DMU sets out to explore the “human elements” in its history

Dr. Ella Daugherty Still was the beloved and renowned wife of Des Moines University’s founder, Dr. S.S. Still. Recorded in the Log Book, Aug. 1, 1928, are these words of Dr. Ella: “The motives for our founding a new College in Des Moines were the desire to spread the gospel of Osteopathy and to choose for that purpose a place which should afford all the advantages necessary. There was never a group, faculty or students, more enthusiastic, all working together for the advancement of the science. One could write volumes on the early days of this college and then not tell of all the wonderful things accomplished.”

Dr. Ella Daugherty StillUnfortunately, no history was ever written to inform us of those earliest years. Perhaps the men and women who made our history had no time to write it.

As the University approached its centennial in 1998, its leaders realized that to prepare for the next 100 years, we needed to take a good look at our past. A history project was initiated and copy was developed, but the pages never saw the ink of a printing press. Enter Dr. Angela Walker Franklin, DMU’s 15th president, who believes that reviewing our past provides guidance for our future. Whether out of desperation or inspiration, she assigned me the task of resurrecting our institutional history.

Early in my career at DMU, I was asked to develop a presentation for the president to share with alumni at an American Osteopathic Association convention. Serendipity is not a usual companion of mine, but on this occasion, I stumbled across some old photos that were so marvelous in their historical significance that I made them the focus of the presentation. The alumni were amused, but one could also sense the immense pride and high regard they held for their alma mater.

That experience convinced me the University had a special heritage. Why had it survived when so many others failed? What had allowed it to educate outstanding health care providers regardless of location, to be consistent in educational philosophy regardless of institutional name, and to understand holism, humanism and prevention far in advance of other medical schools? And haven’t we always placed the patient squarely at the center of our educational philosophy?

The current history project, commissioned at the conclusion of the centennial, covers the years 1898 through 2003. If the phases of the project remain on schedule, we should have a history to introduce in the fall of 2015.

This draft is no fluffy, all-is-wonderful account. Written by two skilled professionals, Lee Anderson, Ph.D., and Kathy Penningroth, it examines major elements of our history in the context of osteopathic medicine, medicine in general and national affairs. The opportunities, challenges and failures experienced by our University are viewed as part of the landscape of medical education in the United States.

This is where you come in…

As thorough as this history is, it does not dwell sufficiently on the inspiration of the many individuals who saved the college from disaster on several occasions. President Franklin has encouraged us to seize this opportunity to bring these stories to life in future publications. We need DMU alumni, former employees and friends to share their stories.

The history project envisioned by President Franklin has these phases:

Phase I: Edit the existing draft covering the years 1898 to 2003; prepare for printing later this year.

Phase II: Collect oral histories from alumni, faculty and friends of the University. Organize memorabilia to celebrate the chapters of our institutional growth and maturation.

Phase III: Begin writing a second document focusing on the “human” elements of our unique and very rich history – the people (enterprising, intelligent, dedicated, patient, impatient, saintly or mischievous) who have made us who and what we are. Describing their contributions to the vibrant tapestry that colors our history will enrich us all. We are already thankful for alumni like Dr. Roger Senty who has provided great insights into events that occurred in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.

Here are a few examples of historical vignettes we hope to capture in the months ahead:

Are you aware that a condition in the negotiations to purchase St. Joseph’s Academy in 1970 included two nuns? Sister Clemenza and Sister Mira considered St. Joseph’s to be their home and wanted to spend their remaining years there. And so the deal to purchase the property included three buildings, 22 acres and two nuns. What an example of humanism in medicine!

Several alumni, including Dr. Niru Pandeya, have spoken lovingly of Gussie, the elevator operator on the Sixth Avenue property. Gussie knew more about the students — their lives, heartbreaks and headaches — than anyone, according to Dr. Pandeya. She knew grades before they were posted, she knew Dr. Miroyiannis’ mood before the students arrived (and was kind enough to warn them of any impending doom), and she was a mental health counselor before we had a counseling office.

Service is a critical part of our institutional DNA. How many babies did our students and faculty deliver in homes during the 1920s and ’30s to women who could not afford a hospital delivery? How many free physicals have we provided to students and athletes who could not otherwise afford them?

While never a major athletic power, Still College once had a vibrant intercollegiate athletic program. The College even subsidized many football and a few basketball players to the tune of $4,160 in 1924. However, in 1928, the college terminated football because the program’s cost was too large and players had too little time to study. Basketball, deemed “less detrimental to the school’s academic image,” survived one additional year, but it too was terminated in 1929. We can all be relieved the board recognized that tuition remission for athletic successes weakened the institution’s academic soul, but we continue to see that struggle played out so often in today’s collegiate environment.

Dr. Ella is correct — our history could fill volumes. To make certain that we are salvaging the many vignettes and stories of our history fully and completely, we invite alumni, former faculty and friends of DMU to share remembrances, anecdotes and fond recollections. We will not be able to include everything in a printed volume, but all written contributions and oral histories will be recorded and stored in the archives as a testament to the spirit that has sustained this University throughout its 116 marvelous years.

To all who contribute, thanks for the memories!

Got memories?

Do you have stories worth telling from your days at DMU? Want to share memories of the events and characters that shaped you and your University experience? We want to hear about them!

Please submit your stories, great and small. Send them by e-mail or mail to Mary Ann Zug at or Des Moines University, 3200 Grand Ave., Des Moines, IA 50312. If you want to share them by phone, call Zug at 515-271-1385. And if you visit campus, let her know so that we can record your memories.

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