Dr. Donald Hofreuter Remembered for Lifetime of Service to Wheeling Community
WHEELING — Dr. Donald Hofreuter’s occupation was medicine, and he essentially molded three careers out of that field. His calling, however, was his community. He spent decades ingrained in that community, helping Wheeling grow and thrive well beyond the doors of any hospital.
Hofreuter — whose influence and devotion to Wheeling stretched from medicine to education to recreation — died Sunday at 89. His friends and family remember him as someone who would devote all of his energy to any project before him, especially if that project pushed his hometown on a path forward.
“The amazing thing about Dad was that he worked full-time, he volunteered full-time and yet took very good care of himself,” said his daughter Elizabeth Hofreuter, the head of Wheeling Country Day School. “He must have multiplied the hours in a day, because I don’t know where all that time came from.”
A graduate of Linsly Military Institute, where he earned the positions of class valedictorian and cadet major, Hofreuter continued his education at Princeton University and Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. After further training at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh and the Kettering Institute, University of Cincinnati, as well as service in the United States Navy, he returned to Wheeling and was a noted physician from 1961 until his retirement in 1993.
He served as a family practitioner in Elm Grove for more than 20 years and then became an administrator at Wheeling Hospital. In 1993, he stepped into the position of CEO at Wheeling Hospital and served there until 2006.
He joined with other physicians in 1985 to found Wheeling Health Right, which provides all people, including those unable to afford it, equal access to basic medical services.
Wheeling Health Right Executive Director Kathie Brown shared a 46-year relationship with Hofreuter that began when she was a traveling nurse and he was a family practitioner in Elm Grove. Brown, fresh out of nursing school, said she saw or talked to Hofreuter nearly every day during that period, and that the two shared much in common.
Their friendship only grew stronger in the early 1990s when Brown became executive director of Health Right. It was during this time and in the ensuing years that Hofreuter became not just a friend but a mentor to Brown, she said.
“His help to me with Health Right was beyond measure,” she said. “I started there in 1992 and worked closely with him over the ensuing 30 years, rekindling a friendship that only grew stronger. …
“He was my adviser, my mentor — he was my go-to person. He was the one I bounced everything off of,” Brown continued. “I told him not long before he passed, ‘You really are like a dad to me, you replaced my dad that I lost in 2011 because you’re the one who’s there to give advice when I need it.’
“He’s just one in a million and I’m blessed to have been his friend.”
Brown said even during Hofreuter’s tenure leading Wheeling Hospital, he always remained involved and active with Health Right — down to ensuring, in the mid-1990s, that Health Right was able to move into a new location at the former Sacred Heart Church in North Wheeling, where he worked with members of Project BEST to donate labor and materials for the renovation.
“When we needed help, he was always there,” Brown said. “Patient referrals, funding, helping me to organize or plan an event, serving as a volunteer physician, he always made time. Dr. Hofreuter made a major impact on the health care of the underinsured in this valley for his entire career.”
G. Ogden Nutting, publisher of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register and a longtime friend of Hofreuter, said his leadership at Health Right extended past any advisory role. When staffing was low there, Hofreuter would step in and see patients.
Health Right “went from being a very, very small operation in North Wheeling … to a modern medical service that takes care of literally thousands of people each year,” Nutting said. “To do that as your third career in your 70s and 80s is a huge demonstration of just exactly how dedicated he was to the community.”
Even during retirement, Hofreuter could be found one to two days each week at Wheeling Health Right. Brown said he met with the staff there every Tuesday to review cases and discuss patient care, and then he also had his duties as a Health Right board member.
Brown also noted the “Dignity in Healthcare” Award given to Hofreuter in 2020 celebrated his role in founding, leading and supporting Wheeling Health Right for 35 years.
“He made Wheeling Health Right work,” she said. “He never liked to take credit for that,” but without Hofreuter, tens of thousands of Ohio Valley residents would not have had access to care, she said.
Throughout his professional career, his love for his alma mater Linsly never waned. He spent 35 years as the chairman of the school’s board of trustees, and marshaled the institution through two major changes that multiple people said kept Linsly viable.
When Hofreuter graduated from Linsly, it was a military academy. In 1979, with him as board chair, the school converted from a military academy to a college preparatory academy. Then, in 1988, Linsly announced that it would move from an all-boys school to a coeducational academy.
Reno DiOrio was the man Linsly hired to lead the school’s military-to-college-prep transition. He worked side by side with Hofreuter when the school went coed. The two held their respective positions at Linsly together for three decades, something DiOrio said is unheard of in modern independent education.
A board chair is most effective, DiOrio said, when that person is as supportive as possible but doesn’t interfere. Throughout their working relationship — which grew into a close friendship — DiOrio said Hofreuter embodied those qualities.
“Dr. Hofreuter never interfered in anything at Linsly, but was as supportive as could possibly be,” DiOrio said. “Our professional relationship as headmaster and chairman of the board, and the personal relationship between Don and me, were as good as it could get.”
Nutting said that Linsly’s transformation in that decade, and Hofreuter’s role in guiding the school through those changes, are what has allowed Linsly to continue the educational success it enjoys now.
“That school would not exist … if it weren’t for two major changes he brought to campus,” Nutting said.
Hofreuter would serve the community in many more facets. He had been on the YMCA board of directors and spent two decades as a member of the Wheeling Park Commission. He offered free medical clinics to Ohio Valley football players and officials in the fall, and gathered together several community members to raise money to help the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference climb out of a financial crisis. He also was chairman of the board at what was then Wheeling Jesuit College, now Wheeling University, from 1982-93.
Elizabeth Hofreuter said that her father felt “blown away” when an organization would ask him to join its board of directors. He always wanted to put 100% into each one of those appointments. It was the least he felt he could do for the city that he loved.
“He felt indebted to this city,” she said. “Someone from this community helped him to go to Linsly and someone from this community encouraged and helped him go to Princeton. And he fully believed he needed to come back and pay it forward.
“When he was honored or asked to do something, he had such great humility and felt so honored by it that he had to make them proud for having asked him. And that was a big driving force.”
Judge Frederick P. Stamp Jr., who served in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, knew Hofreuter since grade school. Their families were next-door neighbors in Dimmeydale and, as they advanced in their professions, they served the community together in several capacities — most notably the Linsly Board of Trustees — and maintained a close friendship.
Through those years, Stamp saw up close an attribute Elizabeth Hofreuter mentioned of her father — that in all he did and in the myriad roles he took on around Wheeling, he could make the person in front of him in that moment feel like the most important person in the world.
“That’s the mark of a leader, that you can make others appreciate the role that they’re playing as well as the role that you’re playing,” Stamp said.
Hofreuter spent a lifetime working to make the community around him a better place and make sure that people from all walks of life received the care they deserved. Stamp said his longtime friend will be dearly missed.
“I hope people realize what a contribution Dr. Hofreuter made, and I think people do,” he said. “I think anybody who worked with him in any capacity appreciates what he did for the city of Wheeling, for the community at large and in the medical profession.”
A viewing will be held from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. Friday at Kepner Funeral Home in Woodsdale. A Mass will be held at 1:30 p.m. at the Cathedral of St. Joseph, 1300 Eoff St. in Wheeling, followed by an interment ceremony for immediate family.
A celebration of life will be held at 4 p.m. at the Oglebay West Conference Room at Oglebay Park.