For Your Health
For Your Health

News from the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences

From the Dean: Remembering Al Samuelson and Wayne Stenehjem

Early this past Tuesday morning, I observed something that struck me as typical North Dakota while I drove down our local street. We and our neighbors had put out our recycling bins at the end of our driveways the night before so that the collection truck could use its mechanical arm to tip the recycling material in the bins into its hamper. Two of my neighbors’ bins had been blown over by the high wind – remember? The problem, of course, was that the truck would be unable to collect the waste, and some of it had spilled out in any event. So what did I see? My next-door neighbor was walking back after he had walked down our street – in the cold and wind – to reposition the bins upright and put any loose material back into the bins. Had anyone asked him to do that? No. Would anyone (besides me) be aware that he had done that? No. But the point of this is that his selflessness benefited others who will never know of his effort even though it came at some (albeit minor) cost to him.

This neighborly spirit is part of the culture of North Dakota, and one of the reasons Susan and I love it here. There is a more generalizable message in this anecdote, though, that relates to many public health measures. As it turns out, there are things that we can do to help our community even if the link between individual action and community benefit isn’t visible. And, yes, I am referring to the pandemic. Actions – or inactions – that we take as individuals can positively – or negatively – impact our friends, neighbors, and community. Don’t get me wrong – I am all for individual choice. But I also am all for personal responsibility – to self, to family, and to community.

Speaking of giving to the community at large, we recently lost two individuals who dedicated their professional lives to helping others. One was associated with the UND SMHS, and the other was not, at least not directly.

Dr. Al Samuelson passed away recently at the age of 91. Al was a graduate of UND, finishing his medical degree at the University of Cincinnati. Initially functioning as a general practitioner, he gravitated to psychiatry and became director of the first outpatient public psychiatric clinic in western North Dakota, helping patients from across the state. He was a member of the School’s faculty roster for almost five decades, and helped the School develop the Bismarck regional clinical campus for student education.

The state also lost another dedicated public servant when North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem passed away suddenly a week ago. Some of you may have attended his funeral yesterday. All of us are saddened by the loss of this principled, kind, decent man. He dedicated his public life to making North Dakota an even better place, and he will be missed.

Al and Wayne – and my neighbor – all remind us by their examples that a key component of a civil society is caring about others. I suspect there are important lessons we all can learn from each of these individuals.

Joshua Wynne, MD, MBA, MPH
Vice President for Health Affairs, UND
Dean, UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences