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Five-dollar-a-day doc of Illinois retires at age 88

At 87 years old, Dr. Russell Dohner is a country doctor from a bygone era: He has delivered thousands of babies and charges just $5 a visit. NBC's Kevin Tibbles reports.

For 58 years, the doctor was in, charging just five dollars per visit in the small town of Rushville, Ill.

Now, the man whose services cost so little but who was treasured so much by his community has closed his doors and retired for good.

Dr. Russell Dohner has been mending broken bones and easing aches and pains at his clinic in Rushville since 1955. On Friday, the clinic closed permanently when Dohner, 88, decided to hang up his stethoscope and signature fedora hat for the last time.

A spokeswoman at the Sarah D. Culbertson Memorial Hospital in Rushville confirmed Dohner had retired, but said he did not want to talk.

"He is not wanting to do any interviews. He doesn't want any kind of a reception. He just wants to retire," Molly Sorrell said.

It's a fitting end to a career for a man whose entire work was done so modestly: He didn't take insurance and only charged his patients five dollars each — just a slight increase from the two dollars he charged for an office visit when he became the town's doctor 58 years ago, according to The Associated Press.

Dohner didn't accept appointments in advance: Residents of Rushville, population 3,100, would line up in his office and wait as long as they needed to see him. Dozens filled his waiting room. If they had a medical emergency, they could come in through his clinic's back door, Dohner told NBC News last year.

The octogenarian wouldn't leave until the last patient of the day had been seen, which sometimes meant keeping office hours until 9 o'clock at night.

It's "the end of an era for sure," said Jim Devitt, one of the owners of Moreland & Devitt Pharmacy across the street from Dohner's clinic. Devitt, like so many others in Rushville, had been a patient of Dohner's as a child and would occasionally go see him if he had an urgent health problem as an adult because it was faster than going to his regular doctor. 

Devitt's pharmacy wouldn't close each night until they had gotten signoff from Dohner.

"We always use to tell people, they'd say, 'When do you close?' And we'd say, 'We close when Dr. Dohner calls us and tells us we can go home,'" he said. "He would call and say 'I've got one more coming over,' and we'd take care of them." 

What made Dohner so special, Devitt said, was his "dedication to his practice and this community." 

That was evident based on the fact that Dohner never took vacation in his nearly six decades of work.

In 2010, in an interview with TODAY, he imagined what he would do if he took a day off.

"I would like to go to Missouri," he said, "but I have to take care of my patients first."

Missouri is 58 miles west of Rushville.

Dohner was born near Rushville, in Vermont, Ill., on a farm, one of seven children. After graduating from Northwestern University medical school, he had dreams of being a cardiologist in a big city, but instead, he told TODAY, "Rushville needed a doctor, so I stayed. It’s the way it’s got to be."

He doesn't have any kids of his own, but he has delivered more children than there are people in his town: More than 3,500.

The only modern thing in his office was his medicine. There was no computer — all patients' files were kept on notecards in folders — and the furniture in his waiting room had been around almost as long as his practice had. But the people who came to see him, many of whom didn't have insurance, didn't care.

"I don't know of anybody [who will fill his shoes]," Devitt said. "We have a new doctor that has come into town just in the last year, but I don't think anybody will walk into his office and take over his office."

TODAY'S Bob Dotson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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