Dr. Joseph S. Ardinger, a retired obstetrician and gynecologist who delivered more than 4,000 babies in nearly 50 years of medical practice, died Monday of complications from pneumonia Monday at Howard County General Hospital. The Ellicott City resident was 92.
Born in Baltimore, he was raised by a single mother and his German-immigrant grandparents. Family members said he was influenced by a fortuneteller's prediction offered at a Hippodrome Theatre stage show in the 1930s.
"She told my father, who was 12, that he would grow up to be a surgeon," said his son, Douglas W. Ardinger of Ellicott City. "He took this prediction to heart and made it his goal."
After graduating from Catonsville High School in 1938, he applied to the University of Maryland, College Park. He was accepted but didn't have the money to pay tuition.
"His mother shared a mutual acquaintance with the University of Maryland's president, Harry 'Curley' Byrd," his son said. "She and other family friends sent letters to President Byrd seeking his help in obtaining a scholarship. Instead of offering a scholarship, President Byrd offered him a full-time job in a dining hall at the university, where he earned $200 a year. He also got him a summer job working for the Department of Agriculture as a farm products inspector. He got $3.04 a day."
With income from the job and loans, Dr. Ardinger was able to earn a bachelor's degree. He then entered the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
"Once again, financial constraints became an issue," his son said.
But World War II was raging, and Dr. Ardinger was drafted into the Navy. He completed his medical education at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1944. He served as an assistant naval surgeon and left the Naval Reserve as a lieutenant in 1958.
Dr. Ardinger interned at the old South Baltimore General Hospital on Light Street and completed his residency in obstetrics and gynecology at St. Agnes Hospital. As a young physician, he was also an obstetrics and gynecology consultant at Fort Meade.
In 1952, he joined the staff at St. Agnes and was later secretary and treasurer of the hospital. He also had an office in the Rolling Road Plaza shopping center. He headed the obstetrics teaching program at the hospital's school of nursing from 1957 to 1965. He lectured widely in his field to Baltimore-area residents.
Dr. Ardinger was a sole practitioner in obstetrics and gynecology for more than 50 years. His family estimated he delivered more than 4,000 babies.
"His dedication to his profession was legendary. During a blizzard in January 1966, he walked for almost 2 miles through high drifts from his house to get to an ambulance to take him to the hospital for a delivery," his son said.
In recognition and appreciation, the board of trustees of St. Agnes Hospital presented Dr. Ardinger an award for outstanding service as a 50-year medical staff member in 2003. He also created a memorial fund at the hospital.
Dr. Ardinger had memberships in the American Medical Association, the American Fertility Association, the American Association of Gynecological Laparoscopists, the Southern Medical Association, and the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland. He was also a fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and a diplomat of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecologists.
A sports fan, he followed the Baltimore Colts, Ravens, Orioles and Maryland Terrapins — and the sporting events in which his three granddaughters participated. As a young man, he played in softball games held against resident physicians on the St. Agnes property.
"While he loved watching, he enjoyed participating even more," his son said. "He was a long-standing member as a competitor and referee with the U.S. Judo Federation. He was a second-degree black belt and was active at the Baltimore Judo Club."
Dr. Ardinger enjoyed ski trips to Europe and was a member of the 70 Plus Ski Club. He participated in and was awarded numerous medals in the Senior Olympics and Maryland State Games for tennis and track and field.
He did stand-up comedy in the annual Senior Olympics Follies. He also belonged to Toastmasters International and spoke or served as a master of ceremonies at retirement roasts and birthday parties.
"Those who knew him well described him as outspoken, humorous, witty and romantic," his son said. "My father loved Frank Sinatra, the show 'Hee Haw,' and martinis, shaken not stirred, with two olives."
The family will receive friends from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Harry H. Witzke Funeral Home, 4112 Old Columbia Pike in Ellicott City.
In addition to his son and three granddaughters, survivors include another son, Robert Ardinger of Columbia. His wife of 43 years, Carolyn Capps, died in 2008. A son, Ronald Ardinger, died in 1981. His marriage to Irma Eckart ended in divorce.