PHOENIX, Ariz. | Gerti Jimeno Janss had a smile that started in her eyes, dipped down into her heart and landed on her lips. Walking into her house you would be met with that smile, asked to sit down and hear, “You must be hungry.” It was not a question, but a command. She wanted to nurture, share the love that came from her heart.
Doctor Gerti also had a stubborn streak that would present itself as the lower jutting lip. That jutting lip meant she was determined, set to work and persevere until her goal was met. Anybody who played a card or board game will remember this. Those of us who watched her study for a board exam, make a ceramic or defy her headstrong husband saw it as well.
Anybody who lived in western South Dakota knew, met or was impacted by the life of Gerti Janss, Doctor Gerti. She opened the first Emergency Room in Rapid City, South Dakota and established the current one at Rapid City Regional Hospital. She founded the West River Mental Health Association. For many years she was the only allergist and toxicologist physician in the region. After the devastating 1972 Flood she coordinated the immunization for tetnus shots in the region.
Doctor Gerti lived more than one life:
She was born Gerti Jimeno Krzmrzyk in May 1933 in Barcelona, Spain. Her mother was a commercial artist and father an orthopedic surgeon. Her first six years were spent in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. Gerta, her mother, was killed during the war and she remembered and spoke of it often as a political act of retaliation. Her father, whom she adored, escaped the Fascist regime of Franco and they became refugees in Austria through World War II.
After 1945 Gerti moved back to Barcelona with her father and stepmother and has four half siblings who still live in Spain. She always knew she would become a doctor. She attended University of Barcelona to study medicine. Her father told her that internal medicine was probably too difficult for her, so she presented her lower lip and became an internal medicine specialist.
In 1956 she started a guest residency at the University of Iowa Hospital where she met Bill Janss, a fellow internal medicine resident. A friendship developed into a romance and they were married in 1958. He was her life partner, love of her life and they were devoted to each other. Although they were opposites in many ways; she was an elegant cosmopolitan European, he was the small town youngest son of a poor country railroad worker. She had the grace of Audrey Hepburn and he was a farm boy. What they had in common was a love for learning, opera, books and art.
After they married they had their first child Anna, followed by a second daughter Gerta. They settled in Rapid City, South Dakota following Bill Janss's military service in Omaha. Four children followed: Nuria, John, Helen and Bill.
Gerti dedicated her life for 10 years to raising her six children, volunteer work, a garden and maintaining close contact with her Spanish family. She made certain that all of her children knew and were proud of their heritage. She filled the home with art, music, books and philosophy. She stressed education as the one thing and that could never be taken from you. She often said, “The time you spend learning is never wasted.”
She returned to work gradually, practicing her surgical sutures at the dining room table with surgical tools. She regained her medical license and started the Emergency Room at Johnson Hospital in Rapid City, South Dakota. Later she helped design and build the new Emergency Room at Rapid City Regional Hospital. Her children would always be welcome to visit her at the hospital during a 24-hour shift. They would get advice and tips on what to cook for dinner or who had to be carpooled to what activity.
Doctor Gerti took over the practice of the retiring allergist in the West River area of South Dakota and had a joint practice with her husband in Rapid City. They were known as Doctor Bill and Doctor Gerti. She worked as a board-certified Internal Medicine Specialist, Toxicologist and Allergist for the next 30 years in private practice. She retired two years after losing her husband and relocated to Phoenix, Arizona where her two sons, daughters-in-law and four grandchildren live.
Her medical office staff were one of her greatest joys. She often said she was blessed with be best nurses and technicians that could be found. They were her work family whom she loved. Her staff loved her as well, saying that she was a physician with no-nonsense advice and great diagnosis skills. She would say, “Sometimes you can tell a diagnosis by the smell.”
Gerti also found solace at her cabin in Angostura. Every summer her six children, their spouses and 20 grandchildren would gather for a family reunion. She would work all year for the time spent with her family and friends at the cabin for swimming, card games, food and laughter. What her family didn't know but she surely did was that the times spent together at the cabin were a chance for her children and grandchildren to strengthen the web of family connection that cannot be broken.
Gerti Janss died peacefully of natural causes in her sleep November 5, 2020. She will be missed. We will miss her passion for living, her smile, her generous spirit and tenacious positive attitude. Anyone who knew her appreciated that she loved travel, people, family, medicine and her many friends. She had a zest for life and a joi de vivre.
Please join her children Dr. Anna Janss of Atlanta, Georia, Dr. Gerta Janss of Evanston, Illinois, Nuria Janss Stockman of New York, John Janss of Tempe, Arizona, Helen Janss Gutierres of Rapid City, South Dakota and Bill Pete Janss of Phoenix, Arizona, their spouses and her 20 grandchildren in celebrating her life, a life well lived.