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West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine commemorated 50th anniversary with ‘Founders Day’ celebration

By Matt Young, West Virginia Press Association

LEWISBURG, W.Va. – The West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM), on Monday, commemorated its 50th anniversary with a special campus “Founders Day” celebration. Gov. Jim Justice and Babydog were on hand for the event, along with WVSOM President James W. Nemitz, several state and local officials, and surviving family members of the school’s founders. 

James Nemitz

“This is a very special day — establishing Dec. 12 as WVSOM Founders Day,” Nemitz told those in attendance. “Today we recognize the contribution of those who have come before us, and those who continue to move WVSOM forward as a leader in medical education and healthcare in West Virginia.”

Prior to introducing Justice, Nemitz told the crowd, that, “This governor will go down in history as taking West Virginia from the brink of bankruptcy, to a state that has over $1 billion in surplus, and growing every day.”

Before delivering his remarks, Justice welcomed Babydog to the stage by leading the audience in a rendition of Jackson Browne’s “Somebody’s Baby,” after referring to the bulldog as an “international superstar.”

Gov. Jim Justice and Babydog were on hand for the “Founders Day” celebration. WV Press Photo by Matt Young.

“This school is off-the-charts good,” Justice said. “If you think of all of your accomplishments, it’s unbelievable. It very well could contribute to our economy – in West Virginia – a billion-and-a-half dollars a year.”

“Not only does it contribute that,” Justice continued, “It contributes you as you run to the fire and save our lives over and over and over again. It’s unbelievable – 50 years.” 

As part of the celebration, Justice issued a proclamation, officially declaring Dec. 12 as “West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine Founders Day.”

“Now, I can’t see the other print,” Justice added with a laugh. “All I know is this says ‘Gov. Jim Justice’ under ‘proclamation,’ and it’s got my signature. So it must be fancy stuff.”

Dr. Robert Holstein, a member of both the WVSOM Board of Directors, and WVSOM class of 1979, was next to the stage, telling those in attendance, “I have witnessed, first-hand the history of this school – past and present. And I’m excited to see the unfolding of its future and its impact on medical education in West Virginia, and the nation.”

“Our founders had a vision to populate West Virginia with Osteopathic physicians to meet the health care needs of its residents,” Holstein continued. “They dreamt big and rejected any thought of failure. We are here today to celebrate the fulfillment of that dream. WVSOM has changed the landscape of healthcare in West Virginia forever, and we’re going to continue to do so.”

The day’s final guest speaker, Vice Chancellor of Health Sciences at the W.Va. Higher Education Policy Commission, Dr. Cynthia Persily began by offering her congratulations for the school’s longevity.

“We are so proud of the work that you do here at WVSOM,” Persily said. “I would think that the founders, though aspirational, could not even imagine the growth in enrollment, in research, in scholarship, in creativity and achievement, and the partnerships that you’ve realized today at WVSOM. Your school contributes so much to this community, to this state, and to the world. You teach doctors who are leading, and will lead for the next 50 years, and then some.”

At the conclusion of Persily’s remarks, Nemitz took a moment to acknowledge present family members of the school’s founders, adding, “We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our four founders; Dr. Carlton Apgar from Huntington, Dr. O.J. Bailes from Princeton, Dr. Donald Newell, Sr. from the Oak Hill-area, and Dr. Frank Wallington from the Wheeling-area.”

“Unfortunately, all of them are deceased,” Nemitz noted. “But we are very pleased today that we have members from all four of the families with us. We truly appreciate what your family has gone through, done for our school, and done to create our school.”

In further commemoration of the school’s 50th anniversary, Nemitz explained, a time capsule containing WVSOM memorabilia will be buried on the campus grounds, and subsequently unearthed on Dec. 12, 2047 – the school’s 75th anniversary. 

In closing, Nemitz told the audience, “We’re not done. We’re going to continue to serve West Virginia first and foremost, as well as providing physicians throughout our country.”

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