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Rolf Nissen Memorial

Rolf Nissen Memorial Fund Contribution



 Rolf Nissen, MD, 93, passed away Friday, April 2, 2021.

As the Warren-born world famous poet, Kenneth Patchen, said, “All that leaves is here always”…. and as the German poet, Goethe, stated,  “What one carries deep in one’s heart can even at death never be lost.”  

Rolf Nissen was born in Schlamersdorf, Germany as the second son of Pastor Heinrich Nissen and his wife, Edith.

After losing his father in a highway accident, he moved at the age of five to Berlin to live with his uncle, Professor Dr. Karl Nissen and his cousins, Wolf and Hasso. At the age of 16 he was drafted with other classmates to a Berlin antiaircraft base, a branch of the German Luftwaffe. At that time, Berlin suffered air raids almost daily and nightly. These were tough times but after the war, Rolf never forgot the wonderful CARE packages arriving from the USA. They brought food and basic necessities to a starving city in rubble, now under brutal and merciless Soviet military rule.

Nissen attended the University of Mainz for pre-med studies, followed up by graduate courses at the historic University of Marburg. His 1953 doctoral dissertation researched myotonia congenita, a disabling muscle disorder. Also interested in the arts and art history, he participated in a class about European cathedrals. Here he incidentally ran into Marianne, whom he married ten years later. (Ten years! What took him so long?)

From 1953 to 1954 he did an internship at the City Hospital in Kassel under the chief physician, Professor Heinz Kalk, his uncle, who specialized in diseases of the liver. Among the famous people Kalk had treated was Eva Peron.  

Forever ready to travel, the chance of a one-year internship at Cincinnati’s Bethesda Hospital was too exciting to be passed up and then, once in America, just one year was not enough. Residencies in pathology and internal medicine at Canton Hospitals followed and finally, a chief residency at Trumbull Memorial Hospital, after which Rolf decided to stay for good.

In 1960 he opened a private practice in Warren, Ohio. He was licensed to practice medicine in the states of Virginia and Ohio. During his 37 years of serving patients as an internist, he was one of the nearly-extinct doctors still making house calls. It seemed to him an important tool to see how a patient lived in their home, in order to provide the proper care. Dr. Nissen was on the active staff of TMH, the courtesy staff of St Joseph Hospital and the affiliated staff of the Cleveland Clinic.

Throughout his career he remained active in hospital affairs, serving on numerous committees and on the board of TMH.  He enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere among the medical staff and, especially, friendships with doctors from other corners of the world. Yearly highlights were the December Cardiology Meeting in New York City, where, among many other luminaries, Nissen met the first heart transplant surgeon, Dr. Christian Bernard.

His German wanderlust took him with his camera and Marianne (his lens carrier) to many countries; among them Japan, India, Thailand, Brazil (including the Amazon region), Russia, Mexico and Guatemala, to name only a few. Needless to say, the Nissens have also been in every one of the 50 states. Living in Warren, Ohio, they were involved in many civic activities; among them TAG, TNT, The Warren Orchestra and The Butler Institute of American Art but most intensive was the effort to bring art to a place which sooner or later everyone would enter. In 1985 Marianne and her friend, Frannie Burns, started creating a major collection of American museum posters and works of area artists, which would be displayed with explanatory labels on the floors of Trumbull Memorial Hospital. From the beginning, Drs. Nissen and Burns would be involved in the process. In 1995 Rolf was the fundraiser for the catalog of the “Arts in Healing” exhibit, which opened at the Butler Institute as a major part of an international conference of the Society for the Arts in Health Care.  It was hosted by TMH, TAG and the Cleveland University Hospital. From the beginning, Rolf shared and supported, locally and nationally, his wife’s passion for the arts. Among many humanitarian charities and especially medical causes, his favorite was probably Doctors Without Borders, because these gutsy doctors who go to dangerous places of urgent medical needs, risking personal health and security, deserved his total admiration.  Among all the many humanitarian organizations he supported , he never forgot CARE, which had provided those wonderful packages to Berlin.

After Dr. Nissen retired, he often wondered how he had ever worked as a busy physician and still found time for all this extra activity. Naturally, there was more time now to be spent in Munich and Berlin. There was also more time to visit with Katharina, his one and only daughter, who lives in Fairfax, Virginia with her husband, Robert Vohra and most cherished, granddaughter, Christina.

There was more time to garden, to swim, to ski, to take pictures, to hang art shows and serve on the board of the Trumbull Art Gallery. He mastered and frustrated himself with the computer and iPhone. He ran the dishwasher (which he claimed had never been operated the right way by his wife). He loved to take photographs and loved to read (mostly about history) by the pool, in his favorite chair, in airports, in planes and in bed. Marianne, who had obtained a PhD in the history of theater and the arts, from the Munich University, does not regret marrying Rolf because she really, really liked him. She wants to thank him for having been her best buddy and committed assistant in all her many art activities. All in all it was a great ride.

Rolf Nissen, still on the board of TAG, much enjoyed on an icy January day in 2018 his 90th-birthday bash at the Trumbull Art Gallery, which, via his many generous guests, resulted in a TAG Nissen Fund to support artwork and artists, to which you may contribute in his honor. With a glass of red wine, his favorite, he would probably propose as a final toast: “GOOD HEALTH TO YOU ALL”!


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January 5, 2018
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