On July 1, Mark Nessen will have owned Corydon Pharmacy—the legal name of Nessen Pharmacy—for 33 years. He bought it from Charles Nigut in 1981. The little shop on the west side of the Corydon square has been home to a pharmaceutical dispenser for over 100 years, so when Hy-Vee takes over ownership on Aug. 1, it will be an adjustment, but one Nessen believes will be beneficial to the welfare of his town.
When asked if it seems like 33 years, Nessen pauses, and replies, “Yeah. It’s been a long road.”
Nessen fell in love with the pharmacy and the business of medicine while working for Ron Roush, who owned the store from 1932 to 1972. Nessen began sweeping floors for Roush when he was 13 years old. Since Nessen’s father died when he was eight, it was one of many part-time jobs he worked to help keep his family going. He grew up in a one-bedroom apartment above Miles Law Office on the Corydon square, and graduated from Wayne Community High School in 1967.
“Working for Mr. Roush, I just admired him,” Nessen says. “He was able to touch people’s lives and help them. He was a kind man. That inspired me. He was very supportive.”
People open up to Nessen as a pharmacist, something he embraces and respects.
“I’m happy to help with their problems, because I can sometimes expedite them back to the doctor and get them where they need to be. That’s the part I cherish.
“I’m like anybody else, you can have a bad day and be grouchy. But Mr. Roush taught me one thing as a young pharmacist. He said, ‘When you’re talking to somebody, and you want to make a point, don’t invade their space. Just lightly put your hand on their shoulder, make eye contact and talk to them.’ He said that they’d remember every word that you say, and they’ll embrace it.
“I used that when I was trying to get someone focused on what they were doing and what they were taking. That was a personal touch, instead of the pharmacist being behind some glass counter in that world of chain pharmacies. Sometimes it’s like you’re talking to the king standing up there. That’s what sets us apart—we’re presented there on this equal level.”
Nessen graduated from the University of Iowa in 1972 with a Bachelors of Science in pharmacy, and came back and again worked for Roush, before being drafted in the last conscription of the Vietnam War. At the time, Nessen was married with an infant son, but he was shipped to Fort Polk, La. With the war winding down, the Army sent him into the reserve system, and Nessen was home six months later.
“I had a [guidance] counselor who told me I probably couldn’t make it at Iowa, because it was too hard. That [made me mad].”
The counselor’s advice drove Nessen to work harder, and he eventually earned almost $20,000 in scholarship money to complete his degree in Iowa City.
“He’s directed when he wants something,” wife Cheri says.
Hy-Vee approached Nessen around six or seven years ago about buying the pharmacy, but he was not ready to sell.
“As an independent, I was making a living, but it was getting tougher and tougher. There was no gravy anymore. Through the years, we did well for ourselves and for our employees—we rewarded our employees fairly well with profit sharing and matching. Those days are winding down.”
The pharmacy is also subjected to increasingly more intensive audits—supervision and regulation of each drug dispensed—that Nessen describes as unsettling.
Nessen, and partner and pharmacy classmate John Walker III, operated both retail and the Wayne County Hospital’s supply for 30 years, before Walker passed in 2009 and Nessen did not renew his contract with WCH.
“We did IVs, we did chemo, we did everything,” Nessen says. “We were in charge of the entire physical inventory of the hospital. The store owned every Band-Aid, every suture in that hospital and accounted for it and billed it. That was all back in the days of paper and pencil.”
“It was so cool,” Cheri says. “John [Walker] had a lot of clinical pharmacy experience, because that was his strength in school, and [Mark] was kind of the retail side, but that made a great combination for the hospital and the store. They had a friendship and a professional camaraderie.”
They were also in charge of medication at Corydon Nursing and Rehab Center and the Continental Care Center in Seymour.
Nessen Pharmacy has given back, becoming a large source of donations to the community.
A few years after Hy-Vee offered to buy Mark’s store, as president of Corydon Development Corporation—a nonprofit that works for the betterment of the city—Pamida left town, and the organization had an empty building to pay taxes for as it gathered dust.
“We built that for PM Place 20 years ago, then it turned into Pamida, then it turned into an empty building,” Mark says. “Financially, it was a huge burden on Corydon Development.”
Mark called Hy-Vee, and asked them if they would like to remodel their store in Corydon.
“And they said, would you like to sell your pharmacy, and we would consider it. That was part of the deal. I’m going to be 65, and it was time. This will be the best thing for the town. It’s not perfect. We miss that Pamida store—we miss a general retailer like that.”
Though his occupation involves dispensing prescription drugs, Mark views the increased use of pharmaceuticals as a bad sign. He and Cheri have seen a rising need for medication with the spread of obesity and diabetes in the United States. Mark also laments the spread of advertising that drives demand.
“There are just tons of meds that spend huge amounts of money advertising. I would say that the average person is on at least 300 percent more meds than 30 years ago.”
Nessen also sees the insurance benefit culture as encouraging an overuse of medication—simply, that the psychology of having a financial availability to drugs makes drugs seem like a favorable alternative to a change in lifestyle.
“You can’t blame them, it’s just a perception,” Mark says. “It’s part of life now.”
The Nessens encourage people to live as healthy of a lifestyle as possible, including physical exercise and responsible nutrition. Cheri is active at both Prairie Trails Wellness Center and Prairie Trails Aquatic Center.
“We have people that have lost weight, and they’ve gone off their diabetes medicines,” Cheri says. “They don’t have to go through the whole [routine], they don’t have to keep track of stuff. And all they had to do was change what they eat and how active they were.”
Mark is proud that both he and John Walker III were promoters of pharmacy education and the medical field. They mentored many young people on their paths toward pharmacy—some were work study students, some high school student employees, while others sought out Nessen and Walker of their own initiative. Nessen mentored six pharmacists in a variety of positions in the industry and 12 pharmacy technicians. The list includes sons David Nessen of Denver, Colo., and Scott Nichols of Cocoa Beach, Fla.
It has been a surprising, scary couple of months for the Nessen family. Mark has chemotherapy treatments for two straight weeks, with the third off, for a tumor the size of a golf ball lodged in one liver. The contrast dye for a CAT scan sent Mark into kidney failure, which set him back three weeks, before he could begin chemo. The day of the interview, they were waiting to hear back from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. for an appointment with the internationally renowned facility. The tumor must shrink before it can be surgically removed.
“It happens to be in a really bad spot,” Cheri says.
When symptoms of lethargy and loss of appetite began a couple of months ago, from experience, Mark knew it was one of three things, and out of process of elimination could only be a liver tumor. After the onset of jaundice during a family vacation, he went to Wayne County Hospital, where Dr. Doug Hoch confirmed the self-diagnosis.
The fight continues. The town of Corydon keeps the Nessens grounded, and they understand what the people have done for them, and what it takes to keep Corydon alive. Wayne County has supported their business, and they support Wayne County, in turn.
“My dad died when I was eight,” Mark says. “We were poor—we had nothing. My sister and I didn’t know we didn’t have anything. Back in those times, a lot of people [didn’t have anything]. We were just those little ragamuffin kids back in the ’50s wearing our little shorts and striped T-shirts, playing and life was great. But we didn’t have an extra dime for nothing, so we all worked to help Mom with rent and buy clothes.
“And the community gave so much back to my mom, quietly, silently, and they were so good to us, that I still think I owe them. The town has been extremely good to me through the years.
“Since I’ve gotten this cancer, it’s been amazing all the cards that have come in. Hundreds and hundreds.”
Cheri is also counting on her husband’s determination—his direction, as she calls it—to get them through this rough stretch.
“I’ve never known anyone [like him]—he wanted to buy that store when he was little, and he ended up with it,” Cheri says. “He did what he wanted to do. He achieved his dream and served his people.”