Dr. Richard Paul Bunch
June 23, 1936 – November 10, 2020
Dr. Richard Paul Bunch passed away at Othello Community Hospital in Othello, Washington, on Nov. 10, 2020, at the age of 84 years, after a number of months of declining health.
Richard Bunch came into this world on June 23, 1936, in Coquille, Oregon, the second of five children born to John Paul Bunch and Velda Marie Schroeder. Their young family had been involved variously in farming, dairy, and the timber industry around Coos County in southwestern Oregon, when Paul and Velda pulled up stakes in 1939 to chase a farming opportunity on the opposite, northeastern corner of the state, near Ontario, Oregon. Richard was 3 years old at the time.
Born near the end of the Great Depression, Richard’s formative years came during the Second World War, a time of austerity and uncertainty. The living space at the family farm near Ontario began as a tent, and was succeeded by a basement excavation over which a house was eventually constructed. Richard learned a farmboy’s work ethic that he kept throughout his life. He also learned about the rewards (and pitfalls) of entrepreneurship, as when he and his younger brother Curtis bought lambs to raise and sell.
Richard attended a one-room rural schoolhouse near Ontario for primary school; for high school he attended Gem State Academy, an Adventist boarding school in Caldwell, Idaho, where he graduated in 1954 as class valedictorian. During his senior year at Gem State, he was introduced to Sue Dobyns at a school-sponsored roller skating social by Sue’s cousins Ina and Uva Baker. Romance ensued, and when Richard started his undergraduate career at Walla Walla College, Sue followed not far behind. They were married June 23, 1956 – Richard’s 20th birthday. Not long afterward, Richard transferred to the University of Oregon at Eugene to complete his undergraduate education, and went on to obtain his medical degree at the University of Oregon Medical School in Portland. During their sojourn in northwestern Oregon, Richard and Sue’s three sons were born.
In 1961 the young family moved to Spokane, Washington, where Richard completed a rotating internship at St. Luke’s Hospital. A pivotal event occurred when the newly minted Dr. Bunch was recruited by Dr. Ken Pershall to help with a growing rural medical practice in Othello, Washington. Dr. Pershall’s offer was accepted, and the rest (as they say) is history.
Dr. Bunch became a partner with Dr. Pershall in the “Medical Surgical Clinic” and moved his family to Othello in 1962, at a time when the town was booming from the expansion of agriculture into newly-irrigated desert. Othello’s population quintupled between 1950 and 1960, and had jumped by half again by 1970. Drs. Pershall and Bunch found themselves struggling, both to keep up with an increasing demand for medical services, and to recruit physicians willing to come to a small town. The solution to their problem came via a pioneer program called “MEDEX” that used medically-trained former military servicemen, working under physician supervision, to expand the reach of doctors in medically underserved areas. In 1970, Paul Snyder and John Betz, two members of the first University of Washington class of physician assistants, joined Drs. Pershall and Bunch in Othello. The success of the physician assistant program in Washington state (and particularly in Othello) helped lead to its nationwide expansion.
In addition to his medical practice, during the 1970s Dr. Bunch served in the Washington Air National Guard as a flight surgeon, eventually being discharged with the rank of major. His experience in the Guard fed an interest in aviation and aviation medicine. It eventually led him to obtain his own private pilot’s license.
Dr. Bunch remarried in 1976 to Bonnie Dent, and adopted his new stepdaughter, Krista. Following the deaths of Dr. Bunch’s sister Sandra and brother-in-law Walt Trenkel, Sandra and Walt’s three daughters came to live with Richard and Bonnie in 1981. Going from a household where boys outnumbered girls 4 to 1, to a household where girls outnumbered boys 5 to 1 may have come as a shock!
Dr. Pershall left Othello in 1979, and Dr. Bunch built a new clinic facility (the 14th Avenue Medical Center) in 1984. Partners joined and left the practice over the ensuing years, but PAs Snyder and Betz remained a constant. In 1991, Dr. Richard P. Bunch was joined in practice by his son Dr. Randel S. Bunch – clinic and hospital staff had to refer to them as “RP” and “RS” to keep them separate. Dr. “RP” Bunch (Richard) received the Family Physician of the Year award for 1993 from the Washington Academy of Family Phyisicians. He served for many years on Washington state’s Medical Quality Assurance Commission, originally under the appointment of Governor John Spellman. He was honored to receive the Citizen of the Year Award from the Othello Chamber of Commerce, not once but twice.
In 2004, the 14th Avenue Medical Center joined with the Columbia Basin Health Association. Dr. Bunch retired from active practice with CBHA in 2016, after some 55 years of family medical practice in Othello. He remained on with CBHA as a clinical mentor until his full retirement in 2019.
One constant during his practice was his love of teaching medicine, whether to medical students, registered nurses, physician assistants or new doctors. He was closely involved with MEDEX Northwest, the University of Washington’s Physician Assistant program, and with the University’s WRITE program, providing training in rural settings for medical students.
One other constant throughout the entire period of Dr. Bunch’s practice in Othello was his devotion to, and reliance upon, Othello Community Hospital. At OCH Dr. Bunch enjoyed broad privileges, ranging from emergency medicine to acute care, to minor surgery, to obstetrics. Estimates of the number of babies he delivered there over the years range well above 5,500, or about two a week averaged over his career – in a town now numbering about 8,000 residents. In some cases he delivered two, three or even four generations. In honor of his long association, the hospital’s obstetrical ward was dedicated in his name in 2007. The care Dr. Bunch provided at OCH was only matched by the care he received there at the end of his life.
Outside his medical practice, he was (maybe above all) an avid hunter, shootist and reloader. Over the course of his life his other interests ranged across hot rods, scuba diving, playing the guitar and electric organ, motorcycle riding and racing, cow-riding, aviation, snow and water skiing, stained glass cutting, boating, wind surfing and any sort of explosion at all. He knew the value of mo-MEN-tum when it came to navigating snowbound mountain roads. There was no joke that he wouldn’t pass on, even if he shouldn’t. He was deeply and widely loved, and his presence will be deeply and widely missed.
Richard was preceded in death by his father and mother, by his sisters Carol Trees Ronk and Sandra Trenkel, by his brother John David “Dave” Bunch, by his nephews Dr. Gerald R. Trees and David Myron “Duke” Bunch, and by his niece Angela Bunch Hockema.
He is survived by his life partner Kathleen Trussell; by his brother Curtis D. Bunch; by his former wives Florence Sue Dobyns Bunch and Bonnie Dent Bunch; by his sons Dr. Randel S. (Carolyn) Bunch, Mark K. (Jaynae) Bunch and Kirk P. Bunch; by his daughters Krista Bunch, Colleen (Rob) Guerrero, and Jolen Soelberg; by a number of beloved nieces and nephews including nieces Shelley (Jim) Robson, Heidi Trenkel and Lisa (Eric, sons Tyler and Nathan) Koohns; and by grandchildren John W. (Esther) Bunch, Georgia E. Bunch, Isaac P. Bunch, Eleanor M. Bunch, Alistair M. Bunch, Jacob Rushing, McKenzie Guerrero and Robbie Guerrero.
To leave online condolences for the Bunch family please visit our website at www.stevensfc.com.
Visitation will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20, at Stevens Funeral Chapel, 511 S. Seventh Ave., Othello. Burial service will take place from 12 to 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 21, at Bess Hampton Memorial Gardens, 1915 Cemetery Road, Othello.