Doctor who skipped plane trip mourns friend who died in Madeline Island crashJim Baumgaertner lost his best friend. He still can’t believe that fellow physician Rick Renwick and Renwick’s brother, Bruce, were killed Saturday night in a plane crash on Madeline Island.
By: Mike Creger, Duluth News Tribune
Jim Baumgaertner lost his best friend. He still can’t believe that fellow physician Rick Renwick and Renwick’s brother, Bruce, were killed Saturday night in a plane crash on Madeline Island.
It was a trip Baumgaertner had taken with Renwick last July and would have taken again this year had it not been for a family birthday party.
The Renwicks were attempting a second landing on the airstrip Saturday evening when the single-engine plane crashed into a woods before the runway and burst into flames.
Baumgaertner is filing through photos this week of last year’s Madeline trip. The pair from La Crosse, Wis., pitched tents at the airport and took in the beach life of the island. It stormed that night and they learned the failings of pup tents in the rain.
“We had a lot of fun,” Baumgaertner said. “We flew to the island and hung around town. There’s a picture of Rick snoozing on the beach. Now I suppose he’s resting in peace.”
Baumgaertner’s been a dermatologist in the Gunderson Health system in La Crosse for 33 years. Renwick was an obstetrician/gynecologist at the same clinic for 21 years.
He was a dedicated doctor “but a fun guy for me,” he said. “For two aging doctors, it’s hard to find someone to just hang around with and act like two kids in school.”
Renwick was a “warm human being,” Baumgaertner said, which is why he had friends all over the world and put on thousands of miles in commercial flights.
“I was envious,” Baumgaertner said. “He had more friends in neat places.”
He and Renwick would hike together on the bluffs around La Crosse, reaching the top and taking in a view of three states. They’d shoot slingshots and hydrate with a beer, Baumgaertner said.
“We’ve had lots of talks,” he said. They groused about the hurdles involved in simply providing care for patients. They talked politics. Renwick was heavily involved in local Democratic circles.
“It was a wonderful way to relax.”
They were busy doctors. Renwick offered to fly to Baumgaertner’s hometown of St. Paul to pick him up for last weekend’s trip after the birthday party, but Baumgaertner didn’t go because Renwick didn’t plan to return until Tuesday.
“I was too booked up with patients,” Baumgaertner said. He said he’s been wavering this week between denial and the hard reality of the death of his friend, an irony for a man he said brought so many babies into the world and helped so many women with gynecological cancers.
After the July trip, the pair flew again last fall to Ashland and did some more hiking. Renwick, 63, had been talking about semi-retirement in the Ashland area, where he once practiced when starting out his career, Baumgaertner said.
The Renwick brothers — Bruce was a psychiatric nurse from Madison — traveled a lot together, Baumgaertner said. They shared a dry sense of humor and a sense of adventure, he said. They were avid sailors. Rick was an experienced pilot. He had sailboats in a variety of locations around the world, Baumgaertner said.
“They were very tight,” he said. “They both cared about what’s happening in this world.”
Rick was a volunteer at a health-care mission in La Crosse that serves the poor and uninsured.
“I still can’t believe he’s gone,” Baumgaertner said, overwhelmed with memories and grief.
“He’s my best friend.”