OH, the places these DMU graduates have gone!

At DMU’s virtual alumni reunion in late May, Steve Rosenberg, D.O.’71, recalled annoying the neighbors one Halloween by putting a skeleton on the roof of the house he lived in as a student at the College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery (COMS), now DMU.

Alumni enjoyed reuniting even though they had to do so via Zoom.

Mark Schultz, D.O.’80, remembered faculty member Norman Rose, D.O.’63, FACOS, FICS, emphasizing to COMS students the importance of taking a good history for each patient. COMS Class of 1971 members Ed Martin, D.O., and Joe Schlecht, D.O., described “playing hooky” from class one day to hang out at a nearby lake.

Tom Aiello, D.O.’71, marveled that COMS had an ever-helpful elevator operator, Gussie LaMar, while Jeff Serwin, D.O.’71, recalled a “real Indian summer” he and his classmates endured on COMS’ previous campus, most of which was not air-conditioned, in downtown Des Moines.

Jim Mitton, D.O.’71, reminded Mike Merrill, D.O.’71, of how he helped his classmate move in as a student, driving from Des Moines to Texas and back to Des Moines in one weekend.

The memories were many and catching up with each other was top priority for the nearly 50 alumni who attended the reunion, which honored graduates of 1981, 1980, 1971, 1970 and earlier years. Yet a consensus emerged: The attendees share great pride in being osteopathic physicians and gratitude for the careers they’ve enjoyed.

“I can’t believe it’s been 50 years,” exclaimed Dr. Serwin. “It’s so great to see you all and learn about what everyone has done in their careers.”

Particularly for the graduates of the early 1970s and previous years, those careers often included having to overcome misperceptions and even condescension from allopathic peers. “We broke the mold and made osteopathic medicine from what it was in 1967 to now being mainstream,” Dr. Serwin said.

Even more recent graduates had to break some molds. Dave Kapaska, D.O.’86, M.B.A., chair of the DMU Board of Trustees, joined the Sioux Falls, SD-based Avera McKennan as a physician and administrator when only a few D.O.s worked in the state.

“What I wanted to lift up was the excellence of osteopathic physicians that all of you represent,” he said during the reunion. “Now there are hundreds of D.O.s in South Dakota. The spirit of how we take care of people has really caught on.”

Dr. Rose, a surgeon, was a DMU faculty member when many of the reunion attendees were students. Still involved in surgical training today, he echoed Dr. Kapaska.

“The approach we teach is the compassion, the feeling, the looking at the patient in the eye,” he said. “We will continue to grow as a profession. Our past students are academic deans, presidents, chairs of departments and in other leadership positions.”

Ron Surowitz, D.O.’71, said he enrolled at DMU because he “loved the osteopathic profession and philosophy.” He recalled what Byron Laycock, D.O., a legendary professor of osteopathic manual medicine, always told students: “Never forget the reason you came here in the first place.”

“There are so many aspects of working in the health care system that can make you unhappy,” Dr. Surowitz added, “but we’re all so fortunate to have a career in this profession.”

The reunion began with a campus update from DMU President and CEO Angela L. Walker Franklin, Ph.D. She described multiple ways DMU students volunteered to serve the community throughout the pandemic, from staffing a COVID-19 hotline and helping administer vaccines, all while they had to adapt to completing courses, labs and rotations in virtual formats. She shared progress on the University’s $50 million Purple & Proud Campaign as well as on the new 88-acre campus in West Des Moines, where the University plans to move in 2023.

“I encourage all of you to keep track of our progress via our website and also to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime endeavor with your support for your alma mater,” President Franklin said.

When she shared renderings of the new campus with reunion attendees, one commented in the chat box, “Amazing what the school looks like compared with our old building [downtown].” Replied another: “We have come a long way from Sixth Avenue.”

Jami Haberl, M.H.A.’03, M.P.H.’03, president of the DMU Alumni Association Board of Directors, then introduced short videos to honor the 2020 Alumni of the Year:

  • College of Health Sciences: Tray Wade, M.H.A.’08, M.A., president and CEO, EveryStep, Des Moines
  • College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery: Scott Nelson, D.P.M.’00, FACFAS, foot and ankle surgeon, Catholic Health Initiative (CHI Health) Department of Orthopedics, Omaha
  • Dave Kapaska, D.O.’86, M.B.A., former chief medical officer, Mercy Medical Center, Des Moines, and retired president and CEO, Avera McKennan, Sioux Falls, SD
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