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New gift is largest ever to an occupational therapy program

by Mark Schwerin

Nov. 9, 2011 | WMU News

Photo of donors Fred Sammons and Barbara Rider with President Dunn.
Sammons, Dunn and Rider at today's gift announcement.
KALAMAZOO--A $2 million gift--the largest ever to a U.S. occupational therapy program--was announced today by Western Michigan University President John M. Dunn.

The gift from Kalamazoo residents Frederic (Fred) W. Sammons and Dr. Barbara A. Rider to WMU's Department of Occupational Therapy in the College of Health and Human Services will help shape the future of the nearly 90-year-old program--the oldest and the most highly ranked such degree program in Michigan.

The gift is the largest cash gift ever to the College of Health and Human Services from individual donors, and is tied for 10th on WMU's all-time list of cash gifts in the University's 108-year history.

What the gift provides

The Sammons Endowed Chair that will be established with the gift will become the seventh endowed chair at WMU and the third such chair in the College of Health and Human Services. Others are in the fields of nursing and social work.

"This is a wonderful tribute to our program from two people who know this discipline better than anyone," said Dunn in making the announcement and introducing the donors. "They have chosen to invest in the future of their profession by supporting a program that they know to be among the best in the world."

Sammons and Rider serve as members of the Dean's Advisory Council for College of Health and Human Services. Both are longtime supporters of the University.

Their past philanthropy to WMU has been used to enhance research activities and outreach in the Department of Occupational Therapy. In 2004, Sammons established the Fred Sammons AMBUCS Research Award to provide awards in the Department of Occupational Therapy. Also in 2004, the annual Barbara A. Rider Colloquium was established. This endowed event brings exceptional occupational therapy practitioners, educators and researchers to WMU to share their knowledge and expertise in the field.

"I've grown to feel like I'm part of the department, and I think at this time, with so many seniors, so many children with autism, so many problems, it's important that I direct my resources in this way," Sammons says. "I'm sure it will have a big impact in the future and over the years."

Frederic (Fred) W. Sammons

Sammons is the founder of Sammons Preston Inc., the largest, worldwide distributor of rehabilitation equipment and supplies. The company he founded eventually grew into a multimillion dollar business and is now a part of Patterson Medical Inc. Sammons earned his OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY degree at Virginia Commonwealth University on the GI Bill and holds an honorary doctoral degree in public service from WMU. His first job was at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where he became director in 1957. It was after joining the staff of the amputee clinic at Northwestern University in 1960 that he began to design and build devices to assist individuals with disabilities in their everyday activities.

Sammons is a Fellow of the American Occupational Therapy Association and a recipient of AOTA's highest honor, the Award of Merit. He is one of only six honorary life members of the American Occupational Therapy Foundation and an active member in AMBUCS and other non-profit organizations.

Barbara A. Rider

Rider is professor emerita and past chair of WMU's Department of Occupational Therapy. She received her doctorate in educational administration from the University of Michigan. Prior to joining WMU in 1976, she was an associate professor of occupational therapy at the University of Kansas. Earlier in her career, she served as director of occupational therapy at the Veterans Administration Hospital and Kapper Foundation for Crippled Children in Topeka, Kan.

Rider is well known and respected as a researcher, teacher and consultant. She is widely recognized for her pioneering research in developmental reflexes. In 2003, Rider received the Lindy Boggs Award from the American Occupational Therapy Association. That award recognizes a lifetime of achievement in effecting political change in matters important to the profession of occupational therapy. In her retirement, Rider serves as chair of the board of the Kalamazoo County Department of Human Services.

Recalling her days as department chair, Rider remembers how as little as $200 to $300 could make the difference between students being able to stay in school or being able to drop a second or third job to concentrate more fully on their studies.

"Small amounts of money often made a dramatic difference," she says. "I think we need to encourage more gifting in that way and encourage more people to give to students."

Occupational Therapy at WMU

At age 89, occupational therapy at WMU already claims many milestones and distinctions. It was established in 1922 and initially located at the Kalamazoo State Hospital, the first mental health facility in Michigan. In 1939, WMU's occupational therapy program was one of the first five such programs in the nation to be accredited. In 1944, it became the first non-teacher-education program at what was then Western Michigan College of Education.