Dr. Neist, team envision new beginnings

Barb Goraczkowski, left, Dr. Roger Neist and Marlene Libra have retired from the eye clinic at Mayo in Fairmont with 115 combined years of service.

Things might seem a little out of focus on Monday at the eye clinic at Mayo Clinic Health System in Fairmont.

It will mark the first day without a trio of long-time co-workers following the retirements of Dr. Roger Neist, ophthalmologist, and licensed practical nurses Barb Goraczkowski and Marlene Libra.

“This was my practice and my clinic for a long time. Then, when I got close to retirement, I sold to Mayo. That was in 2004,” said Neist, who has spent 40 years serving patients in the Fairmont region.

Neist had agreed to stay on for an additional four years before retiring.

“It went on a lot longer than I had planned,” he said with a laugh.

When he turned 65, he cut back his schedule. He worked only in the mornings and quit doing major surgery.

Now, after performing an estimated 13,000 cataract surgeries in his lifetime, the 71-year-old worked his last day on Friday.

“Finally, it’s time to call it quits,” he said.

His decision to retire prompted Goraczkowski and Libra to follow suit.

“We all had been thinking about retiring. Then Dr. Neist suggest working through the winter, and we said OK,” said Libra, who was by his side during all those cataract surgeries.

“He’s very, very knowledgeable. I don’t think I could have worked for a doctor that wasn’t as precise. He’s a perfectionist,” she said.

Goraczkowski also had high praise for Neist.

“If I have a question about myself, I will go to him and ask him first. That’s how much I value his opinion,” she said.

While the nurses say their grandchildren and lists of potential projects will keep them occupied in retirement, Neist figures he will be tagged to help his wife, Beth, care for the many animals she has rescued, including horses, cats and even chickens. The couple will celebrate their 49th wedding anniversary in August.

Neist’s roots are in rural Albert Lea, and he prefers rural areas to metropolitan areas. He earned a pharmacy degree from the University of Iowa in 1971, then moved to the Minneapolis area where he worked as a pharmacist while attending medical school.

“Fairmont needed an ophthalmologist so we came here in 1979, and we’ve been here ever since,” he said. “We’ve been very happy here. We’ve lived here for 40 years, and we plan to stay here.”

The Neists have done a bit of traveling in the last few years and plan to continue their world explorations.

“We’re going to Borneo in the fall. I like doing wildlife photography so we go to places where we can do that,” he said.

At each destination, Beth Neist captures a photograph of her husband doing a handstand, paying homage to his being a member of the University of Iowa’s 1969 national champion gymnastics team.

Neist declined a retirement open house or any type of public celebration saying it is “not my thing.”

“I’ve just had a wonderful time with my patients these last couple of months,” he said. “They’ve been so nice. It’s really been a blast because I’ve been taking care of these people for decades.”

The three retirees agree that it will be uncommon for them not to be at work Monday morning, but Neist summed up their sentiments in four words.

“I’m ready. No regrets,” he said.

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