CORVALLIS, Ore. - A long-time Oregonian whose love of animals and science first connected him with Oregon State University is giving $1 million to OSU's College of Veterinary Medicine to support programs that focus on the interface between human and animal health.
Pete deLaubenfels, who lives in Corvallis, has been a farmer, a motorcycle policeman, an amateur magician and an expert marksman during his colorful life. Now at 87, he has discovered a passion for an area of inquiry he feels not enough people know about - how animal health and human health are tied so closely together.
With his gift, he is establishing an endowed Comparative Health Research and Education Fund through the OSU Foundation to support student education, research and public outreach about human-animal health issues.
"So many people only think of veterinary medicine as taking care of Aunt Minnie's little kittens, but there is so much more to it," said deLaubenfels. "The interplay between animals and humans that affects health is a big field, and very important. The college is on the front line for providing early warning about these diseases and doing the research that will provide solutions."
Cyril Clarke, dean of OSU's College of Veterinary Medicine, said deLaubenfels gift will support student scholarships and fellowships, provide seed money for research, and give greater exposure to the expertise and services of the faculty and staff through public seminars, news stories and other vehicles.
"Pete has asked us to use some of the endowment funds to increase public understanding of the impact veterinary medicine has on health issues of both humans and animals through the use of outreach and marketing," Clarke said. "That is an unusual and insightful use of the gift and we are working on creative ways to make that happen."
Human health and animal health are intertwined in many ways, according to Clarke. Not only is OSU active in the study of zoonotic diseases, which can be transferred between animals and humans, the college's faculty also are leaders in studies of cancer, tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases, and other conditions. Stuart Helfand, for example, is working with Oregon Health & Science University on similarities between cancer in dogs and humans, while other faculty, including cardiologist David Sisson, employ methods developed for humans - like pacemakers and non-invasive techniques - to treat dogs.
deLaubenfels was born in Huntington Beach, Calif., and raised in Pasadena, where he went to work as a motorcycle cop. But the smog and traffic got to him, he said, and in 1951, he moved to the Willamette Valley to join his father, M.W. deLaubenfels, who taught zoology at Oregon State and was considered the world's foremost expert on Porifera, or sea sponges.
In January of 1960, at the age of 37, deLaubenfels entered OSU as a freshman in the education program. After graduating two-and-a-half years later with a bachelor of science degree, he went on to teach sixth grade in Linn County for the next 22 years.
Education and science were constant companions. In addition to his scientist father, he also had a grandfather and uncle who taught at Oberlin College, another uncle who was a scientist, and a younger brother who was on the faculty of Syracuse.
"I came from a pretty science-oriented family and I've been around science all my life," deLaubenfels said. "So naturally, when I began raising chickens and had questions, I came to Oregon State. Once I ran into an Army officer at a pistol tournament and he said he was an Army veterinarian, in charge of inspecting the meat the troops ate. That's when I found out that veterinarians do so much more than simply treat animals."
deLaubenfels soon began donating to OSU's College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides testing for the state on such diseases as West Nile Virus, rabies and avian bird flu. The college's Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory analyzes more than 14,000 animal tissue and fluid samples each year on behalf of various agencies, livestock producers and clinical veterinarians. Oregon's animal products are valued at nearly $1 billion annually, and OSU's College of Veterinary Medicine works closely with the Oregon State Veterinarian's Office in providing the state's response to outbreaks of zoonotic diseases.
The college also collaborates with various state programs providing protection against agri-terrorism and bio-terrorism.
A frequent visitor to the college, deLaubenfels said he is flabbergasted at the technology.
"Oh man, it is so modern," he said. "They have a treadmill for horses and an underwater treadmill for dogs. It is fantastic. I remember going there once and seeing a llama that was hooked up to an IV, but they had this mechanism that would allow it to move any way it wanted to. It's absolutely amazing the things they've got there."
Clarke said OSU's veterinary medicine program began as one of the smallest in the country, but is growing rapidly and has become a leader in the use of innovative technologies. The college has one of the most sophisticated CT scanners in the country, allowing rapid head-to-toe body scans of small animals.
The new high-speed equine treadmill allows a 1,200-pound horse to gallop at speeds greater than 25-miles-an-hour while being monitored with instrumentation that can measure heart rate, blood flow and respiration. A recent news video on the treadmill was shown on newscasts around the country.
It is that type of exposure deLaubenfels hopes his gift will engender.
"I know I don't have enough money to build up an endowment to do everything that needs to be done," he said. "But I'm hoping that it will act as seed money and encourage other people to contribute so we can build a real fund for some really significant work down the road."
The deLaubenfels gift is part of The Campaign for OSU, which has raised $600 million toward a goal of $625 million to support students, faculty and programs at Oregon State University.
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Cyril Clarke, 541-737-0811