Dr. Paul E. Mertens, age 88, of St. Paul, passed away on March 19. He lived a full life defined by a strong faith, devotion to family and service to others. He touched thousands of people through his dedication as a physician, his love of teaching and his humble spirit of kindness.
Paul graduated from Robbinsdale High School and studied at Crown College and the University of MN (Summa cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa). Upon completion of the University of MN Medical School (Alpha Omega Alpha), he married Donna Freeberg, his beloved wife of 60 years.
In 1963, along with their newborn son, they traveled to Liberia, West Africa, where Paul served as Physician and later Medical Director at Curran Lutheran Hospital in Zorzor, Lofa County, a remote area of the country. As the only physician for years at a time, working alongside a dedicated team of colleagues, he was a jack of all trades, performing brain surgery, conducting dialysis with no machine, extracting teeth, repairing the autoclave, initiating a community health program, managing the hospital farm and planning the expansion of the hospital buildings. He ultimately spent 18 years working in Liberia as a physician and public health professional through the Lutheran Church and the U.S. Agency for International Development (U.S.A.I.D.).
Among his many honors and recognitions, he received the Liberian Presidential Achievement Award in Health and was inducted by the President as Grand Commander in the Order of the Star of Africa in consideration of meritorious and distinguished service rendered to the Republic of Liberia.
Paul had a passion for teaching. He trained countless health care workers in Liberia, supervised Columbia University medical student interns, conducted health orientation for Peace Corps Volunteers and taught nursing students at Crown College. In coordination with the Liberian Ministry of Health and U.S.A.I.D., he spearheaded the development of the Handbook for Health Personnel in Rural Liberia.
Upon returning to Minnesota, Paul joined the Columbia Park Medical Group as a Family Physician. Service to Liberia remained an integral part of his life in his retirement. He traveled to Liberia several times a year through the Carter Center to train nurses and physician assistants in the treatment of mental health conditions after a prolonged civil war. He also completed a comprehensive revision of the Handbook for Health Personnel in Rural Liberia. He kept both his Minnesota and Liberia medical licenses active through his last year and enjoyed volunteer work with Global Health Ministries and Friends of Liberia.
Paul had a particular love for the beauty of the natural world and enjoyed canoeing trips to the Boundary Waters and regular visits to Gull Lake, Minnesota and Cancun, Mexico with his family. His work and travels took him to countries in Africa, Latin America and Europe.
He was devoted to his family and especially lit up whenever he was with his grandchildren. He will be forever loved and remembered by his wife Donna, son Mark, daughter Mary, son-in-law John Langlois, granddaughter Emily, grandson Paul and a host of other relatives, colleagues and friends. He is preceded in death by his parents and brother Phil. His sister Priscilla Gardner passed away two weeks after his death.
Memorial service Saturday, April 22 at 11:00 am at Trinity Lutheran Church of Minnehaha Falls, 5212 41st Ave S, Minneapolis. Visitation one hour prior to service.
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25: 37-40