A tribute to our founders

As part of a campus celebration of DMU history, students, faculty, staff and members of the Still family lay a wreath at the tombstone of S.S. Still and his wife.
As part of a campus celebration of DMU history, students, faculty, staff and members of the Still family lay a wreath at the tombstone of S.S. Still and his wife.

During the month of March, the DMU community focused on a celebration of our history. Quite fittingly, the month concluded with a tribute to our founders, Drs. S. S. and Ella Still. Both were beloved by students not only for their medical knowledge and teaching skills, but also for the interest and attention they showered on the students. So, again quite fittingly, the observance on Monday, March 21, was led by the students, with representatives from all three colleges involved in the program.

S. Still died on November 20, 1931, and Ella on June 21, 1938. Both are buried at Woodland Cemetery in Des Moines, a fact very few at DMU seem to be aware of. But during the 1930s, students regularly visited the gravesite on or around December 7, the birthdate of S.S., to hold a memorial wreath-laying observance. It seemed fitting to the current members of Sigma Sigma Phi that they emulate the spirit demonstrated in the 1930s by organizing a similar memorial ceremony.

Ella and S.S. would have enjoyed the tribute, as did three descendants of the Stills who were in attendance. Led by Andrew Schroeder, COM Class of 2018 and vice president of Sigma Sigma Phi, the program at the cemetery included a brief history of the wreath laying tradition, reflections on the founders’ historical legacies by students Nathan Stocco, PA’17, Lindsey Hjelm, D.P.M.’18, and Alex Bauer, D.O.’18, and remarks by Noreen O’Shea, D.O., faculty advisor to SSP.

Student Doctor Schroeder offered this summation of the observance: “As a student, sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day function of learning. Honoring our founders was a nice way to take a step back and express gratitude, recognizing those who have paved the way for our education. I think it was also important to show appreciation for all the people who extend Drs. Ella and S. S. Still’s work today by continuing to build on what they founded. Events like these build tradition and reinforce a strong sense of school pride.”

Following the 4:00 p.m. cemetery observance, the program switched back to the campus where Gary Hoff, D.O., FACOI, FACC, provided an informative and entertaining look at the founding of the Dr. S.S. Still College and Infirmary of Osteopathy. From the role of Colonel Conger in the founding of the college, to the selection of Des Moines as the site, to the purchase of land along 1422-1428 and 1429-1431 Locust Street, to the rivalry with the American College of Osteopathy in Kirksville and to the storied careers of S. S. and Ella, Dr. Hoff described the vivid tapestry of events that unfolded to create the very remarkable institution we enjoy today.

In reflecting on the month’s observance, one can only wonder what the founders would think of our university today… the location on Grand Avenue… three colleges… eight academic degrees… a Global Health program… 12,990 living alumni… and 1,600 dedicated and compassionate students.

Want to learn more about DMU’s colorful history?

Read all about it in Now is the Time; Des Moines is the Place — A History of Des Moines University 1898-2003, on sale now at the DMU Matthews Bookstore.

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