The Washington University Occupational Therapy Class of 1964 celebrated their 50th reunion this past May. Five alumna – Susan Gore Ahmad, Linnea “Cookie” Atkins Kotz, Mickey Schandler Grossman, Ellen Heisterkamp Healy and Eleanor Quinn Hingtgen – traveled back to the medical school campus from their home states of Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri and Tennessee. Each has spent the past 50 years actively working in the occupational therapy profession and fondly remember their days at Washington University.
“Martha Matthews was the program director at that time and she was instrumental in developing the curriculum to include science, research and rehabilitation. The field was becoming specialized, as was medicine, to answer the growing needs of various populations. It was a wonderful time to become an occupational therapist,” says Kotz, who practiced in the areas of gerontology and stroke rehabilitation for the past 20 years.
The alumna, many of whom had previously not been back to the St. Louis area, enjoyed seeing how much the campus has changed. In 1964, the Program was located at 4567 Scott Avenue. While that building is no longer there, another familiar sight was to greet them.
“We stayed at the Spencer T. Olin Residence Hall, which was fairly new at the time. It was co-ed, which was also fairly new. We had our department parties on the top floor in the penthouse,” remembers Grossman fondly. “Actually, I met my husband on the roof of Olin dorm! And we’re still married today.”
The alumna attended the Program in Occupational Therapy Open House on May 15, the day before Commencement. They enjoyed a tour, meeting the faculty and students, and visiting with current Program Director Carolyn Baum, PhD, OTR, FAOTA. While the curriculum has evolved and expanded over the years, some academic requirements have stayed the same – like passing anatomy class.
“Actually, our class started out with 17 students – 16 women and one man. On the first day of anatomy class, there were two students per cadaver. Once he unzipped the bag, he passed out! And quickly decided that maybe occupational therapy was not for him,” says Hingtgen, with a smile.
During their tour, the alumna stopped to view the class photos located on the lower level. They reflected on the changing times as they saw increasing number of students – and men – graduating each year. Susan beamed proudly as she pointed to one very special graduate of the Class of 1995.
“My son, Omar Ahmad, earned his Bachelor of Science in occupational therapy at Washington University in 1995,” says Ahmad, who returned to the Program herself to earn her MSOT in 1999. “Omar is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy at the Doisy College of Health Sciences at Saint Louis University.”
After the Open House, the alumna traveled to the Danforth campus that afternoon to take part in the 50th Reunion Medallion Ceremony and Reception. They were invited to participate in the university commencement affairs on Friday, May 16, and to join the procession at the Program’s Commencement at Graham Chapel. Walking in the procession held special meaning for them.
“Some of us weren’t able to be at our Commencement ceremony back in 1964,” explains Healy. “We had left for apprenticeships in other cities, in other states. Being here now, taking part in the celebrations 50 years later, and seeing each other after all these years has been wonderful.”
During the ceremony, the Class of 1964 stood up and were honored by Dr. Baum and all those in attendance. In her closing remarks, Dr. Baum acknowledged the many contributions they have made to the profession and offered these words of encouragement to the current graduates:
“As we look at our leaders from 1964, they were really the leaders of the third generation of our profession. And today, you sit here as the leaders of the fifth. It will be up to you to take this knowledge and really move it into a new system of care and into new opportunities to help people live lives.”
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