Phyllis Vivian (Roggenkamp) Irwin, 95, of Noblesville, IN, went to be with her Savior and Lord at 10:30 am on Sunday, June 23, 2024. Family gathered around her bed were watching the live stream of her son, Nate, preaching a powerful sermon at College Park Church on the preeminence of Christ. As the sermon ended her breathing slowed; she took her last breath on earth during the closing song, “Holy Forever”; with her next breath she joined the generations gone before, worshipping Jesus face-to-face.

Phyllis was born August 4, 1928, in New Albany, IN, to the late Albert and Bessie (Altes) Roggenkamp. Her parents raised her and two older brothers, Norman and Milton, in Milltown, IN, along the Blue River. It was her brothers who taught her to swim, to dive off the bridge, to ice skate on the river during the winter, and to ride a bike. She had her own paper delivery route on that bike, where neighborhood dogs would follow her home. Her love of animals and adventures began early!

But above all, Phyllis was a woman who loved Jesus with all her heart from the moment the Lord brought her into a personal experience of salvation just before her senior year of high school. During her years at Asbury College she sensed God leading her to medical missionary service and never again considered anything else. On her first date with the handsome Russ Irwin her freshman year of medical school at Indiana University, she made sure that he was planning on being a missionary—or there would not have been a second date! Russ regularly delighted in telling how she “popped the question” on their first date! They were married in 1952 and served together with The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM) at Bach Christian Hospital in northern Pakistan for 35 years, followed by 4 years in the Pakistani city of Lahore, before retiring to the U.S. in1995.

This talented, dedicated, hard-working, fearless, unassuming woman is survived by her children, Patty McGarvey (Carl), Nate Irwin (Marty), and Cindy Irwin; her grandchildren Kristy McGarvey (fiancé James), Nathan McGarvey, David McGarvey (Jennifer), Tim Irwin (Aimee), Jessica Irwin (Chad), and Leslie Esch (Mike); and 5 great-grandchildren, Silas and Auggie McGarvey, Titus and Elise Irwin, and Anna Esch. She was preceded in death by her beloved husband, Russell Irwin, who got to heaven first in 2019. She was also predeceased by her brothers, Norman who was killed in action during WWII and Milton who died last year after a long career as a pathologist (and to whom she would send pathology samples for diagnosis from the other side of the world!).
What a life was ensconced in the dash between the years 1928–2024! After finishing her M.D. at Indiana University School of Medicine while Russ completed his M.Div. at Grace Theological Seminary, they boarded a ship in 1956 with baby Patty and sailed to Karachi, Pakistan, via the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Indian Oceans. Then two hot days and one long night on a train took them north into the foothills of the Himalayan mountains.

And the adventures began! In Phyllis’s own words, taken from her self-published autobiography:

“We helped build a hospital in the Northwest Frontier of West Pakistan, raised a family of three, developed a hospital staff, and treated many thousands of patients annually. Our son Nate was born the day before I had my first-year language test (I think the test initiated labor!). I delivered him on a dining room table without anesthesia during a monsoon rainstorm in a mountain town in the Himalayas, attended by a lady missionary physician. Since no vehicular traffic was available, she arrived by horse just in time!

“Our younger daughter, Cindy, was born in relatively posh facilities back in the USA on our first furlough. Now I was challenged with the task of being a mom with three kids, wife, missionary, medical superintendent, and chief staff physician of a 50-bed hospital. I absolutely loved medicine, and although I worked many 12+ hour days for many years, I was fascinated by the variety of pathology and far advanced conditions that confronted us every clinic day. I was moved with compassion by the desperate needs of these poor Muslim patients. In those days a male doctor could not see women patients. As word spread that there was a lady doctor, patients came from many miles around, some traveling days to reach the hospital.“

We saw hopeless, far advanced TB of lung, TB of the spine, bone and joints, nodes, even kidney and skin. There were also horrid childbirth injuries, neglected fractures requiring amputation, disfiguring burn scars, parasitic infections, malnutrition of the worst degree in children, and the dreaded diarrheal diseases that take so many lives of babies and children. Complicated labor cases began coming. A lot of this I had never seen before, so we struggled and learned from reading books.

“We improvised, and prayed. We saw lots of extensive burns requiring skin grafting. We did hernias, bladder and urethral stones, drained huge TB abscesses containing quarts of gaseous pus. There were lots of Caesarian sections, even more tubal ligations, and lots of osteomyelitis operations to remove dead bone. The Lord’s hand was in every healing… We prayed with every patient before surgery in the name of Jesus. We distributed Bibles and literature freely… a few responded—most did not—but all respected us and our Christian message.

“We took the children with us on treks for clinics in the “boonies” back in the mountains. The kids watched surgery; the girls saw deliveries; and when they were older, the kids actually worked in the hospital as “aides” during vacations… And let’s see, I was also a wife. When was there time for that? The Lord gave me a very wonderful, spiritual, flexible, genial husband who was a great father when I often wasn’t there for the kids… We had to plan carefully to do things as a family when the kids had time at home [from boarding school]. A great love for each other, from the Lord himself, helped us to get through life with rejoicing.” All three of their children went on to serve the Lord overseas and in the US in various ministries.

The quotes above only capture a glimpse of the life Phyllis gave gladly to her Lord. After retiring to their native Indiana, her pace of life barely slowed. She spent time pouring over years of journals to write her autobiography. She loved keeping a large garden, canning and sharing her bounty. She wrote and led many years of women’s Bible studies, and she and Russ connected with and cared for many immigrant families. They visited prisons together and were actively involved in the ministries of Faith Church and Prairie Baptist Church. They also returned to Pakistan several times for specific ministry opportunities.

In 2006, Phyllis was honored by the Indiana University School of Medicine as their distinguished alumnus of the year for her service to humanity. She had been one of only four women in her class of 150 and was inducted as a member of Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society, the only national medical honor society in the world. Phyllis’s desire was that her body be donated to the university for research and medical education. Special thanks to IU and Keller Mortuary Services for facilitating her request.

To give God the glory for the legacy of this amazing woman, a celebration of Phyllis’s life will be held at 3:00 pm on July 13, 2024, at Faith Church, 9125 N. College Ave, in Indianapolis. A reception will follow to greet the family and share memories.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to TEAM for Bach Christian Hospital at www.team.org or mailed to TEAM, PO Box 1683, Carol Stream, IL 60132-1683.
“Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”