(May 2017) The Kenagy-Vance family line of physicians stretches across states,
continents and generations, but a common thread connects them: the
University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Four generations of men
in the Kenagy-Vance family have cared for patients in Switzerland,
Pennsylvania, Idaho, Minnesota and points beyond after earning medical
degrees from the University of Colorado.
John Brough “JB” Kenagy started it all in 1906 when he graduated from the School of Medicine – then located in Boulder.
The next two physicians in the family – Fayre H.
Kenagy (class of 1920) and J. Corwin (Corky) Vance (class of 1971) –
attended the medical school in Boulder and then the CU Health Sciences
Center in Denver, respectively.
The gap between medical school graduates Fayre
and Corky is because Corky’s father, Edward Pershing Vance, who married
Barbara Eloise Kenagy, chose a different path: He pursued a successful
career in natural resource stewardship in the Pacific Northwest.
Kenagy Vance, son of Corky and Karen Vance, extended the family’s
black-and-gold bond into the 21st century by attending medical school
at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus from 2005 to 2009. Karl had applied to
about 10 medical schools, but chose CU.
“The combination of the
high-quality education at the medical school and the lifestyle of being
in Colorado factored in,” said Karl, who is an avid cyclist and skier.
“Also, it was something I thought would be cool – that I would be the
fourth generation of my family to go to the CU School of Medicine.”
The history of physicians in the family dates back
to Bern, Switzerland, where Corky’s sixth great-grandfather, Hans
Gnage, practiced medicine before fleeing the country at a time when
Mennonites faced religious persecution.
“Family legend has him
seeing a patient when the police came to arrest him for draft evasion,”
Corky said. “His wife had the policeman sit down to wait for him and
offered food and drink, but then sent their son to tell his father to
leave the country instead of coming home. His family joined him later.”
arrived in Pennsylvania in 1742, joined the Amish community, and
resumed work as a physician. It would be several generations later when
JB Kenagy, born and raised in a Mennonite community in Ohio, and
already established in a career as an educator would carry on the
family tradition of medicine.
JB studied at the Kansas Normal School in Fort Scott,
then moved to Colorado to teach, first in Buena Vista for four years,
then for three years in Gunnison, where he was the principal. He then
decided to become a physician, moved to Boulder and entered CU medical
school and graduating in 1906 at age 43. He moved to Rupert, Idaho, to
practice internal medicine. JB’s son, Fayre Kenagy, aspired to become a
doctor like his father. Though he was drafted into the military during
World War I, he re-ceived a deferment to finish his medical degree.
Keeping the CU tradition going
Fayre H. Kenagy, center, is pictured at the old Denver General
Hospital circa 1917. Fayre was the
second member of the Kenagy family to
receive his MD from the CU medical school.
Fayre delivered J. Corwin Vance in August 1945, starting a lifelong bond with the boy who went by the nickname Corky.
was in awe of my grandfather and wanted to follow in his footsteps. I
therefore also attended the CU medical school,” Corky said. “When Karl
was born, we named him Karl Kenagy Vance, after his great-grandfather. He later decided to attend the CU medical school as well, having heard how great it was.”
Vance is now retired, but Karl worked with his father during the final
year of his practice in Minneapolis. Karl now works with several of
Corky’s longtime staff members, though in a different dermatology
The Twin Cities are a fitting home for the father and
son because they have paired interests in fine food and wine and in
international travel. When Corky and Karl aren’t pursuing culinary
interests, you might find them on their bicycles or in planes traveling
the world. Sometimes they’re globetrotting and cycling – as they did on a
family trip to Italy last fall.
Both father and son met their
wives while attending the CU medical school. Corky met his wife, Karen,
while she was a lab technician, and Karl connected with Pamela while
out on the town with classmates.
Just as Corky was inspired to
pursue medicine by his grandfather, Karl looked up to his father, who
became the first dermatologist in the Twin Cities to perform Mohs
surgery – a micrographic procedure that removes skin cancers.
found it rewarding. Growing up around medicine, you get an
understanding of the process, the responsibilities and the ups and
downs of it,” Karl said. “Mostly, it’s a fulfilling career because it’s a
daily opportunity to help people.”
Camaraderie with CU classmates
Karl enjoyed the camaraderie with his classmates at CU Anschutz after struggling to connect
with pre-med classmates at Stanford University. He excelled in chemical
engineering, and it wasn’t long before he connected that discipline to
a growing interest in wine. After graduating from Stanford, he became
an assistant wine maker in Northern California and Australia. A few
years later, however, he realized that winemaking couldn’t quite match
the fulfillment of medicine.
At CU Anschutz, Karl loved his classmates. “It was hard to find people who weren’t into skiing and biking,” he said.
in school, he was influenced by J. Ramsey Mellette, MD, the faculty
member who trained him on Mohs surgery. Back in the 1970s when Corky
first performed Mohs, it was a new and innovative procedure.
“Now, this procedure is pretty widespread,” Karl said. “I like it
because of the precision in which we take the cancer out, and I enjoy
the creativity involved in the reconstruction (of the tissue).” Mohs is
usually performed on a patient’s face, so the reconstruction of the
skin requires utmost precision to minimize scarring.
Finding a mentor
was inspired to pursue dermatology by Robert Goltz, MD, who in the late
1960s served as head of the Department of Dermatology in the medical
school. Corky so enjoyed Goltz’s teaching that he took the professor’s
early-morning class on public health.
“Dr. Goltz noticed that I
was a hard worker, that I liked dermatology and was good at it,” Corky
said. “I was good at visual learning, and that’s why dermatology
appealed to me. You have to be able to memorize what rashes and other
conditions on the skin look like.”
Goltz proved to be the catalyst
for Corky’s career in Minnesota. Goltz, who had just accepted a job as
chair of dermatology at the University of Minnesota, suggested Corky
pursue his residency in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Now, as Corky and
Karen settle into retirement, they watch their progeny carry on the
Kenagy-Vance caregiver tradition. Karl has established his own thriving
practice in Minneapolis, while his sister Chardonnay, who attended
medical school at Wake Forest University, is a family practice doctor.
most important thing is your job,” Corky said. “If you have a miserable
job, you’ll be miserable wherever you are. If you have a rewarding job –
as we are lucky enough to have – you’ll be happy.”