AUTHOR’S NOTE: Homer got its first resident physician in 1956 when Dr. Jack Fenger came to staff the town’s new hospital. Soldotna got its first in 1960 when Dr. Paul Isaak moved his family from Seward. In 1958, Kenai got its first resident physician when Dr. Marian Goble agreed to come to town. Part One of this story introduced the doctor and her young family.
Dr. Marian Goble’s dream of missionary medical work did not begin with Alaska. And their Alaska adventure did not begin with Kenai.
“When I was (first) considering being a missionary,” said Dr. Goble recently, “I was fascinated by what I had read about India. Well, when I got married, my husband had severe allergies and severe heat intolerance. He wouldn’t just be uncomfortable (in India). He would get sick.
“And I thought, ‘No way. No way. We can’t go to India. That would be asking for trouble.’ So we prayed about it, and we asked the Lord to show us.” They found an article in an issue of Moody Monthly, the nationally known magazine of the Moody Bible Institute, in which missionaries in Kodiak said they needed another doctor.
“We looked into the situation, and all the pieces came together,” said Goble. “It seemed like the right thing to do.” The Slavic Gospel Association made them a formal invitation, and they accepted.
On May 12, 1957, the Asbury Park (New Jersey) Press issued a brief announcement: Marian and Ben Goble and their young daughter Grace, after spending the previous two weeks with Ben’s parents in Toms River, N.J., were heading for Kodiak Island. They planned to drive all the way to Seward and then sail on to Kodiak, where Dr. Goble would practice medicine and her husband, Ben, would repair float planes for Kodiak Airways.
Their travel plans required some revisions, however. The Alaska Highway roughed up their two-door sedan and their two-wheeled, pull-behind trailer, and it became evident, said Marian, “that it was unlikely our rig would survive.”
They sold the car and trailer in Seattle, shipped their bulkiest belongings to the missionaries, then flew to Anchorage and then Kodiak, where the missionaries picked them up at the airport.
Dr. Goble worked at Kodiak’s hospital for a year, while maintaining a separate private practice in a portion of their apartment, a former shoe store. When patients entered the clinic waiting room, which also served as a bedroom when the office was closed, they would first see a large fireplace and, above its mantle, the head of a huge Kodiak brown bear the Gobles had nicknamed “George.”
Other highlights at the clinic included a “cold” refrigerator and a “warm” refrigerator. The warm one was nonfunctioning and used only for storage. There was also a reel-to-reel tape recorder that played during office hours and featured music the Gobles had recorded from classical and Christian radio stations.
At the hospital, having another, more experienced doctor on hand allowed Grace to develop her skills but also helped her to realize “that I didn’t know how to do everything.”
While in Kodiak, the Gobles dreamed of someday going “to the boondocks,” to Alaska’s remote villages, most of which lacked consistent medical care. Dr. Goble imagined flying into these isolated communities on the wings of Ben’s aviation skills. With his single-engine airplane, he would become her “personal bush pilot,” as the two of them brought medicine and the gospel to the people living there.
“But that never happened,” she said. “It was unrealistic (for us). Ben did take the training for that—so he could do it—but we never got that far.”
Then missionary spokespersons from the Kenai-Soldotna area came calling. “They said it’d sure be nice to have a doctor who’d be there all the time. And I thought, ‘Well, I have a little bit of experience now. I’ll give it a try.’ And I prayed about it.”
By July 1958, Dr. Goble was Kenai’s first-ever resident physician, and she immediately settled into a life of rural medical service. Ben Goble performed aviation mechanic work, and the whole Goble family immersed itself in the local Baptist church, where Ben was a trustee, Marian was a clerk, and both taught Sunday school.
Fred and Louisa Miller leased Louisa’s former ice cream parlor and restaurant in Kenai to the Gobles for use as a clinic that doubled as their home. Dr. Goble called the arrangement “interesting.”
Downstairs, the structure featured a large dining area, in back of which was a kitchen—the building’s main source of water and heat—and a storage room. Between the dining area and the kitchen was a bathroom, and upstairs was large dormitory-style bedroom and a second, smaller bedroom.
They turned the front room into a waiting room. They also erected a plywood wall to create a separate examining room, modified the heating system for a wider distribution of warmth, and began living in the larger of the two rooms upstairs.
Meanwhile, they learned that a partially completed three-bedroom house on what is now called McCollum Drive was for sale, so they made the investment in more comfortable lodging and clinic space. They used one bedroom for themselves, gave the second one to their daughter, and set aside the third for an examining room.
Dr. Goble sterilized her medical instruments in a pressure cooker in the kitchen.
The doctor spent her mornings as a housewife and her afternoons as a physician; she also offered office hours on two evenings per week. Patients taking advantage of evening hours were often greeted by “receptionist” Ben Goble, who stood 6 feet tall and had red hair and a large red beard.
The doctor herself had very long hair that she wore in a braid either down the center of her back or twisted up around her head. “She never wore white uniforms,” Donnis Thompson recalled in 2009. “She thought that scared the kids. She wore a single dress or wool skirt and white blouse … not the least clinical. You’d go into her office, and there was always the smell of fresh bread. It was great.”
“I didn’t want to look scary,” said Dr. Goble, “and I wanted people to feel welcome. We tried to make it a very welcoming environment…. And when the people came in, instead of having the clinical smell of chemicals, it smelled like bread baking. It was important to me to be kind to the people because I wanted them to really come to know the Lord. Not that I wanted to be pushy, but I wanted to make it clear that I cared about them, not just for now but for eternity.”
Dr. Goble delivered babies if the expectant mothers were unable to reach a hospital in either Anchorage or Seward, and she also made house-calls, although those could be complicated by the fact that many locations back then had no specific address.
Consequently, she often needed to enlist rides from more knowledgeable locals to remote or difficult-to-reach areas. During her time in Kenai, she attempted to serve patients by car or skiff, airplane or dogsled—by whatever means necessary.
Most longtime locals now remember the doctor’s brief tenure in Kenai fondly. Sheryl House Martin, who saw Dr. Goble for a throat infection, recalled her as “kid-friendly” and “kind.” Kathleen Gibson said her mother, Doris, worked for the doctor as a bookkeeper, while Ben was a mechanic for the Gibson family air-taxi business, Aviation Service Inc.
“The doc bought the house next door to my family,” said Pat (McCollum) Falkenberg. “It was always busy…. My parents said she was the typical country doc and liked her very much. We were sad to see her leave.”
The Gobles departed Kenai in late November 1960. Marian desired additional medical training, while Ben sought more schooling in aviation. But they were also ready for a change. “I was burning out,” said Marian.
They thought perhaps they would “recharge” and then return to Kenai, but instead they moved on and kept moving.
Meanwhile, Dr. Paul Isaak, formerly on the hospital staff in Seward, had begun a practice in Soldotna, and in the course of her interactions with Isaak, Dr. Goble saw that she was leaving the future of central peninsula medicine in good hands.
The Gobles moved first to St. Paul, Minn., and then to Rapid City, S.D., where Marian found employment with the Indian Health Service. She specialized in respiratory illnesses, particularly the treatment of tuberculosis.
Ben pursued a teaching certificate and later became a high school science and physics teacher. He also developed an interest in computers—how they worked, how to build them, how to repair them. Ben “had expertise in a lot of things,” Marian said.
In 1964, the Gobles had their second child, Paul John Goble—named for Ben’s father and the “Apostle Paul,” according to Marian—and by the late 1960s the whole family had moved to the Denver area. She became licensed to practice medicine in Colorado in the fall of 1969.
In Denver, Marian worked in the research-centered National Jewish Hospital, which was on the cutting edge of treatment for tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases. As a National Jewish staff member, she co-authored professional papers on the treatment of respiratory illnesses.
In 1994, in her mid-sixties, she said she became aware that she was experiencing a creeping sense of forgetfulness, which prompted her to retire, although she still consulted and shared her experiences with hospital staff for many years.
Ben died in 2001, and Marian, who is now 94, moved into an independent-living center near Denver a few years later. Her influence, after all this time, continues to be felt.
In 2021, the Rev. Cathy Cox, of an Episcopal Church in Missouri, penned the following in a church newsletter: “I have an extraordinary friend, Dr. Marian Goble … who was an expert in multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis.” She then praised the Gobles’ frills-free, Christian lifestyle, and concluded: “Marian is perhaps the most simple, brilliant, prayerful and joyful woman I know.”