In Memoriam: Kenneth Harmon, DC, ND; Jennifer Huntoon, ND; Michael Schirmer, MD

Kenneth Harmon, DC, ND (1937-2011)

Submitted by Daniel Labriola, ND

Dr. Harmon was the first naturopathic physician I ever met. I was a patient, dragged in by a close friend. At the time I was CEO of several large aerospace companies with all of the concomitant stress, international travel and health complaints that are common with corporate types. The visit, to my delight and surprise, made a significant impact on my health. Doc Harmon has kept me healthy since that first visit using the traditional naturopathic methods that I still value the most today.

“My personal memories of Ken are vivid. He was always up, passionately spiritual and ready to say yes. If you were feeling down or overwhelmed, a visit with Ken Harmon was just what the doctor ordered.”

Years after that visit I was a Bastyr graduate, at least in part as a result of being impressed by his ability as an ND to cure ailments that had dogged me with no allopathic solutions. In addition to his clinical skills, I learned that Doctor Harmon was also a solid part of naturopathic leadership serving at local, regional and national levels. This was important at that time since we had so much to accomplish in order for our profession to survive legislatively.

Dr. Harmon never put himself in the limelight, flaunted his accomplishments or took praise for all that he did, but here are a few of his accomplishments that you may not be aware of. During our battle to stay licensed in Washington State, he testified frequently in the legislature, he participated actively with Dr. Huntoon and others organizing our grass roots campaign and still served on the Board of Directors of the WANP as well as the Northwest Association. He succeeded me as president of the WANP and played a critical role in having our prescriptive rights put into pharmacy policy, no small task. He led the WANP through some turbulent and frequently divisive times keeping the organization stable and effective.

When the original NAC members’ terms ran out, the search was on for leaders who could maintain the delicate balance with Department of Health (DOH), the legislature and the profession. It was Dr. Harmon who took over eventually as NAC chair when we made the first significant prescriptive scope increase since the initial list was approved. Since we did this using an administrative rather than legislative pathway, the negotiations were particularly sensitive and it was Doc Harmon who kept the NAC and DOH in the process in a positive way.

My personal memories of Ken are vivid. He was always up, passionately spiritual and ready to say yes. If you were feeling down or overwhelmed, a visit with Ken Harmon was just what the doctor ordered. He, like many of us, loved our profession, always looking for ways to give and never taking anything back for himself. I miss our regular phone calls, my visits to him as a patient and most of all his remarkable attitude and determination. Not a day goes by that every naturopathic physician practicing in Washington State does not benefit and enjoy privileges and rights that would not be there without Dr. Harmon. We will not be the same without him.

Jennifer Huntoon, ND (1947-2011)

Submitted by Daniel Labriola, ND

If you are a naturopathic physician in Washington State, Dr. Jenefer Huntoon influenced your life and your livelihood much more than you know. The story for me starts in 1985 when ours was the last profession in the Sunset Act which meant that our legal right to practice would disappear automatically unless we could pass a whole new piece of legislation. At the time nearly every other licensed profession opposed our continued licensure and even our own lobbyists told us that we had no chance of prevailing. For the class of 1985 that was our graduation surprise. I would have preferred a stethoscope or medicine bag with my initials.

“(Jenefer) was directly involved in our effort to get the term “physician” on our licenses, adding our legal ability to direct nurses, implementing our first prescription list and much more.”

It was in these desperate hours that I first met Jenefer Huntoon at a WANP meeting. In the ensuing 2 years our association waged a political campaign against all odds. Some legislators and lobbyists actually laughed openly at us when we told them that we planned on retaining naturopathic medicine legally in Washington. We did, however, get the last laugh. There were less than 100 active NDs and we were broke but we managed to either co-opt or roll over professions with tens of thousands of members and not only retain but create a new practice act that added prescription authority, all of the foundations to practice primary care and more. None of that would have happened without Jenefer Huntoon.

Jenefer was always calm, kind and ready to take on responsibility so gently that her manner belied her Mensa mind and unshakeable determination. During that political campaign, she and her office staff developed a grass roots outpouring from doctors and patients that affected every jurisdiction, overwhelming our large and well-funded opponents. As L&L chair and later president of WANP I remember receiving calls from legislators’ staff promising to vote in our favor and please stop the letters, phone calls and visits from constituents.

Les Griffith and I made frequent trips to Olympia during that period, sometimes 2 or 3 in a week and frequently with just hours’ notice requiring cancellation of a full day of patients the same morning. When it came to committee testimony, numbers are important and the one doctor who made by far the most of those trips with us was Doctor Huntoon. Since Les had a 2-seater car so small that it didn’t have a glove box and Jenefer drove the speed limit (i.e. too slow) I would meet Les and pick up Jenefer at home at 5 AM for 7 AM committee hearings. The net effect on her practice and her income was huge, hundreds of hours of her time, hundreds of hours of paid staff time, lost income with cancellations and just plain disruption of her busy, successful practice but she always came through.

And she did not stop there. When we succeeded in licensing our profession Jenefer served as vice chair of the naturopathic advisory committee (NAC) for 6 more years. During that time she was directly involved in our effort to get the term “physician” on our licenses, adding our legal ability to direct nurses, implementing our first prescription list and much more. Our NAC accomplished more than many professions with full boards. There was a period when Bastyr graduates were not automatically eligible to take Washington Board exams and each applicant had to have his/her transcript manually approved, course by course in accordance with our law. Jenefer was there for more than a month of Saturdays, Sundays and evenings giving up her time as we painstakingly tried to find ways for each Bastyr graduate to move on with his/her career and exams. We approved every applicant in time.

And then there was sales tax on naturopathic prescriptions and formularies. After passage of our law, the Washington State Department of Revenue (DOR) decided that naturopathic prescriptions should be taxed and made a test case of a well-known naturopathic institution. The dilemma was that it was much less costly to simply pay the tax, even though we believed it was wrong, as opposed to the legal fees to fight and that was what happened. For a number of years naturopathic doctors were systematically audited and fined. And then they audited Jenefer Huntoon. I still remember the usually calm and composed Jenefer who called me and said: “They can’t do this to our profession. What are we going to do?”

Did you say we? Well it was Jenefer, and one thing you didn’t do was say no to her. The six month appeal process with expensive lawyers and hours preparing briefs culminated in an administrative law hearing. Since I was still chair of the NAC and I was also one of the principal authors of our law, DOH gave me authority to testify and submit evidence. I can tell you from first-hand experience that Jenefer could have saved a lot of money by just paying the assessment and moving on, but she chose to defend us all. Several months later she called me to say that she had received the decision and that we had won. Jenefer and I and Jeff Larsen celebrated with dinner at the Sunlight. The DOR policy that naturopathic prescriptions are not subject to sales tax was promulgated as a direct result of Jenefer’s case.

There is much more to say about Jenefer. I believe, in the final analysis, that we are defined by the people and things that we love and what we did to make the world a better place. Jenefer always shunned attention and recognition for her many accomplishments but there is no denying that she was an angel amongst us. I am always grateful for having had the opportunity to know Dr. Jenefer Huntoon and will always miss her.

Michael Schirmer, MD (1946-2011)

Submitted by Richard Kitaeff, ND, LAc

Michael Schirmer, rheumatologist, born in Leipzig, Germany and raised in Canada, is known in the American naturopathic community for introducing European-style balneotherapy, the therapeutic use of prepared peat materials for application as heated mud packs over inflamed joint or vertebral areas, or as medicinal bath soaks. His peat preparations contain about 130 ingredients that are pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory and hormone modulating. He first introduced balneotherapy to our clinic, New Health Medical Center, as part of our Pain Therapy Program, and then to the Bastyr Clinic. Mark Groven, ND contributed a chapter on Dr. Schirmer’s methods to the Textbook of Natural Medicine. Michael Schirmer was a remarkable man who spoke seven languages, was a licensed pilot, co-authored children’s books, and raised thoroughbred horses. He loved animals and was responsible for saving the lives of many horses with his therapeutic methods. He died in June, 2011 from a drug reaction as a complication of treatment for a chronic heart disorder.

“Michael Schirmer was a remarkable man who spoke seven languages, was a licensed pilot, co-authored children’s books, and raised thoroughbred horses.”

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