Fern Pfafflin Rathe


1930 - 2013

John Charles Rathe, MD (Husband)

80th Birthday Photos

Smithsonian "Women in Science" Article

Cathomycin (Novobiocin) Research Paper and Photo

Wikipedia Photo

IMDB Mention


GUTTENBERG, Iowa — Fern Pfafflin Rathe, 83, died Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, at the Guttenberg Care Center in Guttenberg.

Fern Pfafflin Rathe was born Jan. 8, 1930, in La Crosse, Wis., the only child of Edward and Bessie (Chalsma) Pfafflin. She was raised on the family farm near New Amsterdam, Wis., attending the local one-room schoolhouse and graduating from Holmen High School in 1948 as valedictorian.

In 1952, Fern earned a B.A. in chemistry/zoology from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., where she met John Rathe. The two were married Aug. 29, 1953, in La Crosse. After college she worked as a biochemist at Merck & Co. in New Jersey. Novobiacin, a new antibiotic, was crystallized at her lab bench in Merck's research laboratory.

Fern and John settled in Moline in 1961 and raised their four children. She was active in a number of community organizations, serving as officer and board member for many of them including the Quad-City Symphony, King’s Daughters, PEO, and the Medical Society Auxiliary. Fern obtained her private pilot’s license with a twin-engine rating. She was a regular swimmer, golfer, tennis player and skier.

Fern had a strong appreciation for art and music, and loved to entertain. Her innate sense of style and taste was enhanced by her travels with John to all of the inhabited continents. Closer to home, many wonderful summers were spent along the Mississippi in Guttenberg, where Fern and John eventually moved in 2010.

Never an idle person, her strong spirit and presence influenced all who knew her.

Fern is survived by her husband of 60 years, John; her children, Richard (Cathy), Gainesville, Fla., Mark (Simone), Sacramento, Calif., Diana (Doug) Pray of Los Angeles, and Bruce (Suzanne), Stevens Point, Wis.; and grandchildren, Kaitlin, Lauren, Austin, Theron, Sophia, Ellen and Anna.

Produced with Love by Her Son Richard Rathe