Man with Madeira Roots Wrote Inspiring Book

By Regina Villiers. Originally published March 13, 2002 in The Suburban Life, added February 18, 2014.

Nita and George Aiken in Utah

Nita and George Aiken in Utah

Sometimes a story gets hold of me and just won’t let go, especially if a book’s involved, a book that I want and can’t have, because it’s no longer in print and can’t be found.

Three years ago, I wrote a series of three columns about a man who, to me, is maybe the most remarkable, fascinating man ever to come out of Madeira. He’s an example of how much one person can achieve in a lifetime. I didn’t know him, never even met him, yet I do know him through a book he wrote, a book I’d love to own, to read again and again.

His name was George Russell Aiken. He spent his youth in Madeira, and he was Drucilla Bain’s first cousin. Drucilla still lives in Madeira, and she may be the most important link to Madeira’s history. Her grandfather, Samuel Druce, was Madeira’s first mayor. The Bain family was also important in Madeira’s history, and she has ties to the Dones, Kitchell and Marvin families. Many of Madeira’s streets are named for her ancestors.

Russell Aiken was Drucilla’s cousin on the Bain side of her family. He spent a happy youth here and then went to Ohio State University to become a doctor. That, in itself, was remarkable. To grow up on a farm in Madeira and go to college to study medicine in those days took brains and fortitude. But it was after he left Ohio that his life was most remarkable.

The book he wrote is an autobiography, which chronicles his long, productive life. The title is “The Doc Aiken Story: Memoirs of a Country Doctor.” Drucilla owns a copy and let me read it. It was published in 1889, a small printing, when he was 93, five years before his death at 98 years.

At Ohio State, Russell met and married Nita Hauer, a nurse. After graduation, they went West for the “pure air,” because Nita had an illness. They settled in Utah and never came back.

In their early days there, in Hurricane, Utah, they were a medical team and provided the only medical care for a huge area in southern Utah and expanding 200 miles south to Flagstaff, Ariz. It was a remote area, and most of their patients were Mormons and either Navajo or Paiute Indians. Dr. Aiken rode long distances on horseback, delivering babies, doing tonsil and other surgeries, and saving lives in homes or wherever he could. He did this for little money, or no money at all. In his book, he explained this: “If you were a doctor, you took care of people whether they had money or not.”

Then they moved to Kanab. In his early days there, he took care of all West period of cattle rustling and water stealing. It was a tough life. But Doc and Nita loved Kanab, and the town loved therm. They built and opened Kanab’s first hospital in 1936.

But medicine was not the only life Russell and Nita lived. Both were sportsmen and fly fishermen. He was known as the best in southern Utah. He built Navajo Lake Lodge on Cedar Mountain, while practicing medicine at the same time.

He also had a career in politics. He served as a local councilman ant three terms as Kanab’s mayor. He then served three terms in the state legislature of Utah, while continuing his practice.

Doc Aiken and his Nita were a true love story, and they were the “beautiful people” before the term was ever coined. They both had movie star looks, and they were social leaders in the town. They lived in “Heritage House,” a huge home, which has been preserved since his death and is a big tourist attraction.

In the 30’s and 40’s, Kanab was discovered by Hollywood. Movie stars came in droves while movies were shot on location. This was probably the most incredible period of his life, when he and Nita became friends with top movies stars of the time. They rode, fished, played and partied with the biggest of Hollywood stars. Their home turned into an oasis for movie actors and a place for stars to relax away form the public. Nita was beautiful and a good hostess. They gave parties. Glenn ford and Joe McCrea would wander in and out of their house. Claire Trevor and Evelyn Keyes would bring over food and then prepare supper. Nita was an accomplished horsewoman. She taught them to ride and fish. She had a feud with Randolph Scott, who broke her favorite rod and never offered to replace it. Even Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford cam, as did Ronald Reagan, when he filmed “Death Valley Days.” Dr. Yvonne DeCarlo and Omar Sharif.

In 1977 his beloved Nita died. He buried her near the red rock cliffs that overlook the town they loved and he placed a plaque in her memory in the gardens of spring flowers at Heritage House. He mourned her, but he did not stop living. For 17 more years, he continued to savor life.

The last part of his book is a poignant account of how it feels to grow old. He wrote about his memories, his dreams, and his regrets. He wrote about his frustration of no longer being to “cast that line, or ride, or rope a wild mare,” and especially of caring for his patients. He wrote about the joys of living with his cats, after he was alone without Nita. He wrote about his many friends and how he appreciated them.

He wrote about lying in the dark and listening to his heart beat, dreaming the dreams of an old man and wanting to go on living. “I have lived so long,” he wrote, “and I have done so much in my life. But it hasn’t been enough.” Up until the end, he hoped to write another book.

At his death in 1994, at the age of 98, the Southern Utah News published a long tribute to him and called him “legendary.” Kanab’s hospital is named for him, the George R. Aiken Kane County Hospital. Heritage House, his and Nita’s home is a popular historical site. He is buried beside Nita at the red rock cliffs.

His book is an inspiring legacy. I despair of ever owning a copy, but I hope to. It’s long out of print and was never sold here. My only hope is to find someone with a copy who is willing to sell it. I may never own it, but I won’t give up. And I won’t forget the story of a man who never quit living. His book is an inspiring example of how to live a life.

Aiken and his wife Nita, led fabulous, legendary lives in Utah. They built hospitals, headed up society, and were friends to movie stars. He wrote an Inspiring book, published when he was 93, about his long, happy and productive life.

Dr. Aiken served a three-year stint in the Navy in World War II. He headed a surgical team in the South Pacific.