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Rodney Jesse  Simonsen, M.D.

Obituary for Rodney Jesse Simonsen, M.D.

April 6, 1938 - February 20, 2019
Austin, Texas | Age 80


Rodney Jesse Simonsen, M.D., also known as "Rod" and "RJ" by family and friends, was born on April 6, 1938, in Logan, Cache County, Utah, to Dorothy (Packard) & Rodney Merrell Simonsen. He was the second oldest and only boy among three sisters. He lived his early childhood in Utah, later moving to Boise, Idaho, and finally settling in Portland, Oregon, as a teenager.

Rod was an active youth. He played basketball and football, ran track, and learned to play trumpet like his father. During his Junior year Rod was selected to participate in the American Field Service Program, which furthered goodwill and understanding between the U.S. and other countries. Rod was hosted in Germany and became part of a family's life for two months during the summer of 1955. This foreign exchange ignited a passion for support to international student outreach. In later years Rod and Helga hosted several foreign exchange students from Brazil, Germany, and Russia through the Austin Rotary Club, while raising their own children. During his senior year he competed in varsity basketball, football, and track, and served as senior class president. He graduated with Honors from Cleveland High School in Portland, Oregon, in May 1956.

As an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins University on a full academic scholarship; he also played lacrosse and developed a love of the game with a national championship team. He also played football during his undergraduate years. After graduating with his bachelor's degree in 1960, he served a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Austrian Mission. Rod first met Helga while both served as missionaries in Austria. After returning home he searched her out in Salt Lake City. They dated and were soon married and sealed for time and all eternity on August 19, 1963, in the Logan, Utah Temple.

Rod returned to Johns Hopkins University to complete medical school. After graduation Rod, Helga and their first child returned to Salt Lake City, where Rod completed his medical residency in physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Utah Hospital. Rod's father had suffered from back pain for many years, and this became a significant factor in his decision to focus his medical career in treating chronic pain and pain management. While in Utah, two more sons joined the family. He kept busy with his medical residency, an active family, and service through a variety of callings in the Church.

The military brought Rod and his family to Texas, where their last four children were born. After completing his residency and obtaining his medical license, Rod was called up to serve as an officer in the United States Air Force. He was assigned to the Lackland Air Force Base Medical Center in San Antonio. He rose to the rank of Major before leaving active service to work in private medical practice, while he continued in reserve duty for another five years.

Rod and Helga loved the Texas hill country so much they decided to stay. They moved first to Gonzales, where Rod practiced physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) at Gonzales Warm Springs Hospital. In 1974 they moved to Austin, where Rod brought the PM&R specialty to Austin. He opened the first rehabilitation center at Shoal Creek Hospital, where he also specialized in pain management, and grew his practice. His services expanded as he became the leading Central Texas physician in muscular dystrophy treatment. For many years, Rod included his children serving as counselors at Muscular Dystrophy Camp each summer, which developed in them a strong understanding and empathy for individuals with disabilities.

Rod next helped establish a rehabilitation unit at Brackenridge Hospital, where he worked for several years. He eventually was asked to come to the new St. David's Rehabilitation Hospital on East 32nd Street, where he served as its medical director. He also used his love of flying and a private pilot instrument license to extend his reach throughout Central Texas. He would routinely fly his private plane to see patients in communities like Brownwood and Abilene as an independent medical examiner. His children often flew with him, which they loved to do. The long days keeping themselves occupied while he saw patients was worth the time soaring the skies with their dad. Rod had a knack for including his children, turning elements of his work into important teaching and bonding opportunities, which continued throughout his life.

Later in his career Rod was introduced to the McKenzie method for comprehensive care of the spine and extremities. He spent the winter of 1995 in New Zealand, becoming a fully credentialed diplomate. He returned to Austin to incorporate it into his practice and into St. David's rehabilitation programs. Rod's introduction of McKenzie techniques allowed St. David's Rehabilitation program to become the training center for McKenzie International. The McKenzie method has become an internationally renowned program that promotes self-therapy focused on specific exercises and routines to treat many common forms of chronic pain, reducing medical costs and improving quality of life. Rod became well known for his constant advice to "bend backwards, go further, further, further, further, further...."

Rod was a devout Christian as a life-long member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Throughout his life he held many Church callings in its local lay ministry, including that of teacher, mission leader, bishop's counselor, and stake high counselor. He never hesitated to share his beliefs with others around him. One particular invitation came at Christmastime in 1983, when Church leaders challenged members to share The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, more extensively throughout the world. Rod was strongly impressed by that invitation, and with the help of his wife and children gave every practicing physician in Austin a copy of the Book of Mormon as a Christmas gift. He didn't seek to push his own beliefs on anyone, but rather he hoped that his invitations to come and follow Christ might have a positive influence on others around him and his family.

Rod was a strong family man, raising seven children together with his wife Helga. As a busy physician, he worked hard to include his family whenever he could. It was common to see him making hospital rounds on a Saturday or Sunday morning before church, with one or two young kids in tow. A tradition that he kept until the youngest became an adult was to gather the family on Christmas Eve. They would visit the rehab hospital to sing Christmas carols to each of the patients confined to spending Christmas there. As the family grew, this cherished family tradition even included in-laws and grandchildren on many occasions.

Rod's church service also saw him highly involved in the Boy Scouts of America programs. He served as scoutmaster, scout committee chair, and in other positions as his boys grew up. He led multiple outings to Lake Powell, as well as BSA high adventure experiences including Philmont Scout Ranch, Florida Sea Base, and Northern Minnesota Boundary Waters. He was very proud that all five of his sons achieved the rank of Eagle Scout.

Following Rod's retirement from medical practice, he and Helga served two volunteer missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was called to serve as the Area Medical Advisor in Brazil for two years, from 2005 - 2007, advising on the healthcare of full-time volunteer missionaries throughout the southern half of Brazil. Then again in England he and Helga served from 2009-2011, covering the British Isles and Cape Verde.

Among other things, Rod served as an FAA Flight Physician, giving bi-annual physicals to private pilots. He was also recognized as City of Austin and State of Texas Physician of the Year in 1983. He served for many years as the Medical Director of the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Central Texas, including participation in the Jerry Lewis Telethon. And he also served as the Johns Hopkins Alumni Representative for Central Texas, which involved interviewing prospective students during their application process.

Rod is preceded in death by his mother Dorothy Packard Simonsen and his father Rodney Merrell Simonsen of Portland, Oregon, and later of Austin, Texas; his older sister Lorna (Simonsen) and her husband Alton "Van" Van Ausdal of Kaysville, Utah; and brother-in-law, Arthur "Art" Lysne of Spokane, Washington.

Rod is survived by his wife of 55 years, Helga Erika (Dahl) Simonsen of Austin, Texas; his sisters Linda (Simonsen) Lysne of Belt, Montana; and Tina (Simonsen) & Walter Ogden of St. George, Utah; and his children including son Nelsen & Leslie (Busch) Simonsen of San Antonio, Texas, with grandchildren Kieley (Simonsen) & Ezra Morales, Morgen, Mikayla, Foster, and Kaci; son Soren & Heather (Wayment) Simonsen of Salt Lake City, Utah, with grandchildren Halle, Christian, and Lunden; son Eric & Corrine (Ford) Simonsen of Eagle Mountain, Utah, with grandchildren Gregory, Bethany, Emily, Timothy, and Hadley; daughter Kristen (Simonsen) & Jason Norman of Salt Lake City, Utah, with grandchildren Joshua, Natalie, Abigail, Caleb, and Sabrina; son Thursten & Melissa (Frazier) Simonsen of San Antonio, Texas, with grandchildren Katelyn, Emma, Lauren, and Clara; daughter Jessica (Simonsen) & Jason Howard of Kearns, Utah, with grandchildren Mollie, Hayden, McCall, and Maycie; and son Rodney Dahl Simonsen of Austin, Texas.

In Austin a Visitation will be held Friday March 1, from 5:00pm – 7:00pm at Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Home, 3125 N. Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78705. A Memorial Service will be held Saturday March 2, at 10:00am at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1000 E. Rutherford Lane, Austin, TX 78753.

In Utah a Visitation will be held Tuesday March 5, from 5:00pm – 7:00pm, with a Funeral Service on Wednesday March 6, at 11:00am, followed immediately by the Interment and Dedication. These will all be at Memorial Mountain View Mortuary & Cemetery, 3115 Bengal Blvd., in Cottonwood Heights, Utah.

In lieu of flowers, the family invites donations in Rod's memory to organizations he was passionate about in life: St. David's Foundation (; Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (; University of Utah Health's Rehabilitation Center (; or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints General Missionary Fund (

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Suggested Memorial Donations

  • In lieu of flowers, the family invites donations in Rod's memory to organizations he was passionate about in life: St. David's Foundation (; Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (;
  • University of Utah Health's Rehabilitation Center (; or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints General Missionary Fund (

Arrangements By

Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Home North

3125 N Lamar Blvd.
Austin, TX 78705
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