Memorial site reflects DMU’s gratitude to body donors

Students in Des Moines University’s clinical programs often describe individuals who donate their bodies to the University as their “first teachers.” They make the ultimate gift to help train future physicians and other health care professionals. DMU recently had installed a new symbol of its deep gratitude to these selfless donors – a stone marker at its burial site in Des Moines’ Glendale Cemetery.

Alex Wright, a funeral director with Caldwell Parrish Funeral Home, worked with Donald Matz, Ph.D., chair of DMU’s anatomy department, and Ed Christopherson, F.D., B.S., the University’s body donation coordinator, to install a new marker honoring individuals who donate their bodies to DMU.

The University’s Body Donor Program offers four options regarding donors’ cremated remains: They can be returned to the donor’s family; returned to a funeral home; buried in a mausoleum at Chapel Hill Gardens in Des Moines; or, for veteran donors, buried at the Iowa Veterans Cemetery in Van Meter. From 1970 to 1993, DMU also offered burial of cremated remains at Glendale Cemetery, but the site’s previous marker was flat and not highly visible.

This Chapel Hill Gardens mausoleum has been the place of burial for DMU’s body donors since 1994.

The new marker was supported by the Frank M. Kneussl Memorial Fund, named in honor of the late anatomy Professor Emeritus Frank Kneussl, Ph.D. During his 25 years at DMU, he was instrumental in creating the physician assistant program and its anatomy course. He also helped develop the podiatric medicine program and the histology course. His “histology laboratory manual,” which he worked on continuously to refine, helped teach many generations of students.

The University created the Frank Kneussl Service Award to honor his contributions and to recognize physician assistant students who display exemplary sincerity, support and compassion toward their classmates and faculty members.

“Dr. Kneussl’s meritorious contributions to the University were his teachings and service,” says Donald Matz, Ph.D., chair of the DMU anatomy department who considers his former colleague “a trusted peer and mentor.”

About the DMU body donor program

Des Moines University relies on the voluntary donation of bodies for anatomical and surgical study by its students. Donated bodies are indispensable in the training of future physicians and health professionals. As of May 1, 2021, 3,067 people have donated the ultimate gift to DMU since detailed recordkeeping began in 1955. When an individual donates their remains to the program, the University reimburses a portion of the transportation costs, provides cremation services for the donor’s family, and includes a personalized plaque of each donor studied that year.

“Thanks to the incredibly selfless gift made by these individuals, we are able to uniquely educate and train our DMU students in anatomy, as well as educate students from local schools about how to take care of their bodies,” says Dr. Matz, Ph.D.

Making arrangements prior to someone’s death is uncomfortable to discuss at times, but planning ahead ensures the body donor’s wish will be fulfilled. For more information about DMU’s Body Donor Program, contact Ed Christopherson, F.D., B.S., body donation coordinator of the program, at 515-271-1481 or, or visit the program’s website.

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