Mercer Island’s Dr. David Frank Wolter has died at the age of 95. Wolter died swimming in Lake Washington at the waterfront retirement community, Covenant Living at the Shores.
Wolter died on Aug. 11, and according to family, he made the most of every day of life, including his last.
“He was an exceptional person,” his daughter Sally McLaughlin said. “Of course he was my dad, but he was exceptional from the beginning to the end.”
According to McLaughlin, Wolter had a fantastic and interesting life story. Wolter was born on Aug. 24, 1923, in Everett and grew up in South Gate, Calif. He is a 1939 Garfield High School graduate. By the age of 19, Wolter was married to 17-year-old Jolly Cook and departed with his bomb crew to England where they flew missions over Germany. In 1944, Wolter was forced to parachute into occupied France after his bomber was downed as it returned from the first daylight raid in Berlin. And there his “epic adventure” began.
Wolter hid in a French chateau and was aided by Dr. Georges Lefebvre, a member of the French Resistance. The following June, Wolter was captured in Paris and interned in the Frennes prison. Wolter survived “brutal interrogations” and turned 21 as a Prisoner of War in Stalag Luft 3. Wolter and his fellow POWs were liberated in May 1945 by General George Patton after a 380-mile forced march from Plant to the Munich area.
After returning to his wife in Seattle, Wolter obtained his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry at the University of Washington and his medical degree at the UW Medical School. Wolter returned to the military after his residency in obstetrics and gynecology, where he served as an Air Force physician and colonel for the next 24 years. Assignments took him to Washington, Louisiana, Alaska, Texas and Wiesbaden, Germany where he became the chief of OB-GYN. Wolter and his family lived and made friends with the people in Wiesbaden — the city where he’d been incarcerated by the Nazis during the war.
For the next 19 years after retiring from the Air Force, Wolter entered private practice on Mercer Island with friend and colleague Dr. Harry Kettering. Wolter also served as the chief of staff at Bellevue’s Overlake Hospital from 1974-75.
Sally Cary, a 1970s patient said Wolter was a great man.
“He was always very delightful,” the Issaquah resident said. “The guy had a twinkle in his eye that he couldn’t hide. He just had a way about him… he was very warm. He paid attention to you. He didn’t just ask a question. He was always interested in the things you were doing.”
Wolter loved children, according to his daughter McLaughlin. For years, Wolter and his first wife, Jolly, hosted “Dr. Wolter’s Easter egg hunt” at their Mercer Island waterfront home. Reminiscing, McLaughlin said if you ever went to the grocery store with her father, you “better add an extra 20 minutes,” to the run because locals would stop and show him their children.
Even as a young child, McLaughlin remembers her father being an extremely involved and playful father.
“He would drop everything and play,” she said. “He would tell me the important things that happened in this world, women make it happen.”
In 1990, Wolter came out retirement for the second time to establish Kaiser Permanente OB-GYN clinic in Fresno, Calif. Overall, Wolter delivered more than 7,000 babies in his career.
In retirement, Wolter and his wife traveled regularly and entertained friends and family, including patient Carly.
“It wasn’t difficult to have a patient-doctor relationship one day and friendship another day,” Carly said.
After Wolter’s wife Jolly died in 2010, he remarried former neighbor and fellow swimming enthusiast Rhe Jain. Wolter lived an active lifestyle until his last day. At Covenant Living, both Rhe and Wolter maintained healthy lifestyles by taking long walks and daily swims off the dock at the retirement community.
“He always had a smile on his face and he loved the water,” Covenant Living executive director Bob Howell said. “He always made you feel good when you saw him. Especially when he and Rhe were on their way down to the water. He was a joyous man.”
A celebration of Wolter’s life will take place at 11 a.m. on Aug. 24 at Covenant Living at the Shores retirement community’s front lawn. Wolter would have been 96.
“Our condolences go to the family,” Howell said. “Dave was somebody who was loved by so many people. He was very loved by our residents and staff.”
Wolter is survived by his daughter Sally and son-in-law David McLaughlin, son Mark and daughter-in-law Susan Wolter, five grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and a great-great-granddaughter, as well as his second wife Rhe, and her children Kama Marvy and Raj Jain, and their children.
Donations to be made in David Wolter’s name to the American Red Cross — the organization he credits with saving his life with their prisoner of war rations during WWII.