By Jim Bell
Charles Hendricks majored in agriculture at the University of Illinois and was contemplating working a family farm in southern Illinois after he completed a four-year stint in the U.S. Army as a helicopter pilot.
But, he said, “a guy who was also a pilot was going back to Ohio State to become a veterinarian and he was giving me all these good ideas about veterinary medicine and I liked ‘em. So I decided maybe I might try that, by golly, and I went back to Illinois to veterinary school.”
Today, Dr. Hendricks is an elder statesman of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association. On January 31, he will be presented with the prestigious Cortese Lippincott award at the annual SCVMA Annual Celebration and Installation of Officers. The award from the Animal Health Foundation, honors a recipient who has gone “above and beyond in making the world a better place for both humans and animals.”
Son of a lawyer, Dr. Hendricks grew up near St. Louis, where his father commuted every workday. At the University of Illinois, he was enrolled in the Reserve Officers Training Corps and went into military service after graduating. Most of his service was in southern Arizona. He married wife Jan in 1956 after a year in the Army. “She was my first date at the University of Illinois. We dated off and on through college and never did get too serious. When I graduated and she graduated, we got to talking more to each other” and decided to marry in 1956.
After his discharge from active duty, Dr. Hendricks worked for Ralston Purina for a year in Iowa City, Iowa, collecting accounts – work he found unrewarding – so he enrolled in veterinary school at his alma mater. He had GI Bill benefits and a campus job, as well as some support from his family “With the three of those, I had enough money to pay the bills. And my wife worked, too,” he said. He also continued to fly military helicopters on weekends as a reservist.
After he earned his DVM degree in 1963, he did a 15-month internship at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston, the historic nonprofit hospital founded in 1868. Then he and his wife looked west. “We were sold on Arizona,” he said. “We’d spent most of our Army life in southern Arizona and we wanted to go back. So we went there – but there wasn’t a job available.” The young couple continued traveling west and found plenty of opportunity in Southern California.
“I interviewed with 36 different people and I accepted a job in Anaheim,” Dr. Hendricks said. His employer “was an old codger from Colorado who’d been around a while and he was a drunk who wanted to sell his practice. It wasn’t doing that great. So I went to work for him and eventually bought the practice [in 1976]. I was committed to doing high quality work and I got referrals from all over for back surgeries like laminectomies and anything that had to do with the brain. And I also did some orthopedic work but I never got board certified.”
Dr. Hendricks said that his practice was exclusively small animal, although he had cared for horses as an intern in Boston and early in his career in Southern California. “Then I decided I didn’t want to do that any more. It took too long to get to the horse and then you had to control it and it just wasn’t worth it.”
He said that his practice grew quickly after he acquired it. “I started getting cases before I bought the place and it grew from there – so much that I couldn’t handle everything,” so he added associate veterinarians to help with the workload. And, he said, “I trained many veterinarians in Orange County.”
In 1990, he sold the practice to VCA, continuing to work three days a week. “I stayed on until 1997. From then on, I did relief work periodically. But a couple of years ago, I decided that I was too darned old to wrestle these animals any more.”
Always active in SCVMA, he was president in 1976. “I went through all the offices and served on the Board [of Trustees].” He also served on the board of CVMA and was a zone chairman and regional director for the American Animal Hospital Association and served on several AVMA committees.
In 1968, he and three other veterinarians started a weekly lunch meeting, inviting doctors to come in and present cases. “It was the most important thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “It was a very, very educational thing – and it’s still going on today, so it’s been around a long time. It’s called the North Orange County Clinical Pathology Conference and we still continue to meet. We started with a small group meeting every Monday in the basement in the old Santa Ana Hotel. We met there for years and years, with 25 to 30 people every week. The hotel finally closed its doors so we had to move. We went to several different places. Now we meet at Tony Roma’s. The presentations are really good. We have an x-ray viewer and a computer that shows clips.”
Now 82, Dr. Hendricks and Jan, who live in Anaheim, have a daughter who travels between Kansas City and Anaheim and a son who makes wine in the Napa Valley. They have six grandchildren.