Years come and go, as do beginnings and endings.
But something that will never end on our island, even as the doors to Carlson Chiropractic Clinic on Vashon closed on July 14, is the admiration of and gratitude islanders feel toward Dr. Elmer Carlson for his more than 40 years of caring for his many patients.
Though most patients lived on Vashon, it was not unusual for some to come over regularly from Seattle, and even those who moved farther away made arrangements to have Carlson‘s chiropractic care when returning to Vashon to see family.
Raised in Puyallup, Carlson was inspired to become a chiropractor following an auto accident when he received healing care from a chiropractor. He attended Palmer College of Chiropractic in Iowa in the mid-1970s where he met his future wife, Colleen Birmingham. They married just before his graduation in 1977.
After beginning practice and sharing an office in Tacoma, Elmer and Colleen moved to Vashon in 1979 and started Carlson Chiropractic Clinic with the first office located in Courthouse Square. As his practice grew, they moved to a larger space in the Thriftway complex. One patient, in a note of gratitude to Carlson on his retirement, recalls peeking in the large window of that clinic many years ago wondering what was behind closed doors. Little did she know, that a tap on the shoulder by a gentleman with a smile offering to help, would be none other than Carlson, who invited her in to have a look. This warm, generous, friendly and welcoming man would become her chiropractor for nearly 20 years, until his retirement.
Dr. Carlson is fond of inspiring quotations such as “Something good is going to happen today.” As his office team, Margaret Hoeffel and Susan Rogers noted, everyone who comes in contact with Dr. Carlson, wants to be around him.
“Not only is he an excellent chiropractor, but he is also a stellar human being always present with a smile, eager to listen and learn about his patients’ discomfort as well as their lives,” they said. “Friendships were nurtured, and as the years passed, patients who came to him as children had children of their own and the Carlson Chiropractic family grew.”
In 2009, the clinic relocated for the last time to what is now the Modi Building, where Carlson continued to see patients for the next 12 years.
Elmer and Colleen’s family grew as well. They raised four children on Vashon and were often seen on the West Side around their hilltop farmhouse with the wooden shelter at their driveway where the kids could wait for the school bus. As the children grew up, Colleen returned to college and earned her Bachelor’s and Masters’s degrees. For nearly 18 years she taught English at Vashon High School. With an interest in shifting her teaching focus, Colleen earned additional credentials, and since 2017 has been the librarian at West Seattle High School while continuing to help manage the practice.
Retirement for Carlson came after much deliberation including watching close friends pass away, wanting to spend more time with his and Colleen’s children and seven grandchildren, as well as traveling the beautiful Pacific Northwest and beyond.
Carlson eloquently expresses what his retirement means to him. “It’s been an honor to serve the Vashon community for more than forty years, and I appreciate those who entrusted me with their chiropractic care. Above all, I am most grateful for the relationships I have developed with so many islanders over the last four decades. I wish everyone a healthy, successful future,” he said.
A quotation in the Carlson Chiropractic Clinic waiting area stated, “The Best of Healers is Good Cheer.”
Everyone who was fortunate to be treated by Dr. Carlson benefited from his cheerful kindness and will surely recall one of his favorite phrases – “Keep Smiling!”