Aurora doctor defies age: Palese still practicing at 91

At Aurora Psychiatric Hospital in Milwaukee, there is a doctor who works two mornings a week, assisting on admitting examinations.

That doctor is John Palese, and he is 91 years old.

“My philosophy has always been to use it or lose it,” Palese said. “If you don’t keep using your muscles and your body and your brain, you’re not going to function too well for the rest of your life. That’s the whole approach to this – use it or lose it.”

These days, Palese evaluates children admitted to the psychiatric hospital from a medical standpoint. He does this every Monday and Wednesday morning.

“Every patient that’s admitted to the hospital has to have an admitting examination within 24 hours,” he said. “That’s what I’m doing now. If they get sick while I’m around, I can still treat them.”

Palese worked at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee for more than 20 years as the director of medical education.

“When I was at St. Luke’s Hospital, one of my jobs was to run all of the training programs,” he said. “We did not have a family practice program at St. Luke’s for teaching doctors how to be family doctors. I sat down, and I wrote the entire protocol and sent it to the American Medical Association, and I got a program approved for training family practice doctors at St. Luke’s Hospital. That program is still functional, but now it’s run by the Medical College (of Wisconsin).”

After leaving St. Luke’s in the late 1980s, he began filling in for doctors at various practices and at the Milwaukee Psychiatric Hospital (now Aurora Psychiatric Hospital), where he performed medical exams on patients when they were admitted.

Palese is a veteran of two wars. He was drafted in World War II on his birthday in 1943 and served with the Army Specialized Training Program within the United States. He also served as a doctor for the Army in Panama and then served in combat in the Korean War.

“I’ve always been busy,” he said. “I had 14 years in the military. I was in the Wisconsin National Guard after I got out of the regular army. I was in Korea from the start of that. I started in June of 1950. I went to Korea as battalion surgeon in the 65th Infantry Regiment, and we landed in September 1950. And I was there in combat until October of ’51.”

He recently made the trip to Washington, D.C., with the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight and has become involved with the organization.

“I was very impressed (with my experience on the Honor Flight),” he said. “Now, they’ve got me signing books – everybody gets a book (from the Honor Flight). They bring the guys that were on the flights to sign for the people that buy the books.”

Palese also has kept himself active throughout his life by playing baseball. He was at the first ever Milwaukee Brewers fantasy camp and went every year until 2008.

“That’s the best vacation I’ve ever had, without a doubt,” he said. “I keep myself active.”

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