Dr. Sylvester W. Trythall

Transcribed from Dr. Sylvester Wayne Trythall’s autobiography for the 1965 Distinguished Alumni Award.


I was born in Wakefield, Michigan, March 15, 1901, the son of Sara and Thomas Trythall. Schooling was in the local grade school until, when I was ten, my father received a promotion as stationary engineer for the Oliver Mining Company in Ironwood. My average at Ashland grade school (1) was good, and I entered the L. L. Wright High School as a freshman September 1914.

My mother’s death that fall forced family changes: my sister went to live with friends and my father took me with him to a commercial hotel. With his consent, I enlisted in the army in 1916, but on advice of family friends my sister revealed my true age and army rejection followed. By this time my academic record was so poor that my Latin teacher, Miss Janet Goudie, advised me to accept my aunt’s invitation to live with her family in Redridge, near Houghton, Michigan.

Because of war needs the Copper Country (2) was booming — mines working around the clock. A neighbor had a “shift boss” who gave me my first formal employment at sixteen. My first mill assignment was to unload a box car of sand with a shovel. In the next two weeks I decided there must be an easier way to gain a future livelihood.

Mr. O. D. Fellows, an M. I. T. graduate and superintendent of the Copper Range Mill, befriended me in many ways. I was soon promoted to the payroll office and subsequently given a chance to learn the machinist’s trade. “O. D.”, as he was known, taught me drafting, and, at his home where I was always a welcome guest, he taught me how to beat him in lawn tennis and cards.

In this small village, self-entertainment was the order of the day. When not building camps, tramping through the woods, cutting winter’s wood, or fishing I found the time to learn to play the coronet in the local band and to study. I had decided to set my goal for master mechanic whereby one could progress to mill superintendent without a formal education.

Aside from the somewhat transient school teachers, there were only four college graduates in the town including O. D. and the mill physician, Dr. Johnson. There were, however, a great many inspiring and gifted craftsmen of foreign origin keeping the mill in proper condition. Frank Koepel and Clarence Messner (who were later to earn doctorates) were companions who stimulated me to read good books, and to study history, chemistry, engineering, and drafting. Whenever possible, I made house calls with Dr. Johnson and went home with him to play cribbage.

My machinist training for master mechanic was completed when I was twenty, and by then my horizons had broadened and I began to dream of being a school teacher first and then a doctor.

From 1916 - 1922 by saving ten dollars each month in the Northern Michigan Building and Loan Association (3), buying War Bonds, and selling silver picked from stamped rock at one dollar an ounce, I acquired about two thousand dollars. Double shifts and Sunday work were commonplace.

During 1921 I had considerable correspondence with Ferris Institute (4) and with President Kaye of Marquette Normal School (5), choosing the latter because of its beautiful location on the rocks overlooking Lake Superior.

Through misunderstanding or oversight, in the fall of 1922 I found myself admitted to the Normal School as a full freshman. Actually I had had one and a half years of poor high school credits; but I was older than the average and had learned the discipline of work and study.

I enrolled in classes in science that would lead to a teacher’s life certificate and premedical training. My first term I received 2 B’s and 2 C’s. Mr. “Pop” Lewis (6) gave me a cleaning job in the “lab” which developed in my second year into a laboratory assistantship. With various odd jobs my money was holding out and instead of going out to teach with a two-year life certificate I began to dream of going on for my degree.

School was going well. I had become a member of “Sons of Thor” (7) and was elected to Phi Epsilon Honor Society. I was completing requirements for the coveted teacher’s certificate in June 1924… Then one fine spring day Professor Lewis stormed into the lab and said to me sternly:

“Young man, you have the entire administration in an uproar. You have not fulfilled one necessary requirement for a teacher’s certificate which is graduation from high school.”

Pop, who was head of the transcript committee, then took me into his office where we discussed my life between the years of sixteen and twenty-two. For reading and supervised training elsewhere he allowed me full high school credits — with one exception. He require me to take high school physics in summer school; thus in August I was graduated from the John D. Pierce High School (8).

Extra-curricular activities consisted mainly of participation in the college glee club, male quartet, and leads in the junior and senior plays.

The summer of 1925, accompanied by Frank Koepel, I had a holiday hitch-hiking 3,000 miles through the East. My first trip outside the U. P. cost me $19.63 in cash.

Mr. Don Bottom, my chemistry critic-teacher, and President Munson helped me secure an excellent position teaching chemistry and physics on Owosso, Michigan. The summer of graduation was spent on an extensive hitch-hiking tour of the West taken with George Nelson, class of 1926 — now Dr. Nelson of Central Michigan University.

In Owosso, I was able to combine my high school work with teaching nurses’ chemistry at Memorial Hospital’s training center. This gave a an opportunity to become well acquainted with the staff and, when time was available, I drove Dr. W. T. Parker, chief surgeon, on his rounds and calls. He, together with the Gilbert Taylors whose home has become mine, encouraged me to go on to medical school in 1928.

That summer after attempting and failing to sell the “World Book” door-to-door in Chicago, Dean Ethel Carey (9) of Marquette offered me a job managing the family garage in Harbor Springs. Four summers of long weeks’ work in this beautiful Lake Michigan town enabled me to be entirely solvent when I received my M. D. from the University of Michigan June 1932. During my senior year I was awarded the Strong Memorial Scholarship; since that time it has given me great pleasure to pass the remuneration back to another medical student and to contribute annually to the scholarship funds of my two universities.

Post graduate medical school education consisted of an internship at Harper Hospital, Detroit (1932-33) and residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Florence Crittenton Hospital, Detroit (1933-35). The latter service included clinical instructorship for senior medical students at Wayne State University.

In September 1934 I was married to Isabelle Rayen of Owosso. Daughters born in 1936 and 1938 and graduated from the University of Michigan: the older who was a primary teacher is married and has sons, two and four; the younger has her M. A., is married and teaching high school English.

My medical school practice started in 1935 was centered on obstetrics and gynecology, but in the beginning years included various family cases. I was rejected for military service in 1941, and after a heart attack in 1944 I began to limit my practice to gynecology. Between 1950 - 1965 my work has been concerned for the most part with the infertile couple.

1955 - 56 I was Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Crittenton General Hospital. My professional affiliations include the Detroit Surgical Society, Wayne County Medical Society, Michigan State Medical Society, American Medical Association, Fellow American College of Surgeons, American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Society for the Study of Sterility, International Infertility Association.

In the practice of medicine there are many subjects for research requiring continued study and investigation: among them I have chosen three.

My early life experiences and a residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology were key-stones that lead to a special study of infant salvage and the premature baby. As residents, we were responsible under supervision for the welfare of 50-100 illegitimate mothers and their children.

During depression years in our clinic, the control of fertility through planned parenthood was essential. This laid the basic foundation for my now specialized practice in the Infertile Couple.

Through thirty years of practice I became increasingly aware of the lack of premarital preparation in relation to marital disruption. This led to a five-year survey among 2,500 women in order to evaluate premarital laws, essentially their application and effectiveness in Michigan. The resulting paper published in the American Medical Association journal has prompted considerable discussion and some belated action both locally, nationally, and internationally.

My other special research interests have been presented as papers, panel discussions, and exhibits many times in the United States. It has also been my good fortune to review my work in Naples, Amsterdam, Cairo, Vienna, Prague, and Rio.


  1. There’s a 37-mile distance between Ashland, WI and L. L. Wright High School in Ironwood, so it’s believed he refers to Ashland, WI public schools here.

  2. Northernmost area of the Upper Peninsula where the copper boom took place from 1845 to the late 1960’s.

  3. Now the Detroit & Northern Savings and Loan Association in Hancock.

  4. Name of Ferris State University from 1898-1963.

  5. Trythall is referring to Northern State Normal, Northern Michigan University’s title in its infancy.

  6. Most likely referring to physical science instructor Walter Ferguson Lewis.

  7. Secret campus society based around acting and the arts, based around Magni and Modi, the sons of Thor, the god of thunder, in Norse mythology.

  8. Building built in 1925 to serve high school grades on campus.

  9. Read more on Dean Ethel Carey Here (http://www.nmu.edu/archives/ethel-g-carey)