Local health icon Dr. Lester Carter, Jr., passes at 90

February 3, 2022

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On Monday, January 31, 2022, longtime local health advocate and pharmacist, Dr. Lester Leon Carter, Jr., passed away at the age of 90.

Born on August 10, 1931 in Omaha, NE during the start of the Great Depression, Dr. Carter was mostly raised by his father, Lester L. Carter, Sr., a meat cutter. Later his father would marry Essie Taylor and Dr. Carter credits her for showing him unconditional love and cultivating his entrepreneurial and intellectual talents.

Dr. Carter earned a diploma from North High School in Omaha in June 1949. Twelve months later the United States was involved in the Korean War. Dr. Carter’s destiny was forever altered when he enlisted in the United States Navy. President Harry Truman had signed an Executive Order ending formal segregation in the United States Armed Forces only two years before Dr. Carter began basic training in 1950. Despite the formal end of segregation, most Blacks were assigned menial janitorial and kitchen duties. However Dr. Carter showed exceptional medical talent on an aptitude test he completed toward the end of basic training. As a result, he was sent to corpsman school in Portsmouth, VA to become a medical assistant.

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After completing corpsmen school, Dr. Carter was assigned to the orthopedic ward of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, MA for nine months. During that time, he was responsible for trying to get injured football players back out on the field. After that he was the sickbay corpsman on the U.S.S. Tortuga (LSD-26), a troop launching ship deployed to Korea for the duration of the war, including providing support services during the invasion of Inchon. After receiving an honorable discharge on August 10, 1954, Dr. Carter decided to apply to Creighton University in Omaha with the intention of becoming a pharmacist. He took the weekend off after being discharged from the Navy on a Friday and began classes at Creighton the following Monday.

Freshman year was very challenging for Dr. Carter, especially given that he had signed up for 18 credit hours of classes. During his junior and senior years at Creighton, Dr. Carter had a part-time job at Cris Rexall Drug in Dundee. Dr. Carter initially was assigned to mop the floor, prepare soft drinks at the soda fountain, serve ice cream and deliver prescriptions. After earning his bachelor of science degree in pharmacy from Creighton in 1958, Dr. Carter continued working at Cris Rexall Drug. One day an outspoken lady to whom Dr. Carter occasionally made deliveries asked him why he was not working as a pharmacist now that he had graduated. He replied that no one had offered him a position in the pharmacy department. She enlisted all of her friends to start calling the pharmacy and asking why Dr. Carter was not working there. All six of the Cris Rexall Drug pharmacists held a staff meeting to decide what to do.

One of the pharmacists came up with the idea of building a small cubicle and allowing Dr. Carter to do all of the compounding in an area where none of the customers could see him. In the 1950s many prescription medications required compounding (mixing) by a pharmacist. It was tedious but exacting work. Dr. Carter took to his new job with the same determination and ambition that he had drawn on to complete his education. His perfectionism soon drew the attention of Dr. Crotty, a well-respected Omaha dermatologist. Dr. Crotty told the drug store owner to congratulate Dr. Carter on his excellent work compounding prescriptions. Dr. Crotty also requested that Dr. Carter prepare all of his compound medications in the future. This recognition led to Dr. Carter becoming a full-fledged pharmacist at Cris Rexall Drug. Within a few years, he had been promoted to store vice president and head pharmacist.

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Beginning in 1965, John Barber, an Omaha native and family friend, began trying to encourage Dr. Carter to relocate to Milwaukee and work for the pharmacy where he was employed. Eventually Dr. Carter decided he was not getting any younger and if he was ever going to make a move it would be best for him to do it now. However, within six months of relocating to Milwaukee, Dr. Carter decided he wanted his own store. Fortunately the manager of Dr. Carter’s largest pharmaceutical supplier in Omaha was a good friend and his territory included Milwaukee, so he was very familiar which pharmacies were for sale. He found Dr. Carter a pharmacy that was just perfect for his needs and contacted the owner, Mr. Mehl, to set up a meeting. Dr. Carter and Mr. Mehl finalized the sale that same day with a handshake. This was 1967 and the neighborhood around 24th and Burleigh streets was about 60 percent German American. Mr. Mehl agreed to stay on as an assistant which proved to be an enormous asset in retaining his customer base. In fact Mr. Mehl was gracious enough to teach Dr. Carter how to greet customers in German which made them even more comfortable with the change of ownership.

Over the decades, the neighborhood surrounding Carter Drug Store, Inc., gradually became predominately African American. The store thrived for more than 47 years under the ownership of Dr. Carter until he and his wife, Irene, both suffered serious health issues in 2014. Dr. Carter underwent five surgeries, including two hip replacements. Irene suffered from terminal lung cancer and died in 2015. Dr. Carter sold Carter Drug to Hayat Pharmacy in 2014.

Throughout the years Dr. Carter has been a generous benefactor of various community sports, health and wellness organizations and he has received honors and accolades too numerous to list in detail. In 2015 Dr. Carter was awarded an honorary doctorate degree from the Medical College of Wisconsin and he returned to work for Hayat Pharmacy specializing in natural supplements that same year. In 2017, he wrote and published a book: Healing the Human Body with God’s Remedies, which sold sold out two large print runs. He continued to work 25 hours a week at Hayat Carter Herbal Shoppe and his piercing blue eyes still did not require corrective eyeglasses.

Dr. Carter is survived by his step-children. As of this publication funeral arrangements are still pending.