By Gari Voss
Many members of the Allegan area mourn the passing of Dr. Laurence (Larry) LaGattuta on October 13, 2023. By the age of 93, Dr. LaGattuta experienced more than most could imagine. After his birth in Antwerp, Belgium on April 29, 1930, his American born parents barely escaped the onslaught of World War II as they were able to catch one of the last boats to sail to the U.S.
Larry attended elementary school in New Jersey before the family headed to Mexico City. He had already decided that being a physician was his calling in life.
After spending time during the Korean War riding a desk in England with the U.S. Army, LaGattuta completed his undergraduate studies at Rutgers University then graduated from the Boston University Medical School. He ended up at the Detroit Receiving Hospital as a surgical resident where he met his wife, Dorothy, and married in 1964.
But Dr. Larry LaGattuta’s legacy truly begins in 1968 when the couple moved to Allegan, MI. He was a forward thinker and doer. What he and his colleagues were able to accomplish in this rural community is a story that should never be forgotten. The street signs “LaGattuta Lane,” and “Schneiter Blvd” demonstrate just a fraction of the lives of these visionaries.
When Dr. LaGattuta arrived in Allegan, Dr. Harry Schneiter was well ensconced in his medical practice at the Allegan Hospital. The two doctors envisioned a Medical Clinic where physicians could collaborate to provide primary care, family practice, obstetrics, child services, urgent care, and surgery to the residents of the Allegan area who had been having to travel to Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids or Holland for these services.
To attain the vision, the space needed to be provided for doctors’ offices, and it was. Then doctors had to be attracted to the small-town environment. Talented physicians, nurses and support staff were brought into the fold.
In an interview with the Allegan County News, he often reiterated that the road to building the Allegan Medical Clinic was difficult. Doctors know little about the finances of doctoring. There were mistakes that needed correcting, but with the assistance of extremely dedicated doctors, physician assistants, nurses and office staff, the ship was righted, and many success stories poured from patients and colleagues alike.
The establishment of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) was the frosting on the cake. No longer would emergencies and acute cases have to travel distances from home. Being the primary surgeon in the area, LaGattuta’s beeper went off morning, afternoon, and night with equal response – Dr. LaGattuta scrubbing up and performing emergency surgeries of all types.
In his spare time, LaGattuta enjoyed building. Though trained as a physician, he was able to build their dream on Monroe Road by out thinking the swamp land along the Kalamazoo River. Though not a farmer, he learned to “farm” and raise chickens and beef cattle. Though not a contractor, he was able to restore Dorothy’s grandfather’s 1940 cabin near Traverse City on Bass Lake.
The Wednesday luncheons with colleagues from Allegan General, the trips with Dorothy and family to the cottage on Bass Lake, the quiet times in the woods or fishing became the loves of Larry’s life after retirement.
The sadness and frustrations of seeing the Allegan Clinic lose its original vision always haunted him. Having a large pool of skilled physicians living and practicing in Allegan seemed just a shadow in the past.
No matter what, a recent obituary summed it up. Dr. Lawrence LaGattuta was “A man known for his spontaneous and sometimes shocking sense of humor; he was fortunately long retired before the “Me Too” movement. He loved speaking in foreign accents to his friends, his colleagues, over the Allegan General Hospital PA system, and to any poor telemarketer who happened to call the LaGattuta landline.”
Condolences go to all those who loved and admired him. Family, friends, and those with whom he worked or were recipients of his talented hands will miss this visionary and remember his many accomplishments.
For those wishing to contribute to his memory, contributions can be sent to Wings of Hope Hospice or Wings Home, 530 Linn Street, Allegan, MI 49010. In addition, it is suggested to plant a tree in his memory as a way of restoring the environment he loved, just as he restored so many lives.