Goodbye, Doc: Brown County loses well-known veterinarian

Dr. James Brester prepares an antibiotic for an animal at his Bean Blossom clinic. Brown County Democrat file photo

BROWN COUNTY — “They say all dogs go to heaven,” Mary Gaither remarked.

“Well, Dr. Brester will have a huge welcoming committee.”

Veterinarian James “Doc” Brester, 78, died at his Bean Blossom home on Dec. 22 due to a previously diagnosed heart condition, Brown County Coroner Earl Piper said.

Brester retired from his Bean Blossom Animal Clinic in 2017, selling it to the owners of the Franklin Animal Clinic. He had operated it since 1966.

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He continued to live next door after retiring, in the same part of Brown County where he’d spent most of his life.

Brester went to school all 12 years in Helmsburg and was active in 4-H as a child, according to Brown County Democrat archives. He was valedictorian of the Class of 1960 at Helmsburg High School.

He graduated from veterinary school at Purdue University in 1964, and married his high school sweetheart, Paulette, the same year. The couple has four children.

Brester served the community in many roles, including terms on the Brown County Board of Health and Brown County Schools Board of Trustees. But he was best known for taking care of creatures great and small.

A man of few words, his treatment of animals spoke for him.

He was known to work at least six days a week from before dawn to after dark, seeing up to 100 animals a day.

“Wonderful man,” Arthur Omberg said.

“He would always talk more to the animal than the pet’s owner. He will be missed.”

An initial story about his death was shared more than 1,500 times in less than 24 hours, with customers leaving more than 100 comments expressing sorrow and gratitude.

Stephen Reed remembered the sadness in Brester’s eyes when he had to have his sister’s Labrador retriever put down.

“The most compassionate man I ever met,” Reed wrote. “It wasn’t about the money; it was about the welfare of the animal. He could have retired years ago if he had charged what all the other vets did.”

Brester also made house calls. He was Gaither’s family’s vet for decades.

“He was unique in being a true country vet, seeing kittens to birthing calves. He frequently came to my in-laws’ farm and would say, ’Round ’em up. I will see the barn cats along with the cows,’” she remembered.

Brester’s prices for treatments and surgeries were unheard of. Sometimes, he didn’t charge anything. For people from all over the state, that alone made the drive to Bean Blossom worth it.

Chasity Stoddard shared how Brester saved her puppy five years ago when she brought him in after discovering a lump on his neck, which turned out to be a tumor.

“Dr. Brester immediately scheduled him for surgery and removed it. The total cost for the surgery and antibiotics was $50. He always went above and beyond for his furry patient,” she said.

Adeana Colvin said she was out of town once when the kennel called to let her know her dog was dying. She and her husband rushed the dog to Brester. “He got us right in and calmed us down,” she said.

He said he would do the surgery, but was not sure what the results might be. “The surgery was successful and she lived another three or four years. I think he charged us $45. There will never be another vet like him,” Colvin said.

Eva Merriman credits Brester with saving her dog, Bella, when she was just six weeks old.

“When I went to pay the bill, he looked at the nurse and said there will be no charge for her, and gave me a bag of meds for Bella. I never forgot that. He was a true caring vet,” she said.

Sam Sturbaum remembered taking his first puppy to Brester more than 20 years ago. When the pup began showing signs of being sick, he drove to Bean Blossom and waited over two hours.

Brester ended up seeing the pup four times over the next four days, administering medicine and saline to keep him from getting dehydrated. “After each visit he told me to put away my checkbook and that we’d settle up when he got better,” Sturbaum said.

“On the fourth day, I woke and the poor pup had lockjaw and couldn’t even stand. I knew what was coming and I loaded us up in the car to make the 45-minute drive to Bean Blossom. No sooner had I started driving that I realized I was driving behind Dr. Brester in his veterinarian work truck. I knew that was a sign.”

“… I had never had to put an animal down at that point in my life,” Sturbaum wrote, “and when we made the decision together I was overcome. He told me to take all the time I needed.

“I walked south of the clinic to Bean Blossom Creek where I sat on the bank and sobbed as hard as I ever had before.”

Some time passed, and Sturbaum walked back to the office to pull out his checkbook. “The ladies at the desk told me to put it away and that Dr. Brester has told them there was no charge. I protested, saying that we’d been there four days in a row, to which they replied, ‘We know,’” he said.

“I didn’t make it to the car before breaking down again. But I knew from that moment I would always be a client as long as Dr. Brester was there.”

Mary Sharpe found one of her seven puppies with a hind leg tangled up in a ribbon under her bed, causing the puppy to lose circulation. Sharpe took the puppy to Brester to see if he could save the leg, but he said it would need to be amputated.

Sharpe said she considered having her puppy put down. “He told me she could live a good life without that leg, so she lived 10 years after and was faster than the rest of litter,” she said.

“She just died in October. I know she, along with so many others, were at those gates waiting on him.”

The process to get a spot at Dr. Brester’s was to put your name on a list for the day. It could be several hours before you got in, but his loyal customers didn’t complain.

“Our animals have never been anywhere else but him,” Anita Hall said. “Like many others, the three- to four-hour wait in the parking lot was never an issue and always worth the wait. He had a genuine love for what he did. You could see it in his eyes and how he treated our pets, or what we call family.”

Brester was also someone many people learned from. Melissa Dewey shadowed him as a high school student, going on farm calls where they dehorned, tagged and castrated cattle. One particular story still makes her laugh.

They were running cattle through a head gate when a 2,000-pound bull came through. Dewey was running the gate while Brester prepared shots.

“He said, ‘Now Mel, when he comes through, slam that handle down and hang on. He was not joking. That bull came through and went straight through that head gate, leaving me hanging on the handle in the air,” she wrote.

“That bull came back around madder than a hornet and started chasing us. Doc said, ‘Run!’ so we headed towards the barn. … I ran around towards the front and Doc dove through a window of the barn from the back. I ran over to him to make sure he was OK and then he just laughed … and back to work we went.”

When he retired in 2017, Brester said he did not have any big plans other than working in his garden, on his farm, and possibly helping a farm animal every once in a while. On his first day of retirement, he had already captured three calves that morning.

“I’ll be around,” he said. “I’m not going on any vacations. I hate vacations.”

He said he wanted people to know how much he appreciated all of his clients, his family and his staff from over the years.

“If it hadn’t been for them, I wouldn’t be able to do it. I enjoyed having worked many days in life, because I enjoyed doing what I have been doing. Some people can’t say that, but that’s thanks to the clients and my staff and my family,” he said.

Last year, the Brown County Humane Society ran a fundraising campaign to name a room it its new animal shelter after Brester.

When he retired, pet owners at the clinic described Brester as an “animal angel.”

Doc didn’t agree.

“No. I’m just a man,” he said in 2017. “I just got lucky to do something for 50 years that I enjoyed.”

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A private family Mass of Christian Burial will take place at St. Agnes Catholic Church. Burial will be in Weeping Willow Cemetery in Bean Blossom.

Memorial contributions may be made to St. Vincent de Paul of Brown County, P.O. Box 577, Nashville, IN 47448.

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“If it hadn’t been for them, I wouldn’t be able to do it. I enjoyed having worked many days in life, because I enjoyed doing what I have been doing. Some people can’t say that, but that’s thanks to the clients and my staff and my family."

— Veterinarian James "Doc" Brester, from a 2017 interview