2004 Lewis & Sara Zirkle

Doctor couple honored

This story was published Sunday, May 23rd, 2004, Tri-City Herald

By Chris Mulick Herald staff writer

About 300 people packed the Pasco Red Lion Saturday to toast Lew and Sara Zirkle as their 2004 Tri-Citians of the Year.

And in Zirkle fashion, they wasted no time in giving back.

“We salute you, too,” Lew Zirkle said.

The award, given by local Rotary clubs every year since 1962 to Tri-Citians who demonstrate “service beyond self,” is the community’s most prestigious.

Like past award winners, the Zirkles have developed lengthy rap sheets when it comes to civic service since moving to the Tri-Cities in 1973.

Dr. Sara Zirkle, who served on the Kadlec Hospital Board for 12 years and long has been active with the Benton-Franklin County Medical Society, has been lauded for her work in examining children who may have been sexually abused, then using the results to testify in court cases. She helped establish the Child Sexual Abuse Clinic at Kadlec Medical Center and later the Reading Foundation in the Tri-Cities.

She was honored in 2002 with a distinguished service award by the Tri-City law enforcement community for her two decades of work.

“She is the model of a compassionate, sensitive caring physician,” wrote Richland’s Sunny and Bob Cook in their nomination letter.

Dr. Lew Zirkle is best known for his work in developing countries — most notably Vietnam — teaching new techniques to treat severe fractures. He has developed those techniques at the Surgical Implant Generation Network, or SIGN, a nonprofit organization he founded in Richland which manufactures rods and screws that don’t require expensive equipment to insert.

More than 8,000 of his surgical nails were distributed last year and more than 550 surgeons in 36 countries have been trained to use SIGN instruments and techniques.

“Physician and ambassador of peace, Dr. Zirkle puts the Tri-Cities on the world map one nail at a time,” the Cooks wrote.

“Their lives are an ongoing labor of love and an incredible example of service above self,” Sandy Matheson, last year’s Tri-Citian of the Year, said before introducing the Zirkles.

“We’re very surprised and very happy and, actually, very grateful,” Lew Zirkle said shortly before a long reception line ended.

Surprise is a traditional element of the annual event. Sara Zirkle had been told her husband would win alone. Lew Zirkle, who had never attended the annual ceremony before, had written a speech to honor a colleague he thought was going to win.

But that didn’t explain a visit from his three out-of-town daughters, who normally aren’t all able to get back to the Tri-Cities at the same time more than once a year. Still, the story held.

“He was really upset because he wanted to stay home with us,” Molly said of her dad.

As it turned out, they got to spend the evening together anyway.

“I think they’ve made an incredible contribution to this community,” daughter Liz said. “They are always trying to find ways to help people.”

“It’s a huge honor,” daughter Julie said of the award.

An outstanding award for outstanding couple

This story was published Sunday, May 23rd, 2004, Tri-City Herald

Being named Tri-Citian of the Year has long been considered the highest honor a local citizen can receive.

This year, the honor goes to two citizens, a husband and wife team, and they bring at least as much honor to the award as it brings to them.

Dr. Lewis Zirkle Jr. and Dr. Sara Zirkle lead remarkably generous lives. We call them a team, but that is more a matter of their spiritual union than their working practices.

Dr. Lewis Zirkle is an orthopedic specialist with a worldwide reputation.

In 1997 he received the Kiwanis World Service Medal — a high international honor presented on behalf of Kiwanis by Gov. Gary Locke.

Another recipient was the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta, for her decades of service to India’s poor.

Zirkle also received the Red Cross Heroes Award in 2002.

He achieved world renown for his volunteer medical help to the people of Indonesia, Peru, Ecuador and Southeast Asia. He returns annually to Vietnam, where he served as a young surgeon in the Army Medical Corps in 1968.

He instructs, provides equipment and helps improve the state of orthopedic surgery for Vietnam’s doctors. He’s recruited other U.S. doctors and medical professionals for international relief work.

It goes beyond orthopedics. He’s worked to get iodine routinely added to salt in Vietnam, helping prevent mental retardation and other widespread health problems.

Dr. Sara Zirkle, a development and behavioral pediatric specialist, worked part-time early in her career, as she and her husband reared their children.

She was instrumental in the creation of the Child Sexual Abuse Clinic at Kadlec Medical Center and the Mid-Columbia Reading Foundation.

She was honored in 2002 with a Distinguished Service Award bestowed by Benton and Franklin county prosecutors and law enforcement officers for her sensitive and caring work with children who may have been sexually abused.

She is a well-known advocate for children’s and family issues and testifies in abuse cases. In her work with abused children, she takes a careful approach emphasizing that the child has done nothing wrong.

Sara Zirkle told the group that honored her in 2002, “I really don’t think I’ve done anything out of the ordinary.”

The Tri-Cities is blessed to have such “ordinariness” in its midst. The Zirkles are models of humanitarianism and the most lofty goals of medical care.

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