Articles & Stories

Dr. Daniel Van Bentley Left

His Mark In Letcher County

 

With The Encouragement Of His Wife, Dr. Bentley

Pursued His Career And Became A Beloved

Physician In Eastern Kentucky

Editor's Note: Georgia Hufford was reared at Goosecreek, about a mile from Neon, Letcher County, Kentucky. She graciously shares this information written in 1955 about Dr. Daniel Van Bentley that she feels readers will really enjoy. Dr. Bentley delivered many babies in Eastern Kentucky and many were named for him. Georgia's mother, Nettie Holcomb, was named after Dr. Bentley's wife, Nettie Collier Bentley. The doctor's wife was Nettie Holcomb's aunt.

Submitted by Georgia Hufford - 2009

In the lessening hours of Letcher County's long dark night, just before its dawn, when King Coal, Letcher's future wealth, slept beneath the hillside soil undisturbed, an infant son was born to Quiller and Ellen Bentley in their modest home on the sluggish waters of Boone Fork of the Kentucky River. The proud parents named their son Daniel Van.
Through good days and bad (mostly bad if one considers the toil of farming hillside land and its meager return) young Daniel grew to manhood. Whether an individual realizes it or not, there is some cause disposing him to choose one of several courses of action, each of which may seem equally inviting or uninviting. Young Daniel chose teaching in the country schools as the most promising and the easiest obtained by one of meager funds, but it was not the ease he had in mind. Teaching, while a creditable profession, could be used as a steppingstone to a more desirable and better paid profession, and Daniel was endowed the imagination, foresight, and industry.
With his first teacher's certificate began a progression of teaching and studying at the University of Louisville Medical College, and sandwiched in between was one delicious moment of marriage to Nettie Collier, the vivacious daughter of Willis and Elizabeth Collier. This marriage, while ideal, did not solve the financial problem, but only enhanced it. Hard work, frugality, and friends met the challenge, and finally came the coveted day when Daniel became a full-fledged Doctor of Medicine.
Then began a long and happy life of "doctoring" that a country and small town doctor has to contend with.

Dr. Daniel Van and Mrs. (Nettie) Bentley with their daughter, Hazel. Mrs. Bentley and Hazel spent the last few months in Louisville with Dr. Bentley prior to his graduation from Louisville Medical School when this photo was taken ca. 1917.
(Photo submitted by Georgia Hufford)

 


 

 

 

 

 

At first he covered his trails on horseback. Many early mornings Dr. Bentley (he later became known as Dr. D. V.) could be seen coming in on his high-spirited horse to an early breakfast, both doctor and horse having spent the night at some country home. If one looked through the fatigue on his face and saw the twinkle in his eyes, it was not necessary to hear him say, "It was a big boy," or "it was a fine girl;" one knew.
Years later when he came again, the little ones, those he helped the "stork" to bring, would be standing at the door or by the bedside of a mother or father and would say, "Doctor Bentley, look at my new dress," or "see my pretty shoes. Daddy bought them for me." Innocent human nature can always detect a friend.
It is said that one time, when the doctor had been out on a late call, when he and his horse returned to the barn, he forgot to get off and stable the horse. He was fast asleep. Whether true or not, it is the little anecdotes like this that tell of a great love for this great man by his friends and neighbors.
With the passing of the horse, passed an era. Nothing primitive is more attractive than a good horse and a good rider, especially if the rider is a beloved doctor. While the era passed, Dr. Bentley remained. He became as well-known in his car as on his horse. Whether the car was shiny and new or mud-splattered and old made no difference to him. When a call came, one could be sure Dr. Bentley answered, and cheerfully.
"Howdy, Honey! How are you feeling?" became proverbial. It was his way of bringing cheer to the sick, the first medication of any successful doctor.
Mrs. Nettie Collier Bentley, who married Dr. D. V. Bentley in 1907, has been the typical country doctor's wife. To this happy union were born two daughters, Hazel and Betty Ellen.
In discussing the early life of Dr. Bentley, Mrs. Bentley related many interesting events in their lives. She told how he managed to meet her after his mother had told him what a fine worker she was. She related how he came to her home pretending to visit her brother, but that in a short time one could easily see he was not interested in her brother. She also related how Dr. Bentley first made their living by farming in Knott County, where they lived the first year they were married. They sold their crop in the fall and moved to Neon. Mrs. Bentley stated their first home was a one-room log cabin, with a lean-to attached. The windows were of wooden shutters with leather hinges, that were used for light only and pulled together at night and fastened.
They left Knott County and moved to Neon and Barlow Branch, living there about one year. The next move was to Whitaker for a year or so, then they moved back to Neon, later moving to Jenkins where Dr. Bentley taught in the Burdine Grade School for a time. This was in their sixth year of marriage, and their first child, Hazel, was born there. In the fall of 1913, Dr. Bentley decided there was not much future in teaching; and he, Ben Potter, and B. F. Wright, entered school to become doctors. Ben became ill and had to temporarily discontinue his studies, but everyone knows that Dr. Bentley and Dr. Wright went on to finish their studies and have been great benefactors to their people and families.
When Mrs. Bentley was asked how she felt when her young husband decided to enter medical school, which would take him away for as long as five months at a time, she stated, "Well, like any young wife, I was grieved that we were to be separated so soon after marriage for such long intervals, but I felt it my duty to encourage him, and do what I could to help him."
Dr. Bentley provided a two-room house for Mrs. Bentley and Hazel at the Neon Junction near the home of his father and mother. Mrs. Bentley said, "I made a garden and did all I could to keep myself and the baby from being a burden to him. I canned all the food we could use and dried apples, beans, and other types of food that was dried in those days. I also pickled quite a lot of other food as money was scarce and cans could not be purchased easily. I only saw him at Christmastime and after school was out for the year. He came home each summer and worked at odd jobs, as well as helping me raise a garden and get in coal and wood for the winter. Each summer he picked up enough coal to do me all winter. He would work at any kind of job to earn a few extra dollars for us and his schooling.
"He started active practice in Neon in 1917 and since that time he has been very successful. He had several serious sick spells. One was diagnosed as meningitis that left his hearing impaired, and no doubt affected his general health. Unlike most people he came through the 1930 Depression practically unscathed, due to his ability to cut corners, and doing all his work himself during that period.
"Dr. Bentley was from a conservative family, who oftentimes denied themselves the comforts they could have well afforded, however, he has always seen to it that his family were well and comfortably provided for."
Mrs. Bentley states that while a country doctor's wife has many ups and downs, with many good meals to go to waste and lonely hours to be spent, she would not trade her life with Dr. Dan'l for anything in the world.
Dr. Bentley lived in an isolated section of Kentucky and had a varied and lengthy education. He graduated from Richmond High School and Eastern State Normal, after receiving all the education he could get in his beloved mountains. He attended Letcher County Grade School and Clintwood High School. In his early life no trains or highways served this area of Kentucky, but he was determined not to be denied his chance to make a name for himself and at the same time serve his people.
According to members of his family, he had to endure many hardships and privations during his college years, such as being poorly dressed, living in scant quarters, and not having all the food that a young healthy man would have enjoyed. All reports say that Dr. Dan'l, as he is lovingly known by his legion of friends, always had a sense of humor and still does.
Dr. Bentley graduated in a class with Dr. B. F. Wright, who along with Dr. Owen Pigman, set up office quarters in Neon in the little brick building on Railroad Street, which was later occupied by the Service Dry Cleaners. Later on Dr. Bentley purchased Dr. Wright's and Dr. Pigman's interest in the business. He operated in this location until 1930 when he erected the building which was later occupied by Wright's Jewelry Store. In the latter 1930s he erected the only stone building in Neon which housed his drug store, along with a hotel upstairs, the Bank of Neon, and Stallard's Barber and Beauty Shop.
Soon after Dr. Bentley became firmly established, he built for himself and his family a lovely brick home, the first and only brick home in Neon.

Georgia Hufford, 903 N. High Street, Hillsboro, OH 45133, shares this information with our readers.

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