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Longtime OU professor makes planned gift in support of physical therapy scholarships

Longtime OU professor makes planned gift in support of physical therapy scholarships

Luiese Lynch, seated far left, served as a physical therapy professor at OU for 35 years.

If the success of a teacher can be measured by the success of her students, Luiese Lynch must consider herself pretty successful.

Lynch, who joined the OU Department of Physical Therapy in May of 1959, retired in spring 1994 after 35 years with the University. She was known for having high expectations, but she was always willing to help her students attain them, said Marti Ferretti, Elam-Plowman Chair in Physical Therapy and chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences in the College of Allied Health.

"She is so well-loved by all the students whose lives she touched. She stayed in contact with graduates for quite some time after she had retired," Ferretti said.

So loved is Lynch that former students, friends and colleagues established a lectureship in her name to honor her service to the University. Dr. Joe Gieck, a 1961 OU physical therapy graduate, spearheaded the lectureship's fundraising effort.

But if students love Lynch, she equally loves them. She has named the University of Oklahoma as the beneficiary of $10,000 of her estate and of a $15,000 life insurance policy. Her gifts will support scholarships for OU physical therapy graduate students.

"If I hadn't had scholarships, I would not have made it through school," Lynch said. "I got several small ones, and they all really helped."

Ferretti added: "Luiese has always looked to the future of physical therapy, both in what is being taught in the classroom and staying current and contemporary. This gift that she is now making will allow us to continue down that path that she helped establish. The gift will support graduate students – either the physical therapy students in the entry-level program, which is at the clinical doctoral level, or post-professional doctoral students who are enrolled in a Ph.D. program. So we have the opportunity to support students in either path. The fact that she is very interested in supporting post-professional students who would be engaged in research is really consistent with her idea of how you not only graduate very competent physical therapists, but you also contribute to the future of the profession."

Lynch spent her formative years in South Dakota, where she began teaching in a one-room country school after completing a year of study at Huron College. It was during her second year of teaching, while at a teachers' convention in Sioux Falls, S.D., that she discovered her interest in physical therapy. She said the convention's attendees were given a tour of the local children's hospital, including a visit to the physical therapy department. Lynch knew immediately that she had found her "calling."

"We were walking out to the car after this and I said to my friends, 'You are going to think that I am crazy, but I just got the call. I need to save my money and go back to school to become a physical therapist.' They really looked at me like I was crazy," Lynch said with a laugh. "My decision was based only on what we were told by the hospital during the visit; we didn't actually get to see the kids, because they didn't want to expose them to the outside world. I guess after working with kids as a teacher and then hearing about these kids, I knew it was definitely a call. It was a new field, but it was definitely something I needed to be a part of."

After a year of pulling together enough funds to return to college, she looked to Oklahoma, the state where her maternal grandparents had once settled, to pursue her education. Once at OU, she quickly completed the prerequisites for the physical therapy program. After graduating from OU in 1957, she worked at the Children's Convalescent Home, now the Children's Center, in Bethany, Okla., where she spent two years. It was Thelma Pedersen, the chair of OU's physical therapy department, who asked Lynch if she would consider teaching as part of OU's physical therapy faculty.

"I almost had to pick myself off the floor, because I wanted to help people and not teach. Then I realized teaching was a way of helping," she said. "I thought if I could train at least three people, the size of my first class, that's three more people than just me who could answer the call. I knew I could do more good in the classroom than I could otherwise, especially as the classes grew to 30 and 40 people."

During Lynch's 35-year career in OU's Department of Physical Therapy, she helped to shape a curriculum as well as many lives.

"During the first 10 or 15 years of the program, she was recognized as the primary faculty, the member whom students gravitated to," Ferretti said.

She also was a critical force in the development of the Oklahoma Physical Therapy Association as well as a force in faculty governance at the Health Sciences Center and, at the national level, in the American Physical Therapy Association.

Lynch has received many accolades for her service, both professionally and academically, including the Oklahoma Physical Therapy Founder's Award, OUHSC Distinguished Lecturer Award and the OU College of Allied Health's Philip E. Smith Service Award.

These days Lynch has found a new calling in her retirement, volunteering her time with her sister, veterinarian Dr. Kay Helms, as part of a mobile spay/neuter clinic. Lynch works as part of the animal resuscitation unit.

It's clear her love of helping others has driven her actions throughout life.

Looking back at her time as a faculty member, Lynch can't help but smile. In her modesty, she has trouble accepting praise for her work. But with so many former students now serving as leaders in the field, with many success stories of their own, Lynch clearly deserves a pat on the back.

"I think I helped a lot of kids, a lot of students along the way," Lynch said. "I definitely think I made a difference."