Sept. 7, 2018 | Although the decades may have separated them, UAMS graduates from all specialties arrived Aug. 17-18 for Alumni Weekend and caught up as if the years didn’t matter.
More than 350 UAMS alumni and guests participated in this year’s event, making it the highest attended reunion in recent history. Most were there to reminisce and reconnect with old classmates, but many were eager to see how much UAMS has grown and changed in the years since they had been students.
A Friday night welcome reception, sponsored by the Chancellor’s Circle, featured new UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA, who was nearing the end of his first 90 days. Flanked by banners of UAMS’ five colleges and graduate school, Patterson thanked alumni for their contributions to UAMS and to the better health and health care of the state.
“I hope you are as proud as we are of what UAMS has become,” Patterson said. “It wouldn’t be that way without all the contributions of the people in this room. You, as our alumni, are the best examples of what UAMS contributes to the community.”
Patterson recognized four college deans in attendance: Christopher T. Westfall, M.D., dean of the College of Medicine; Keith M. Olsen, Pharm.D., dean of the College of Pharmacy; James M. Raczynski, Ph.D., dean of the College of Health Professions; and Patricia Cowan, Ph.D., R.N., dean of the College of Nursing. Golden Graduates, or those celebrating 50-plus years, were given commemorative medallions with red and blue ribbons. There was plenty of bling – in addition to the medallions, Golden Graduates wore buttons with old yearbook photos of themselves in addition to color-coded name tags representing their college and graduation year.
It made everyone easy to identify, though some didn’t need any help recognizing old friends. This year’s featured Golden Graduates, the Class of 1968, wore their medallions proudly and traded a few light barbs as they looked at old annual photos.
“Our class started out as a bunch of idealists who wanted to take care of patients, and that same group is still here with that same thought,” said Jack Blackshear Jr., M.D., COM ‘68 and class representative. “Everyone has had a full life of service in medicine – some are still practicing – but all of us really thank UAMS for teaching us and for the great role models that we had. You’re always standing on somebody else’s shoulders – you can’t do it all alone. We’re all very grateful.”
Saturday morning’s showcase events were a big hit, including a hands-on look at UAMS’ new 4K-resolution virtual dissection table, which allows students to explore human anatomy in 3D with simple gestures common on the average smartphone. Alumni were eager to hear from David L. Davies, Ph.D., and Kevin D. Phelan, Ph.D., who co-direct the Division of Clinical Anatomy in the College of Medicine, as they demonstrated how the table works. Afterward, alumni crowded around the table and had the opportunity to try it themselves.
Some alumni traveled great distances to have the chance to catch up.
Jeanne Bonar, M.D., COM ’58, traveled from Anchorage, Alaska to make the weekend events – a distance of 3,923 miles. Dennis Schreffler, M.D., COM ’73, and wife Karen, were a distant second, traveling 1,400 miles from their home in Dayton, Wyoming.
“I wouldn’t have missed it,” Schreffler said. “I owe everything in my career to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. It’s been phenomenal to see the amount of technological advancement since I graduated – it’s like day and night.”
C.D. Williams, M.D., COM ‘65, was honored with the College of Medicine’s Dean’s Distinguished Alumni Award at its noon luncheon. Williams, a leading cardiovascular surgeon, was recognized for his pioneering work in heart surgery in Arkansas over the past four decades.
Williams was nominated by fellow COM ‘65 graduate Kent Westbrook, M.D., distinguished professor in the College of Medicine. Westbrook said that Williams built many of the heart programs in Arkansas, performing between 15,000 and 20,000 open heart surgeries. “Without question, heart surgery would not be where it is in in Arkansas without C.D. Williams,” Westbrook said.
Williams credited one of his favorite professors, Joseph Bates, M.D., COM ‘57, associate dean for public health practice in the College of Public Health, with bringing him back to Arkansas to practice. Bates himself was in attendance for the award ceremony. “He told me that I owed it to the state of Arkansas to come back, participate in what was going on up here, and pay back my debt to the state,” Williams said. “That was good advice, Joe, and I appreciate that.”
The College of Health Professions hosted a big bash the same afternoon in the Hospital Lobby Gallery, celebrating the 100-year anniversary of its Medical Laboratory Sciences program. A host of more than 100 program alumni and incoming students attended.
Jo Kathryn Mitchell, CHP ’55, has a history with UAMS dating back to before the campus moved to its present location on Markham Street. “So much has changed that it’s almost overwhelming, but it’s all been for the better,” Mitchell said.
Many alumni capped off the weekend in style, with Golden Graduates dining in the ballroom at the Capital Hotel, and several classes making evening plans at Cajun’s Wharf Restaurant. Food and chatter were plentiful as alumni reminisced the evening away. So many COM ’08 graduates signed up for their reunion that they rented out a party room at Cajun’s to celebrate.
David Hunton, M.D., COM ’78, was in an adjacent room with his classmates. He is one of six Huntons to graduate from UAMS, including his wife and their children. “I wish more of us were here, but we’ve had a great time with those of us who are here,” he said. “It’s mind-boggling, the things that have changed. We didn’t have any computers when I was here.”
Sponsors for this year’s event were the Chancellor’s Circle, ARORA, Arkansas Medical Society, Arkansas Urology, National Treasury Solutions, and Westrock Coffee Company.
“We appreciate your commitment to a life of service and all you’ve done,” said Dean Lee, Ed.D., UAMS executive director of alumni and constituent relations. “Most of all, we’re proud that you’re one of us and that you chose UAMS to be your school.”