Originally from Owatonna, Minn., Dr. Richard Horecka is the oldest of four children and the first member of his family to attend college. After graduating from Concordia College in Moorhead with a degree in biology/chemistry, he took a year off to sell radios before continuing on to medical school at the U of M in Minneapolis.
In 1978-79 he participated in the Rural Physician Associate Program (RPAP) with Dr. Richard Griffin as his preceptor in Benson, Minn. At this time, the community had four medical practices (2 solo practitioners and 2 others). Dr. Horecka completed his 9-month RPAP rotation and was having so much fun in Benson that he decided to stay on for the next 3 months. During his time as an RPAP student he helped to deliver around 100 babies and assisted with many surgeries. He said it was the best training a medical student could have.
“When I finished my medical residency it didn’t look like there was going to be an opening for a physician in Benson,” Dr. Horecka recalls. “Then, at just this time, two physicians decided to leave town.”
In August 1983, Dr. Horecka was the first physician officially hired outside of the Willmar location by Affiliated Medical Centers. He joined the Benson practice with Dr. Roger Bauer and Dr. Honebrink in August 1983, seeing 32 patients on his first day in clinic.
A year after arriving in Benson, he married his wife, Anita. The two met while he was in medical school. “My wife worked in the lab at St. John’s Hospital where I did my residency,” said Horecka. “We met when she was picking up a lab specimen. I asked her out six times before she finally said yes.” Now after 36 years of marriage, they have five children and six grandchildren. “It’s gotten better every year,” he smiles.
In 1989, the medical clinic in Hancock was acquired by ACMC. They were able to reopen the clinic where Dr. Horecka and his colleagues together also served the Hancock community for many years.
As with many small-towns, serving as a family physician often meant frequent nights and weekends on-call. In his clinic practice he would see up to 40 patients a day. He jokes that his wife would put a photo of him at the dinner table so his children would remember what he looked like.
Despite the oftentimes busy schedule, Dr. Horecka never regretted the decision to build a medical practice and grow his family in Benson. He was an active community member and served as medical examiner, chamber of commerce member, and participated in many city committees over the years. He worked hard to give back to the community and is passionate about bringing jobs and new development opportunities to the area.
“This is the nicest town,” says Horecka. “I couldn’t think about living in a nicer town than Benson. They say the average family doctor changes practice locations 4-5 times in their lifetime. For me, I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else than right here.”
For nearly four decades, Dr. Horecka worked hard to care for his patients and support the role of a smaller clinic.
Early on he was the first non-Willmar physician elected to ACMC’s Board of Directors. “I was a skeptic when I first signed on,” said Dr. Horecka. “I thought Willmar’s goal was to just suck people up. Thirty-eight years later, I don’t think I could have worked for a better organization.”
He also feels the integration with CentraCare/Carris Health is a good fit. “CentraCare is put together well to favor small town practices and invest in rural medicine for our communities,” said Horecka. “They are interested in seeing rural health succeed.”
Dr. Horecka with his nurse Kristy Kannigiesser, CMA
He is proud that Swift County-Benson Health Services is doing great. “We have an excellent team of health care providers; we can deliver care for complex medical problems and we have really good leadership. For someone looking to practice family medicine in a smaller community, this is the real thing.”
Dr. Horecka admits that it’s ‘weird’ now being considered one of the oldest medical providers. In November 2019 he began the gradual transition to retirement by cutting his practice back to three days a week. “I told my wife in late March that I had decided to retire for certain in January 2021,” said Horecka. “I turned 68 a few weeks ago, and it was time. I’ve been available to help answer questions for the last few years, and I have wonderful colleagues who have helped make this transition easier.”
Dr. Horecka will deeply miss his patients who he has spent the past 38 years with. “They’re my friends,” he shared. “I didn’t have time for much of a social life outside of work. My free time was dedicated to my family, so my patients became my friends and an extension of my family. It’s been a thrill to be able to take care of every single one. I’ve been honored to care for five generations of families and delivered around 800 babies.” He jokingly says he has probably delivered half of the staff who work at the hospital.
Heading into retirement he looks forward to spending time with family, seeing more of his six grandchildren when COVID guidelines allow, and celebrating his daughter’s wedding in 2022.
He and his wife plan to remain in Benson. “This is our home where we raised our kids. For years we talked about moving to Minnewaska where we have a cabin,” he says. “But we’re not going anywhere, we’ll stay right here.”
Dr. Horecka’s last official day in clinic was January 13. His colleagues at Swift County-Benson Health Services honored him with a parade-style farewell through the hospital halls. “I was really surprised, and it was pretty humbling,” admitted Horecka. “It’s been a dream career that I’ve lived.”