Ever onward: DMU marks 125 years of perseverance, pride and passion

At the opening of the Dr. S. S. Still College and Infirmary of Osteopathy in 1898, only the most optimistic observers could have foreseen the school’s survival into the twenty-first century. After all, Still College was one of many proprietary osteopathic schools that sprouted in the period, and most of those enterprises – undercapitalized and short of students, faculty, and facilities – soon fell by the wayside, a fate, it seemed, that lay in store for Still College on more than one occasion. – from Now Is the Time; Des Moines Is the Place: a History of Des Moines University, 1898-2003 (2015, Des Moines University)

If S. S. Still and Ella Still could see the humble institution they and others founded in 1898, they’d see even their greatest hopes and dreams had been exceeded.

If the individuals who bailed out that institution financially more than once could see it now, they’d be relieved and perhaps amazed by its progress and plans.

If the thousands of students who over the years were nauseated by the reek of the old anatomy lab, who were served lunch by the good nuns of the former St. Joseph’s Academy or dodged bats in its old chapel, who learned from chain-smoking faculty and practiced on first-generation medical mannequins, they’d be a bit jealous and extremely proud to view their alma mater.

As DMU marks its 125th year, let’s salute the optimists and believers – those who founded the nation’s second osteopathic institution, those who have carried out its mission and expanded its programs through the years, the donors who have invested in its work and all the students who’ve had faith their education here would launch them onto rewarding health careers.

These dedicated leaders, faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends have brought the University to a place of strength, with its new West Des Moines campus on track to welcome students this year; expanded clinical services, including in behavioral health and athletic performance; and now 10 graduate degree programs that prepare tomorrow’s health professionals and leaders.

Thanks to the perseverance, pride and passion of these optimists and believers, DMU continues to fulfill its mission of educating highly competent, compassionate health professionals to serve patients, communities and the world.

The 1904 coronet band was among Still College’s many musical, athletic and fraternal organizations.

Sept. 1, 1898 The doors of S.S. Still College open at 1428 West Locust St., Des Moines, IA. Its first class of 41 students complete the two-year curriculum in 1900.

1903 The college remodels its infirmary as Still College Hospital at 1429 Locust St.; President Theodore Roosevelt visits the college.

June 17, 1904 Two hundred Still students and faculty declare a strike to protest faculty dismissals and curriculum changes, threatening to open a new school. With the support of a group of Des Moines business leaders, the school reorganizes as Still College of Osteopathy.

March 1, 1910 Still College remodels the Iowa Sanitarium and Hospital at 603 E. Twelfth St. as the Still College Osteopathic Hospital and Sanitarium.

1910 Abraham Flexner’s landmark report, Medical Education in the United States and Canada, harshly criticizes D.O. schools and medical education in general for poor standards. Still College reorganizes again the next year as the nonprofit Des Moines Still College.

1916 Still College President Simeon Taylor, D.O., M.D., a respected surgeon, purchases the college’s financially burdensome hospital, which becomes Des Moines General.

1921 The Iowa General Assembly passes the Iowa Osteopathic Act, which establishes an osteopathic licensing board of examiners.

1924 H. Virgil “Virge” Halladay establishes Still’s sports medicine program, with students serving as team physicians for local high school and college athletic teams.

1927 The college relocates to 722 Sixth Ave., Des Moines.

1928 The college establishes a foot department. It terminates its intercollegiate football program and, in 1929, its basketball program, citing high costs.

1933 A foot clinic is established separate from the general clinic.

1945 The college’s name is changed to Des Moines Still College of Osteopathy and Surgery. It purchases the Harbach Funeral Home across the street on Sixth Avenue for use as the college hospital.

1958 The Des Moines Still College of Osteopathy and Surgery is renamed the College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery.

1963 The college opens a number of off-campus clinics in Des Moines and the surrounding area.

1967 The College Hospital is renamed the Harrison Rehabilitation and Treatment Hospital, the first center in Iowa to treat alcoholism as a disease.

Late 1960s COMS struggles amid concerns about its deteriorating facilities and state and national discussions about merging osteopathic medicine into allopathic medicine.

1971 New President J. Leonard Azneer announces the college will move to the 22-acre site of St. Joseph’s Academy, a former Catholic girls’ school at 3200 Grand Ave. The Dietz Diagnostic Center, located on Des Moines’ south side, begins operation as a major outpatient facility.

1980-1981 The college purchases and demolishes the Commodore Hotel, 3440 Grand Ave., to make way for a new 82,000-square-foot Academic Center, known for several years as the Azneer Academic Center.

1981 The College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery is renamed the University of Osteopathic Medicine and Health Sciences (UOMHS) with the addition of the College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery (CPMS) and the College of Biological Sciences (later renamed the College of Health Sciences). CPMS is the first podiatry school to be affiliated with an academic health sciences center. The physician assistant program, the only one associated with an osteopathic school, enrolls its first students.

1983 The new health care administration program offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

1984 Despite objections of some local hospitals and local residents, UOMHS holds a groundbreaking ceremony for a new 10-story Tower Clinic, 3200 Grand Ave. It opens in 1986, offering primary care, medical specialties and ambulatory surgery. The Olsen Medical Education Center opens as well.

1988 UOMHS opens a master of science degree program in physical therapy.

1992 The university board places President Azneer on administrative leave after reports arise of mistrust among faculty, resentment among students, weak clinical operations and misuse of university funds; Myron Magen, D.O.’51, is appointed interim president.

1993 The College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery moves from 2150 Grand Ave. to the main campus at 3200 Grand.

1999 UOMHS is renamed Des Moines University (DMU).

2002 The physician assistant program transitions to a master’s degree, and physical therapy transitions to the doctoral level. DMU begins offering a summer research program, now the Mentored Student Research Program, for graduate and undergraduate students.

2004 DMU establishes the Glanton Fund to support scholarships for minority students under-represented in the health professions.

2005 The former Science and Education Building is renamed Richard M. Ryan Hall after a remodel, and the Student Education Center (SEC) opens, replacing the former St. Joseph’s Academy building.

2006 The Munroe Building is remodeled to house two more classrooms.

2007 The Iowa Simulation Center for Patient Safety and Clinical Skills, the only one of its kind in the state, opens with five medical mannequins. DMU adds two new master’s degree programs in anatomy and biomedical sciences.

2008 DMU establishes a chapter of the Gold Humanism Honor Society, a national honor society that honors senior medical students, residents, role-model physician teachers and other exemplars recognized for excellence in clinical care, leadership, compassion and dedication to service.

2009 DMU becomes the nation’s first educational institution to receive the platinum-level Well Workplace Award from the Wellness Councils of America, the organization’s highest distinction. In 2012, the University receives its second platinum-level award.

2010 DMU creates an annual Health Professions Advanced Summer Scholars Program – Health P.A.S.S. – designed to expose minority and first-generation college students to the health professions and coach them on applying to graduate medical/health sciences programs. The University is named to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Great Colleges to Work For” list, which occurs again in 2019 and 2022.

2012 DMU combines its colleges’ alumni boards into a single, unified Alumni Association Board of Directors. The University also establishes an office of multicultural affairs to advance students’ cultural competency and humility by integrating diversity, inclusion and equity (DEI) concepts in the curriculum and increasing DEI learning opportunities for students and employees. As part of this effort, DMU joins the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE).

2015 DMU accepts the final students in its soon-to-sunset postprofessional doctor of physical therapy degree program as the profession moves to requiring doctoral degrees of all PT practitioners. The University adds ultrasound training to anatomy and clinical medicine/diagnosis courses for clinical students.

2018 DMU becomes the first medical school to partner with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to offer its provider training program to D.O. students. Also, in December the University launches its Purple & Proud Campaign with a total goal of $25 million. It is the largest fundraising effort in DMU’s history.

2019 DMU announces plans to expand to a new campus on 88 acres in West Des Moines, with the DMU Clinic to remain at 3200 Grand Ave. After achieving the $25 million goal of the Purple & Proud Campaign one year ahead of its expected December 2020 conclusion, the University doubles the total goal to $50 million.

2020 DMU hosts a groundbreaking event for the new campus. Students, faculty and staff make numerous adjustments during the COVID-19 pandemic for remote learning and working, increased campus safety protocols and addition of virtual events. Students and employees volunteer to serve the community, including administering COVID-19 tests and vaccines.

2021 The DMU Clinic adds a new behavioral health clinic. DMU begins the launch of a new doctor of occupational therapy (D.O.T.) degree program, the University’s 10th, within the College of Health Sciences; initial enrollment is expected to begin fall 2023. In addition, DMU’s physical therapy clinicians become the exclusive providers of physical therapy and athletic performance services at the MidAmerican Energy Company RecPlex in West Des Moines.

2023 The University expands to the new West Des Moines campus.

Welcoming women since day one 

Ella Daugherty Still was a prominent co-founder, with her spouse, Summerfield Saunders Still, of the new osteopathic college in Des Moines. A skilled practitioner, she specialized in obstetrics and, beyond health care, advocated for women’s equality. Her leadership paved the way for women to enroll at Still College and serve on its faculty.

The opportunities early osteopathic colleges offered to women distinguished them from allopathic schools. Still’s 1899 catalog proclaimed that osteopathy offered “many inducements” to the “young man or young woman of today,” and it stated that women “are admitted on the same terms as men” with “the same opportunities” and “the same requirements” while pursuing “the same studies” with the “same lectures, rules and examinations.”

The college served women clinically, too. Its obstetrics clinic, begun in 1917, became a major community resource, recording 900 deliveries from 1917 to 1924. In the early 1930s the college’s obstetrics department began providing care for obstetric cases at Fort Des Moines.

Today, women represent more than half of all enrolled students at DMU.

Movin’ on up to Sixth Avenue 

Advertised at 55,000 square feet, the Western Life Building was twice the size of Still College’s old Locust Street facility. In addition to offering more space for lectures, laboratories and clinics, it projected a more prosperous image of the college. The college yearbook effused the new building “symbolizes a generation of Osteopathic progress, the beginnings of a new generation, destined to make tremendous strides in the advancement of the profession…a thrill that comes once every generation.” 

Play ball, Bonesetters! 

Early on, Still College placed significant emphasis on athletics, noting a “desire… that the bodily development of the student be not neglected.” The college supported several teams, including handball, men’s and women’s basketball and tennis, and baseball and football. In 1922, the college hired Frank Sutton as athletic director, football and basketball coach and head of the biochemistry department; its teams competed against colleges across the state and sometimes beyond. By 1927, however, the college’s board had grown concerned about the costs of intercollegiate athletics and, in 1929, the board terminated the program. 

Viva, viva, zip, boom, zill; Vivila, vivila, S. S. Still. 
Wahoo, wahoo, see us go; 1900! SCO! 

Still College cheer, 1900 

Students will be students

By and large, student life at the College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery in the 1950s and 1960s continued to shift toward the professional and away from the social, a trend that began in the 1930s and 1940s. That is not to say that all students were saints in training; in November 1950, for example, the board of trustees placed 10 students on probation for gambling in the clinic’s recreation room. 

“A monstrous job”

In 1960, professional painter Glen Lambi volunteered equipment and supervision to give the College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery’s Still Clinic a new face. More than 30 students pitched in to help with the “monstrous job.” 

“This required two Saturdays, working from 7 a.m. until late afternoon, plus a few hours to finish up another day, and a job it was,” reported the November 1960 Log Book. “Ladders 40 feet into the stratosphere, scraping, wire-brushing, then painting (by brush) over 8,000 square feet of ‘ill brick.’” 

Growth and scandal: the presidency of J. Leonard Azneer 

Appointed the 12th president of the College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery in 1971, J. Leonard Azneer, Ph.D., announced in his inaugural address that COMS would move from downtown to the former St. Joseph’s Academy, a Catholic girls’ school, at 3200 Grand Ave. He ramped up fundraising efforts and construction projects, including the Student Education Center, Academic Center and the 10-story DMU Clinic. 

Azneer, who died Feb. 16, 2011, also reshaped the college into the University of Osteopathic Medicine and Health Sciences (UOMHS) with the addition of the College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery and the College of Biological Sciences (later renamed the College of Health Sciences). New degree programs in podiatric medicine, physician assistant studies, health care administration and physical therapy were launched during his tenure. In 1991, the UOMHS board honored Azneer at a dinner party that attracted then-Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, former Gov. Robert Ray and U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, among other luminaries. 

By the following year, however, the bold president had been replaced by an interim leader due to low faculty morale, alleged misuse of university funds and problems with clinical operations, which had been coordinated by Patricia Cottrille, Azneer’s wife. In 1993, he resigned, and the University pivoted to repairing its problems and reputation. 

Glanton: An early commitment to diversity

Since its founding in 1898, Des Moines University has emphasized respect for all persons, meeting the health needs of underserved populations and giving students opportunities to learn from and work with those of different backgrounds. Today, DMU aligns its diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts to respond to society’s need for more diverse medical and health sciences professionals and for those prepared to provide culturally sensitive care. 

In 2004, DMU established the Glanton Fund to make a medical and health sciences education accessible to minority students under-represented in health professions. In 2012, DMU established an Office of Multicultural Affairs. The University has since worked to incorporate diversity, equity and inclusion to give all students real-world exposure to aspects of difference in course work, cases, laboratories and simulated patient encounters. 

50 & Better: Driven to serve 

DMU students and employees are highly involved in volunteer and community service efforts. For example, students organized DMU’s first Senior Health Fair in 2005; now called 50 and Better, the free event draws hundreds of adults 50 and older to campus for a morning of health screenings and health-related information. 

The stimulation of simulation

DMU opened its simulation center in 2007 with five medical mannequins to provide students with highly realistic, hands-on experiences that hone clinical skills. The mannequins’ high-fidelity technology allows students to listen to their hearts, lungs and intestines; take their pulses and blood pressure; and administer fluids and other treatment. At the time, the simulation laboratory was the only one of its kind in Iowa. In 2019, the University became the first institution in the state to acquire and integrate Lifecast Body Simulation products, which are even more lifelike, in training for its clinical students. 

Work that body, move that body

In 1989, Joy Schiller, M.S., CHES, was hired to create COMS’s first wellness program in the campus gym, which looked pretty much like it did when it was part of a girls’ school. Its weight room was a former cadaver lab that still smelled of formaldehyde. But Schiller embraced the challenge as enthusiastically as doing two more sets of eight lunges: DMU is the nation’s first and only university or college to earn platinum status, the highest recognition of the Wellness Councils of America. Here, Schiller stands center with Missy Gripp, M.S., wellness center manager, and Nicole Frangopol, wellness specialist, in DMU’s new wellness center that’s under construction. 

Two major movers and shakers

Angela L. Walker Franklin, Ph.D., and Roger Senty, D.O.’58, are among the biggest movers and shakers in DMU’s history. 

Senty was the newly appointed dean of COMS when J. Leonard Azneer, Ph.D., charged him with moving the college to the campus of a former Catholic girls’ school. 

President Franklin faced a different challenge in 2018 when DMU sought a zoning change from the City of Des Moines to add 50 parking spaces. Facing opposition, she determined the addition would not allow the University to expand strategically – so she and other DMU leaders sought alternatives. The rest is history: The University is on track to expand to its new campus this year. 

Making an 80-acre footprint

DMU President Angela Franklin’s efforts to expand the University to a new 88-acre campus in West Des Moines included operating a bulldozer to take down an old structure on the property. 

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