician”.
His death has left a hole in the hearts of those who knew him, as well as in the community of Jellico and Williamsburg, Kentucky, where he had started two health clinics. Dr. Wilkens was also instrumental in helping the City of Jellico reopen its hospital in 1974. He was a medical “Jack of all Trades”, serving as a primary care physician, a general surgeon, a coroner, an Emergency Room Doctor as well as delivering babies.
“He did it all. He was utterly devoted to that hospital and that community,” said Ken Reed, former physicians assistant to Dr. Wilkens.
The doctor was very active in the community. If something was going on, he was part of it.
“His passing has left a whole in the hearts of many, including mine,” Elsie Crawford said. Crawford worked with Dr. Wilkens for 47 years. She functioned as his nurse, bookkeeper, office manager, and CEO. She said she never stopped working with him as his nurse till the bitter end, when he retired several years ago.
“Dr. Wilkens started on August 12, 1974, and I started working with him on August 26, he liked to tell that story,” Crawford said.
According to Elsie Crawford, Dr. Wilkens was a man of faith who dedicated a lifetime to community service.
Originally from Delaware, Dr. Wilkens came to the area in 1974. He was out of residency and was on his way to a job interview in North Carolina.
According to Crawford, Jellico’s hospital had been closed for about a year at that point.
“The Seventh Day Adventist Church had taken over the hospital. They asked Dr. Wilkens to stop on his way to North Carolina and sort of assess the situation of reopening. He talked to Jellico Mayor Dick Creekmore and several people from the council at the time and he just decided to stay. That was such a blessing to the community,” Crawford said.
Wilkens was instrumental in keeping Jellico’s hospital going over the years, bringing in physicians and doing the recruiting.
“He was just such a part of the community. He was a good Christian man with high morals and he loved this community so much,” Crawford said.
She described a situation where a little boy in the community had a ruptured appendix, and Dr. Wilkens had to operate on him several times due to the infection. The medical bill was quite high.
“The doc told me that when his mother comes in to make a payment on it, to just tell her it’s my gift to Bobby and sure enough his mother came in to make a $5 payment, and I gave it back to her and told her what the doctor had said. I will never forget the look on her face. That’s just who Doctor Wilkens was as a person. Medicine was never about the money for him, it was about helping people. He was an excellent physician, but he was a better man,” Crawford said.
Dr. Wilkens was known as the “praying physician”. He would always ask people to pray with him before surgical procedures or in times of need. Those that knew him described Dr. Wilkens as a “man of true faith.”
His long time friend and employee Cheryl Cole is the office manager for the Jellico based clinic. She has worked with Dr. Wilkens for 35 years. The doctor also delivered her last child who is now 31 years old. “When he delivered my daughter, the first thing he said to her was ‘hello, big bright eyes’. He was just wonderful and he treated you like family,” Cole said.
She described him as always smiling, never saying a harsh word and as a loving man and wonderful boss.
“He was someone we should all strive to be more like. He was very active in the community, a very non judgemental man. He didn’t care who you were or where you were from, he treated you with respect,” Cole said.
Dr. Wilkens left behind a medical legacy with his family. All of his children work in the medical community. His three sons are all doctors and his daughter is a Registered Nurse. Two of his boys are surgeons, Dr. Gregory Wilkens and Dr. Todd Wilkens.
His daughter Kerri Wilkens Boone is a Registered Nurse.
His son Darryl Wilkens is a general practitioner and has assumed the role of Medical Director for Wilkens Medical Group for the clinics in Jellico and Williamsburg.
“His wife Bonnie and his children were always right there with him helping, they served this community and our hearts are with them,” Crawford said.
Throughout his career, Dr. Wilkens loved farming so much, he would joke medicine was his side job. “He died where he wanted to be, doing what he loved; just too soon. That farm was his passion,” Crawford said.
For many that knew him, Dr. Wilkens was an inspiration and an “amazing man to work for.”
His Physicians Assistant Ken Reed started working with Dr. Wilkens in 1977. He worked with him for 40 years. Reed came down to Jellico from Dayton, Ohio, as student for three months to work with Dr. Wilkens and stayed.
“He was an amazing man to work for and just the best mentor ever. He inspired me many times, and not just in medicine, but in life. He was the best at everything he did in life and will be sorely missed. I wish words could put into what he meant to everyone,” Reed said.
Rhonda Johnson worked with Dr. Wilkens for 26 years. She is the office manager for the Williamsburg Clinic and has worked there since it opened in 1995. She said Dr. Wilkens was the “most kind, amazing, honest man” she had ever known.
“He truly cared about people. He was always down to earth and just a fabulous, Godly man. He filled a need in the community and he is so important to his family, the community, and his staff that it’s a loss to everyone,” Johnson said. “A true servant of the Lord, he had a mission heart. He did what his goal was in life and truly loved this community.” (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED – 12/30/2021-6AM)