Sharp & Savvy: Dr. Benjamin Levan Saeger (1853 – 1934)
by David Mason
Dr. Saeger received his medical degree from the University of Michigan and had opened his first office in Pennsylvania. His life would take a dramatic change when his friend, Dr. Wilson P. Kern, the only local doctor in the Ojai Valley became ill.
Dr. Kern requested that Dr. Saeger come to the valley to fill in during his illness. He arrived in 1889 and what was to be a temporary job, turned into a practice lasting for 45 years. His first home was a room in the Blumberg’s hotel and his room and board amounted to $20.00 per month.
After the death of his friend, Dr. Kern, he decided to stay. In 1892 he opened the Ojai Drugstore along with his “country doctor” practice. The drugstore’s shelves were covered with all that was available at the time to restore one to good health. A soda fountain was also in the building. The doctor’s typical ad in the local newspaper read as follows: “We carry no groceries, hardware, nor general merchandise. In drugs and stationery we solicit the public patronage.”
In 1896, the Sunset Telephone and Telegraph Company of San Francisco asked Dr. Saeger to become their agent for the town. He was then the first person in the valley to have a telephone. It would serve the valley as a direct link to the outside world. The doctor would send the message out of the valley by turning the crank on the strange device and when someone miraculously answered, he would give them the message.
Before the citizens of the valley were accustomed to the invention of the telephone, someone invented the automobile. Dr. Saeger was the first person in the valley to own one, a Buick Blue Streak.
In 1903, Dr. Saeger was part of a small group that formed the Ojai Publishing Company and started printing the local newspaper; The Ojai, now the Ojai Valley News. Dr. Saeger was the paper’s first editor.
The drugstore then doubled as the newspaper office. One could drop off articles, advertisements and pay for subscriptions while filling their prescriptions.
In 1934, the stores in the town of Ojai were closed. The people of the small valley had lost their beloved doctor. The report that Dr. Benjamin Levan Saeger had died caused the town to close its doors in honor of this fine man.