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Obituaries » Janis Pone, MD

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November 12, 1919 - July 5, 2020

Janis’ ashes will be interred next to his beloved Valentina at Riverside Cemetery where a private family committal service will be held. Memorial contributions may be made to the Kalamazoo Latvian Evangelical Lutheran United Church.

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Dr. Janis Pone, age 100, died on Sunday, July 5, 2020. The son of Karlis and Angelika (Irbe) Pone, Janis was born on his family’s farm, Lieluzi, in Jaunpils, Latvia on November 22, 1919. His older sisters Lina and Emilija welcomed their new brother.

Janis grew up working on the family’s farm and attending the local elementary school. He left Jaunpils for the capital city of Riga to attend high school. In 1938, Janis began medical school at the University of Latvia. During this time, he also joined the fraternity, Fraternitus Rusticana.

As war broke out across Europe, the medical school accelerated studies so that the new physicians could join the war effort. Following Janis’ graduation in December 1943, he joined the Latvian Legion as a troop doctor, and was sent to the front to fight against the advancing Soviet army. When his commander was killed, Janis led his battalion himself, and was awarded an Iron Cross for his bravery.

Following the war, Janis served as a refugee camp physician in the British zone of Germany. Wanting to reunite with his family, he later rode a bike to the American zone in southern Germany in hopes of finding them. He came upon his mother hanging laundry at a refugee camp in Wurzburg, Germany, and the two shared a joyful reunion.

In Wurzburg, Janis met a beautiful Lithuanian lab technician, Valentina Sileikyte, while working as a camp physician. They were married on Christmas Eve in 1948. Though life at Wurzburg could be tough, the newlyweds still found time to have their own adventures. In 1951, a Methodist church in Tulsa, Oklahoma offered Janis an internship at a local hospital. Once the pair arrived in Oklahoma, the U.S. government asked Janis to serve as a doctor on the Navy base in Pago Pago, American Samoa, located in the South Pacific. Janis and Valentina enjoyed island life and were welcomed by the local Samoan community. In 1952, their son Arnis was born.

In 1956, Janis had fulfilled his government contract and the family sought to reunite with relatives in Kalamazoo. Janis completed an intern year at Bronson Hospital, and then the family settled in Martin, Michigan, where Janis opened his private practice. As he was the only local doctor, he often worked long hours and made many house calls, but he still found time to participate in the Latvian Men’s Choir and to help build St. John Evangelical Lutheran Latvian Church in Kalamazoo.

In 1959, his son Martis was born. Janis’ extended family spent lots of time together, particularly at the Austrins’ family cabin on Crooked Lake, where Latvian songs could be heard echoing across the water late into the night, led by Janis’ bass.

In 1961, Janis was appointed Chief of Staff of the newly opened Pipp Hospital in Plainwell. During this time, the American Latvian expat community purchased an old girl scout camp in Three Rivers, Michigan, now known as Garezers Latvian Center. Janis dedicated many hours to establishing the camp infirmary and served as camp doctor for many years. In 1972, Janis and four other physicians opened the Community Medical Clinic in Plainwell to provide more medical care for the growing local community. He worked at the Clinic until his retirement in 1990. Patients still remember his patience, kindness, and very thick Latvian accent.

Newly retired, Janis stayed busy, enjoying summers at Garezers, winter trips to Florida, singing in the Piltenes Prageri and Latvian Men’s Choir, serving as a Kalamazoo Latvian Lutheran Church and Latvian Center Board member, and actively participating in Fraternity Rusticana festivities. One of his most meaningful life experiences came in 1990, when he was able to return to a free Latvia and participate in the song and dance festival. He passed this deep love of his homeland to his grandchildren. Janis also enjoyed a close friendship with the first free post-occupation Latvian president, Guntis Ulmanis. The Ulmanis family often visited the Pones in Kalamazoo.

After almost 51 years of marriage, Valentina passed away on December 12, 1999. Janis later married Daila Aploks in the fall of 2001. Together, they traveled and were active members of the local Latvian community until Daila’s passing in March of 2014. Janis remained a dedicated community and church patron and was always present to support his grandchildren in their endeavors. He happily spent his final years with longtime family friend, Aira Lielzuiks who survives.

Besides his parents and wives, Valentina and Daila, Janis is preceded in death by his sisters, Emilija and Lina. He is also survived by his two sons, Arnis (Diana) Pone and Martis (Cassandra) Pone, both of Mattawan, MI; as well as four grandchildren, Laura, Karina, Nikolajs and Stefans. He will also be missed by his nieces, nephews, grand-nieces and nephews and their children. A special thanks is given to Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan, Dr. Lawlor and Dr. Wunderly for their exceptional care.

Janis’ ashes will be interred next to his beloved Valentina at Riverside Cemetery where a private family committal service will be held. Janis is now with God and reunited with Valentina. As he always reminded us, “bus labi” (all will be well).

Memorial contributions may be made to the Kalamazoo Latvian Evangelical Lutheran United Church.