Hegins man cared for nation's VIPs

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HEGINS – While Pennsylvanians reflected this week on their elected officials, one Schuylkill County man met face-to-face with some of our nation’s former VIPs and was entrusted with their care.
Randall Koppenhaver, of Hegins, served as a hospital corpsman at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. During his work in the VIP ward in 1974, he cared for several nationally-known leaders.  Among them were Saint Clair native and Medal of Honor winner Vice-Admiral Joel T. Boone; former Vice-President Hubert Humphrey; and the late Rose Mary Woods, the personal secretary to former President Richard Nixon.
But it was the U.S. Navy’s Vice Admiral Boone who cast quite an impression on Koppenhaver.  Boone was the assistant physician to presidents Harding and Coolidge and was White House physician to President Hoover.
“He was really remarkable,” Koppenhaver said.  “He was pleasant and did his best to keep up his appearance.  He looked forward to his morning care and had lots of visitors.”
Some of Koppenhaver’s duties included assisting Boone with his breakfast and providing nursing care from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., prior to guests’ arrival each day.
“He was very mannerly and polite,” Koppenhaver said, noting the admiral appreciated the special attention paid to keeping his mustache as neatly trimmed as possible.
The admiral’s wife, Helen (Koch) Boone, came to the hospital every day and always wore a hat, Koppenhaver remembers. He struck up a conversation with her, after they both shared their connection to Schuylkill County.  Mrs. Boone told Koppenhaver she was originally from Pottsville.  The Boone’s only child, a grown daughter named Suzanne, also was frequently by the admiral’s bedside and often brought treats, like macadamia nuts, to the hospital staff.
In spite of having the responsibility of taking care of one of the U.S.’s prominent admirals, Koppenhaver said he wasn’t nervous about working with Boone.  “I felt very comfortable with him.”  Boone died April 2, 1974, early in the morning before Koppenhaver arrived to work.
When Koppenhaver found out the community was dedicating the park in Saint Clair in Boone’s honor on Aug. 29, 2009, he decided to attend the celebration on what would have been Boone’s 120th birthday.
“I had hoped I could see Suzanne again, too, but I didn’t know she had died,” Koppenhaver said.  He was able to meet Suzanne’s husband, Milton F. Heller, Jr.; her son, Milton F. Heller III; and her grandson, Matthew, at the ceremony.
Realizing the opportunity to contribute to the park, Koppenhaver purchased a fund raising brick in Suzanne’s honor.
He also was asked to speak briefly during the dedication.
Saint Clair Councilwoman Val Davis said Koppenhaver had gone into the Custom Creations card shop on 2nd street earlier on the day of the dedication and she was notified that someone visiting the area had known Adm. Boone.
“Everyone enjoyed that personal touch that he brought,” Davis said of Koppenhaver’s recollections.
Davis said the park had the final inspection from the state on Oct. 20 and it’s completed.  Since the dedication, Davis presented Koppenhaver with a video copy of the ceremony and a hat from the USS Boone (frigate ship named in Boone’s honor), as presented by Commander Steven J. Petroff.  He also received a copy of Heller’s book about Boone, “The Presidents’ Doctor.”
Koppenhaver worked in the VIP ward for about six months, and then was assigned to a toxicology research lab in Bethesda. He worked in Bethesda from 1971-1976.
Previously, he had Instructor Duty in Great Lakes, IL, where he taught anatomy and physiology for three years.
Koppenhaver later worked in the Fleet Marine Force, Camp Lejeune, NC, and served as a medical department representative.  During part of that stint, he was deployed to the Mediterranean.
He served 13 years enlisted as a medic and 11 years commissioned as a medical service corps officer, before retiring from the Navy in 1994.
He’s been employed with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for the last 15 years and currently works as an Air Quality Program Specialist in Asbestos, at DEP’s Bureau of Air Quality, Harrisburg.

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