Longtime Dubuque doctor remembered for lasting impact on patients, co-workers, family

Ever since he was a child, Frederick Asmussen knew he wanted to deliver babies.

He went on to do just that, spending 31 years as an OB-GYN at Medical Associates and devoting himself to the needs of his patients.

“His job of being a doctor was never done,” said his daughter, Katie Harris. “He was always available to his patients if they needed him.”

Asmussen, 80, of Dubuque, died on Nov. 12 at home, surrounded by family. His colleagues and family remember him for his compassion, humor and love for his work.

During his career, he also delivered a baby who is now an OB-GYN at Medical Associates and who delivered his two grandchildren.

“I’m very thankful that I got to do that for his family,” said that now-doctor, Erika O’Donnell. “He was an obstetrician. Obviously, to safely bring a child into the world is what we’re here for, and he did that for me. And I did that for his family.”

While Asmussen played a role in O’Donnell’s birth, she didn’t really know him until she moved back to Dubuque 13 years ago to work as an OB-GYN. The two would go on to cross paths several times over the years.

When Harris started seeing O’Donnell as a medical provider, the two bonded because O’Donnell knew her father, Harris said. O’Donnell saw Harris through both of her pregnancies, delivering Harrison, 6, and Harper, who was born just three weeks ago.

“I think he liked the fact that she delivered both of them,” Harris said.

While O’Donnell didn’t start working at Medical Associates until after Asmussen retired, Di Bagby, a nurse who has worked at the clinic since 1979, sees some similarities between the two, such as their happiness and calm presence, compassion and gratitude to the staff.

“It’s like they’re just cut out of the same mold,” Bagby said.

Asmussen always made sure to thank the staff when at the clinic, and he knew and cared for patients and their families, Bagby said.

Joe Berger, an OB-GYN at Medical Associates, started at the clinic a few years before Asmussen retired in 2002. He recalled that Asmussen would famously joke with the nurses after finishing a surgery that they could take the rest of the day off.

“He loved to laugh, and he was always up for a party, and an excellent surgeon (and wonderful friend),” Berger said.

Harris recalled when she was a child, her father would do rounds at the hospital on weekends and take his daughters to wait in the doctors’ lounge or see babies in the nursery before setting off on a weekend adventure.

It was Asmussen’s devotion to his work, in part, that inspired Harris to become a nurse herself. The influence of her mother, who was also a nurse, played a role, too.

“I really admired my parents, how much they enjoyed taking care of patients and how devoted they were,” Harris said.

In his last years of life, Asmussen particularly enjoyed being a grandfather, Harris said.

After Harrison was born in the wee hours of the morning, Asmussen was the first one to come to visit Harris and her son. In the weeks before his death, he got to meet his second grandchild, Harper.

“I’m pretty sure he waited around for me to have her,” Harris said.

In addition to his passion for his work, Asmussen was devoted to his family and always told his daughters how proud he was of them.

“He never missed an opportunity to tell them how proud he was of them and how much he loved us,” Harris said. “And that’s something I’ll always remember.”