WMU News

Two events mark 75th Occupational Therapy Anniversary

Oct. 14, 1997

KALAMAZOO -- More than 200 people, including alumni from as far away as Japan, will gather at Western Michigan University Friday and Saturday, Oct. 24-25, to mark the 75th anniversary of WMU's Department of Occupational Therapy.

Professional workshops, tours of the campus and University clinical facilities, and a concluding anniversary banquet are part of the celebration to honor the program. It was begun in 1922 at what is now the Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital, starting with just two students. Since then, the department has grown into a nationally recognized force in the field of educating professional occupational therapists.

"A planning committee comprised of current and retired faculty members, administrators, alumni and students has been working for nearly three years to assure that this significant milestone will be celebrated in a manner that highlights the distinction the program has brought to Kalamazoo and the University," says Dr. Janet I. Pisaneschi, dean of the College of Health and Human Services. "The hard work of those committee members guarantees that it well be a joyous as well as reflective occasion for all who take part."

WMU's is one of the nation's oldest academic programs in occupational therapy and was the first non-teaching education program at the University. Today it has 276 graduate and undergraduate students, 12 faculty members and modern clinical facilities that serve the community. The program trains health care professionals in the uses of purposeful activity as a means of preventing, reducing or overcoming physical, social and emotional disabilities in people of all ages.

The October event will begin with professional workshops at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Friday, followed by a reception and tours of the WMU Unified Clinics in the University Medical and Health Sciences Center. Workshops and campus tours on Saturday will precede the evening banquet at the Radisson Plaza Hotel.

The featured speaker at the 6:30 p.m. banquet will be Michigan historian and author Larry Massie of Allegan, who will reflect on the department's "Heritage of Helping." His remarks, which are an expansion of a similar presentation he made in 1982 at the 60th anniversary celebration, have been published as a monograph which will be available at the banquet.

Additional speakers at the banquet will include Pisaneschi; Dr. Susan K. Meyers, chairperson of the Department of Occupational Therapy, who will speak about students and the future of the department; Fred Sammons, chairperson of the Sammons Preston Division of Bissell Health Care Corp. in Grand Rapids, who will talk about the future of the profession; and Lela Williams Llorens, professor emerita at San Jose State University, who will give an alumna's perspective of the WMU program.

Proclamations from the Michigan Legislature and the WMU Alumni Association will be presented at the event and those attending also will view excerpts from a video production, "The Legend and the Legacy," which was produced for the celebration.

Marking the diamond jubilee of WMU's occupational therapy program has been a year-long effort among professionals across the nation. It began with the March meeting of the Annual Midwest Deans' Occupational Research Day that attracted more than 100 researchers and students to the WMU campus. It continued with a celebration at the April meeting in Orlando, Fla., of the American Occupational Therapy Association.

Those attending the final October celebration on campus will include state legislators, representatives from state and national professional associations, representatives from the health care products industry and current and retired faculty members and administrators. Alumni from the program both before and after it became part of the University will gather to celebrate the anniversary and individual class reunions. Returning alumni will include a 1938 graduate of the program and a group of four 1946 alumnae who were the first WMU graduates after occupational therapy was formally moved from the hospital to WMU.

The program began at the Kalamazoo hospital as an outgrowth of post World War I efforts by Marion R. Spear to establish a rehabilitation program for the mentally ill. Finding it difficult to retain qualified personnel for her rehabilitation program, Spear began a three-month training program in 1922 and enrolled two students. By 1936, the program had expanded to 27 months and, in 1939, the curriculum was fully approved by the American Medical Association and the American Occupational Therapy Association, one of only five programs in the nation to achieve that status.

Also in 1939, Western certified the curriculum as meeting one-third of its bachelor's degree requirements. In 1944, the 20 students and two faculty members moved to Western and became the college's first non-teaching degree program.

Today, the Department of Occupational Therapy continues to take the lead in developing new programming in the profession. It recently launched the first university-based program in the world that will train health care professionals in hippotherapy -- the use of horses and riding to treat clients.

For more information about the anniversary celebration, persons should contact Hazel L. Starcher in the College of Health and Human Services at 616 387-2654.

Office of University Relations
Western Michigan University
1903 W Michigan Ave
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5433 USA
616 387-8400