Proudly Cincinnati section
With gleaming jars full of candy, cookies and snacks on her desk, IvaDean Lair-Adolph has been luring University of Cincinnati medical students into her office for more than 50 years. But the fact that students keep coming back, even decades after their graduation, is a testament to something far beyond a sweet tooth. IvaDean's empathetic heart, dependable smile and encouraging words of advice have turned the assistant dean of student affairs and medical registrar into something of a folk hero in the College of Medicine.
In 2003, the senior class showed its thanks in a profound way, by using the class gift to start a scholarship in her honor. Since then, medical students, alumni, faculty, staff and friends have given more than $1 million to the fund.
"Creating the IvaDean Medical Student Scholarship was truly a spontaneous desire on behalf of students to do something meaningful in her name," says Laura Wexler, College of Medicine senior associate dean for student affairs and admissions.
Scholarships are critical for two reasons: First, the college is "committed to recruiting and keeping students who are academically and personally outstanding," Wexler says. Second, "the mountain of debt facing graduating medical students can be overwhelming, and we want to help students with that challenge.
"Without scholarship aid," she explains, "students may hesitate to enter fields that require long residencies, or they may decide not to pursue fellowship training. We want our students to have the full range of opportunities in medicine available to them, and the IvaDean Scholarship certainly helps us toward those goals."
During the 2009-10 academic year, 11 medical students received $66,000 from the scholarship. One of them was Jesse Capone, class of 2011.
"I'm not a high-income guy," the Ohio native says. "I've paid my own way through undergrad and medical school. Because I will graduate with a smaller debt, I'm able to focus on family medicine, a field that desperately needs doctors today."
The fact that the scholarship came with IvaDean's name attached to it made it even more meaningful. "IvaDean is the first person I go to for anything," he says. "Her faith in me and all the ways she has helped me has been incredible.
"As a student, I've been able to volunteer at a lot of events and especially the IvaDean concerts. I will definitely support the scholarship fund in the future as an alumnus."
Echoing his sentiments is BittuMajmudar, class of 2013 and also an IvaDean scholar: "She's like the med-school mom. You should see her office space; it's filled with postcards from her ‘kids' from all over the place. Once you know IvaDean, you don't forget her, and she doesn't forget you."
The scholarship was vital in enabling Majmudar to enroll from Tennessee. "Coming to Cincinnati from out of state was not an easy decision because of the higher tuition rates," she says. "The IvaDean Scholarship is what made my education here possible."
And when it comes time for her to support the scholarship fund in return, "I definitely will," she says. "I believe it's really important to give back in honor of the people who helped you."
John Keefe, MD '75, former president of the UC Medical Alumni Association, remembers his early years of medical school. "The first and second years are challenging if not intimidating. Having someone like IvaDean -- a housemother, friend, consummate multitasker who is always there to lend an ear or candy -- that's more important than people can imagine."
Students like Keefe are a big part of the reason IvaDean has remained working at the college since she was 16. "I only stay at this job," she says with a smile, "because I like it and I get the opportunity to have these students as ‘my kids,' and that is forever.
"It doesn't stop when they graduate. They have to come back to me at some time in the future since I'm the one who has to verify that they did graduate."
Keefe proudly owns one memento of IvaDean that few classmates can claim -- a photo. "You won't find many photos of IvaDean around," he says. "She doesn't like having her photo taken. So you'll understand that one piece of memorabilia I've held onto is a Polaroid picture from our 1975 graduation.
Accordingly, Keefe has supported the IvaDean Scholarship because "this fund is an important way all of us ‘kids' can honor her for her invaluable service to the UC College of Medicine."
Considering that approximately 8,000 medical students have passed through IvaDean's door, Wexler wonders what IvaDean's impact has been. "It would be really interesting," she says, "to make a list of all IvaDean's ‘kids,' where they wound up and how they have changed the medical world in large and small ways -- people like Marty Samuels (MD '71, HonDoc '05), who became head of neurology at Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital.
"How many students have there been? How many lives did they save? How many research breakthroughs did they make? How many tons of IvaDean's cookies and candy did they consume?"
"I do hope that all of my kids will go away from here having experienced a warm and fuzzy feeling," IvaDean says. "And they know that if they are ever in the area, they can come back and get cookies."
"Everyone knows and loves her," says her husband of 24 years, Robert Adolph, former chief of cardiology and emeritus professor of internal medicine. "If a student was ever unsure about what they thought of me, I'd tell them that I was married to IvaDean, and I was in."
Although Dr. Adolph is semi-retired, his wife says she has no plans to retire yet. "The older I get, the more likely it is that I just might be bronzed in my chair," she notes with a chuckle.
"My husband started in 1962, so we have more than 100 years of combined service here. We are thinking of having our ashes sprinkled over the medical center one day -- but that's against the law."
Becoming a fixture at the College of Medicine is something IvaDean has already attained. At Match Day and graduation, she is one of the people applauding the loudest. At the college's Alumni Weekend each May, she is one of the first people whom alumni ask about. And she is also quick to greet people at the annual IvaDean Benefit Concert in December.
Every year since 2004, the concert has raised awareness and support for the IvaDean Scholarship with medical faculty, staff, students and alumni not only attending, but also performing. Other fundraisers have been associated with Cincinnati's Flying Pig Marathon, golf outings and alumni events. Plus, recent regional "IvaDean events" were held in St. Petersburg and New Jersey, where IvaDean attended and her "kids" were thrilled for a chance to catch up.
Five decades ago, IvaDean Lair-Adolph began a cycle of caring that has touched thousands of lives. In turn, those students have become caring individuals, physicians and donors who are touching thousands more and making education possible for new generations at the UC College of Medicine.
That's a transformative legacy, with no end in sight.
Update: IvaDean's husband, Robert Adolph, died in January 2011.