By Sue Moore
As of Aug. 1, 323 generous donors–the staff of the South County News calls you “readership partners”–have answered this newspaper’s appeal for funds. For that we are all tremendously grateful. One donor who might be among the most unique is Dr. Otto Kaak from Lexington, Kentucky.
He has been away from Vicksburg for over 50 years but still remembers the community with great fondness. Because of that, he has been donating $25 a month for the past two years. He doesn’t even get the hard copy in the mail. Wes Schmitt, the News’ treasurer, is all about cutting costs, so he offered to email the monthly issue to Otto. Now he reads each edition online (but still sends the $25).
His parents, Anna and Otto Kaak, purchased the bakery and came to Vicksburg from Chicago when young Otto was just out of high school. It might have been a culture shock, but instead he says he loved the town, especially knowing everyone when you walked down the street. “I just enjoyed the people,” he said. He had two older sisters who stayed in Chicago, and a younger brother Howard who attended high school here and later taught in Vicksburg. College for Otto began at the University of Illinois where he flunked out, suffering great trauma when his girlfriend jilted him.
Three years later he was an all-A student at Western Michigan University. He was accepted by the University of Michigan’s medical school, where he learned that Jim Yates, also of Vicksburg, was in his freshman class. He interned at Bronson Hospital in 1964 and 1965. But as a single physician, he was about to be drafted, so he volunteered for the Navy. “Nobody told me that Navy docs served the Marines. I ended up in a rice paddy in Viet Nam,” he related. His mother Anna died in 1966, but his dad carried on the bakery, joined the Lions Club and founded the B & B some 42 years ago. Otto Sr., having come from Germany originally, thought the village would be ready for some good old beer and brats, German style. He was right. Although the event has been through many iterations and locations, the spirit of Otto Kaak lives on at the new pavilion, especially through the sauerkraut recipe he devised.
Meanwhile, young Otto was taking a fancy to social work and psychiatry after starting his career in a family practice. He went back to school for four years, completing his residency in Lubbock, Texas. He teaches at the University of Kentucky at the age of 77 and works as a practitioner for the Center on Trauma and Children in Lexington, Kentucky. He doesn’t see patients anymore, but trains medical school students to be good social workers.
Thank you, Otto, for your interest in the little town of Vicksburg and your generosity!