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The Benefits of "Yes": The Dr. Walt Wasdahl & Dr. Robert & Kay Hedger Scholarship Endowment
“Once my son was taking note of all the things I was involved in and asked me, ‘Dad, don’t you know how to say ‘no’?” recalls Robert Hedger, MD, from his home in River Forest, Ill. “I guess the answer to that question was ‘no.’”
The irony is not lost on the Killdeer, N.D., native who entered UND on scholarship in 1957, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Medicine degree in 1962.
After 40 years as a nephrologist in the Chicagoland area, that openness also resulted in saying yes to the opportunity to establish a scholarship with the UND Alumni Association & Foundation—the Dr. Walt Wasdahl & Dr. Robert & Kay Hedger Scholarship Endowment.
Kay and Dr. Robert Hedger (BSMed '62) at home.
Many SMHS alumni will recognize the name: Walter Wasdahl, MD, was the former chair of UND’s Department of Pathology who “was known for eschewing lectures in favor of hands-on clinical work and getting his students to think for themselves,” as John Vennes put it in his history of the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences, North Dakota, Heal Thyself .
The “plainspoken” Dr. Wasdahl, who died in Grand Forks in 2007, came into the young student’s life during his second year in the BS Med program and was the genesis of his medical career, says Robert, offering him mentoring, encouragement, and timely advice—plus a job sectioning tissue in Dr. Wasdahl’s laboratory.
“Dr. Wasdahl’s dedication to students was remarkable,” Robert explains, smiling at one memory in particular. “We were scheduled to have a test in pathology on the Monday after my fiancée Kay Letnes and I were to be married. Dr. Wasdahl was aware of this and on the Friday before the test he announced in class that because ‘hell hath no fury’ and ‘to get Mr. Hedger off his knees’ the test on Monday would be canceled. That was a true honor for me, seeing faculty show genuine interest in students in that way.”
With Dr. Wasdahl cheering him on and writing a letter of recommendation, the now-Dr. Hedger went on to earn his MD degree from the Bowman Gray School of Medicine (currently the Wake Forest School of Medicine) in North Carolina. After an internship and stint in the U.S. Army, plus a residency and nephrology fellowship at Rush University Medical Center, the Hedgers settled in Illinois, where they have been ever since.
Their wish to honor a mentor aside, Robert and Kay admit to working as a team during these early educational years, remembering the financial challenges that accompanied Robert’s medical education.
“We are well aware of how a timely scholarship enhances a medical student’s ability to secure a future,” Dr. Hedger concludes. “With this knowledge in mind, and with fond memories of the valuable support we received from Dr. Wasdahl, we established the scholarship fund in 2011 to honor not only a special professor, but UND for building a solid foundation for a wonderful future for our family.”
If you would like to contribute, please do so online at UNDalumni.org/smhs.