From the Executive Director


At the end of the Hogg Lecture at the 2009 Annual Meeting, Dr Larry Firkins quoted Will Rogers: “We can’t all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.” As I reflected upon our meeting on the flight back home from Dallas, this quote struck a chord with me. Heroes have been an important part of my life. Growing up, I had typical heroes like Roy Rogers and John Glenn. I also had strong role models in my dad, my uncle, and my grandfather. I am not convinced that there is a big difference between heroes and role models. To me the important thing is these are people who inspire me to be more than I am.

I often find heroes who inspire me, sometimes on a daily basis. The scope of this message will not allow me to highlight all of my heroes, nor do I want to bore you with a long litany. I will, however, take this opportunity to cite some heroes who have recently inspired me or touched my professional and personal life.

The AASV staff of Sue Schulteis, Harry Snelson, Judi Bell, David Brown, Cate Dewey, Karen Richardson, and Tina Smith are all heroes to me. They do a great job for the AASV members, often with little recognition. They are my heroes because they have such an abiding respect and love for the AASV. This shows in the quality of work they accomplish on a daily basis. They keep the best interests of the AASV members in mind at all times. Their commitment to the AASV and work excellence inspires me to try and keep up (or at least get out of the way and clap as they go by)!

I am in my 16th year with the AASP/AASV. I have had the privilege to work with 15 different presidents. Each and every one is a hero to me. They brought different skills and interests to the position. Though different, they all have something in common: an attitude of service and a will to lead. A 4-year commitment to act as an AASV officer requires time, effort, and sacrifice. It also requires a mindset that the interests of the members come before any self-interest. The progression from vice-president to immediate past president over 4 years involves them in a wide variety of responsibilities, including the annual budget, planning of the “closed-door” meeting, planning of the annual meeting, interactions with organized veterinary medicine, discussions with governmental agencies, handling issues affecting the practice of swine veterinary medicine, and a myriad of other issues that come up in the course of managing a not-for-profit association. It can be a daunting task, but one that has been handled well by each and every president.

Every candidate for an AASV office is also a hero to me. While I know the benefits of having two qualified candidates for each and every election, it is always painful for me to deliver bad news to those candidates who do not win an AASV election. It is not easy to put yourself under scrutiny for an election, and yet year after year we have great candidates who agree to run for office. These candidates fulfill a fundamental requirement of democracy by providing our members with the opportunity to make informed choices.

Dr John Thomson, the 2009 Dunne Lecturer, is one of my heroes. John is a visionary leader in veterinary education. He is responsible for building an impressive team of food-animal veterinarians at Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine at a time when most colleges are looking for ways to cut back in that area. Not only has he inspired me, Dr Thomson has inspired a generation of some of the best and brightest veterinarians in the history of veterinary medicine.

Dr Larry Firkins, the 2009 Hogg Lecturer, is another of my heroes. If Larry had any more enthusiasm or passion for veterinary medicine, he would be twins! Larry puts an encouraging face on swine veterinary medicine for a wide range of veterinary students, but he also dares them to invest themselves in a challenging career as a swine practitioner. He is an activist for our profession who challenges each of us to be better.

My last hero is someone you don’t know. For more than 20 years now, Kent Knoll has been a personal hero to me. I see him in church almost every Sunday and it is definitely a highlight for me. His smile and laugh are as uplifting as any I have ever encountered. The love he expresses for his friends is as inspiring as his life. Kent is wheel-chair bound due to cerebral palsy that was diagnosed when he was 8 months old. He has not let his condition slow him down too much. He can’t speak but he can communicate with his smile and the twinkle in his eyes. Beyond his friendship, I appreciate the role model he has been for my children. They have grown up with Kent as their friend. He jokes with them. He has cheered them on at their basketball games. He sends cards on special occasions. Most important of all he has shown them that inspiration comes from the heart and you don’t need superpowers to be a hero!

That sound you hear is me clapping as the heroes go by!

--Tom Burkgren, DVM