CVM names three distinguished alumni recipients
Friday, January 19, 2024
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The Oklahoma State University College of Veterinary Medicine named Drs. Becky Brewer, Lee Denney and Jerry Ritchey its 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients.
The Distinguished Alumni Award is selected and presented by the OSU CVM Alumni Society in recognition of outstanding professional and personal achievements and contributions to the enhancement of the veterinary profession. The recipients were honored at the college’s Distinguished Alumni Award Luncheon on Nov. 9, 2023.
Opening Doors for Female Veterinarians
“We don’t frequently know whose lives we change. We can only change those within our three-foot circle, and I fully believe the way we can change the world is by impacting those in our three-foot circle,” Dr. Becky Brewer said.
The reach of Brewer’s circle has extended far beyond the distance around her. In veterinary medicine alone, Brewer has touched many lives through her contributions as a private practitioner in Grady County, her service to students, along with her roles in the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, and the United States Department of Agriculture.
Brewer grew up in a farm family and always had a passion for caring for animals. Whether it was rescuing cats on the side of the road or raising chickens in a small coop in town, her love for animals has always been evident. This love inspired her to pursue a path in veterinary medicine, but the road to get there certainly wasn’t easy.
As a high school junior, Brewer worked for Oklahoma State University College of Veterinary Medicine graduate Dr. Ken Royce.
“He talked to me a lot about OSU because he knew I wanted to go to veterinary school,” Brewer said. “He said there weren’t very many female veterinarians at the time and I really wasn’t tough enough to be a veterinarian.”
Brewer set out to prove otherwise. She asked what she needed to do to show she was cut out for veterinary school. Royce told her if she could shoe her own horse and do all the work herself, he’d think she was tough enough.
“I tied up my little Palomino horse, and I did all four feet,” Brewer said. “Somebody called Ken and he came out, squatted down to look at the feet and didn’t say a word. Later, there was a newspaper article about it, and I still have that clipping hanging in my house today.”
Several geographical moves and various educational experiences later, Brewer ended up in Oklahoma. At the time, she had three children and was unsure of her next step. Her desire to go to veterinary school was as strong as ever, but she never thought it would be feasible.
After a lot of consideration and some encouragement from others, Brewer decided to enroll in courses and apply to veterinary school. She was accepted into the class of 1984 and has never looked back.
“It was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done and yet the most rewarding, to go to veterinary school with three kids,” she said.
Upon graduation, she and her husband moved to Chickasha, Oklahoma, and practiced in the Grady County area for 23 years. She established strong relationships with her clients and could be counted on night or day.
In 2003, Brewer joined ODAFF as a staff veterinarian and in 2005 she became the first woman to serve as Oklahoma State Veterinarian.
“It kind of opened the door to hire women,” Brewer said. “We had women who were working with us just as well as the males. It makes me very proud to see how far we’ve come since then.”
Following her time at ODAFF, Brewer became the area veterinarian in charge for Arkansas and later, Oklahoma.
“Her seasoned and practical style impacted the veterinary profession through her ability to create and conduct a variety of detailed animal health programs, as well as inspire those she leads,” said Dr. Rosslyn Biggs, OSU CVM director of continuing education and beef cattle extension specialist.
Brewer continues to serve Oklahoma and the nation in her current role as USDA incident commander where she helps protect producers from diseases that affect their ability to market their product.
Brewer said in her job she tries to identify, contain and eradicate diseases that affect producers’ ability to make a living.
Despite her vast experiences, she still dedicates time to CVM students by instructing laboratory aspects of livestock testing and assisting with preaccreditation courses.
“It was my dream to be here,” Brewer said. “We have a really good program, really good curriculum and this amazing place we get to work because of being a land-grant college.”
Brewer’s selection for the 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award shows how much of an impact she’s had on her three-foot circle.
“Dr. Brewer is more than just a good veterinarian,” said Dr. Sandra Morgan, OSU CVM emeritus faculty. “She is a person who cares about others.”
When Brewer was notified of her award, she was left speechless.
“I am honored beyond belief to have been selected,” Brewer said. “It’s the ultimate gift to me for all I went through to get here.”
A Career Steeped in Service
A love for animals, admiration of great veterinarians and a passion for all things Oklahoma State University led Dr. Lee Denney to pursue a career in veterinary medicine.
“As a young kid, it’s usually the love of animals that drives you toward a career that deals with animals,” Denney said.
Despite her love for animals, she considered other career paths, but ultimately decided she loved OSU so much she wanted to go back to veterinary medicine. Denney was accepted into the class of 1978 where she forged strong bonds with her fellow classmates. There were 60 students in the class and only 10 of them were women.
“Myself and three other women became very close,” Denney said. “My closest friend was Dr. Margaret ‘Peggy’ Clark. We studied together, we were on the same schedule, we were in the library together and when the testing window was over, we certainly had fun too.”
Today, she remains close with many of her classmates even though the relationship looks different than it did in veterinary school.
“It’s so much fun to see the relationship we have now compared to what was more competitive when we were actually in school.” Denney said. “It’s fun to see how everyone as grown and changed.”
After graduation, Denney returned to her hometown and established a mixed animal practice. She served Cushing, Drumright and surrounding areas for over 30 years. Even after a storied career in veterinary medicine, Denney is still most proud of the relationships she formed with her clients.
“When people have appreciated the service you’ve rendered and of course, you’re helping the animals too, but when you’re able to fix something traumatic and return the pet to the owner, that’s what it’s all about — service,” Denney said.
Once her children entered college, Denney ran for office and was elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 2004. She was an influential leader as the speaker pro tempore as only the second woman in state history to hold the position. Denney worked with the Oklahoma Veterinary Medical Association to author legislation against puppy mills in Oklahoma and to preserve the practice of veterinary medicine in the state.
Following her time in the Oklahoma legislature, Denney served as department head of the veterinary technology program at OSU-Oklahoma City. She used her previous experience to share practical applications and focused on a real-world approach to learning.
Mentorship is also important to Denney and something she takes to heart.
“The relationship itself is what’s important, so when you think you have no one else, you can talk to someone who has been through it,” Denney said.
Over the years, Denney has mentored many young veterinarians and veterinary technicians. Perhaps none more so than Dr. Rosslyn Biggs.
Biggs is the oldest daughter of Denney’s classmate and close friend, Clark. Sadly, Clark died in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people, the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history.
Just like Clark had been there for Denney when they were part of the female minority in their veterinary class, Denney was there for Biggs.
Biggs knew from an early age she wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a veterinarian. Denney was there to help her achieve that goal.
“When [Biggs] went to veterinary school, we were so excited about that,” Denney said. “She is a wonderful veterinarian and a wonderful person. Having her in my life enriches my life and I hope I can provide some of that in return.”
Biggs was grateful for the support and knew she always had someone to lean on throughout her career, no matter the time or place.
“Dr. Denney has been one of my influential mentors throughout my life,” Biggs said. “She is the epitome of what we all strive for and what can be achieved with a veterinary degree.”
Denney also served as a mentor to her students in the veterinary technology program and has stayed in contact with many of them throughout their careers.
“Dr. Denney serves as a role model for all veterinarians,” Biggs said. “She has played instrumental roles in influencing change in the profession, her local community, and state for decades all while balancing commitments to her faith and family. Her achievement and contribution to the OSU CVM, the veterinary profession and community are unmatched.”
Representing the Spirit of OSU
Imagine walking into your first job at 12 not knowing you were about to embark on the journey of a lifetime. This was the case for Dr. Jerry Ritchey, OSU CVM associate dean for academic and student affairs.
When a small animal hospital in Tulsa needed help in their kennel, Ritchey jumped at the opportunity. At the time, Ritchey did not have any knowledge about veterinary medicine but that soon changed.
Ritchey said his passion for veterinary medicine was ignited during that summer as he worked for Dr. John T. Gage, a CVM graduate from the class of 1971. Gage’s enthusiasm for veterinary medicine and the professionalism he exhibited led Ritchey to make a commitment to himself to become a veterinarian.
In 1987, Ritchey received his Bachelor of Science in microbiology from OSU. Four years later, Ritchey graduated from OSU CVM. His passion for veterinary medicine led him to North Carolina State University, where he completed an anatomic pathology residency. His education didn’t end there as he later received his Ph.D. in immunology from NCSU.
After years of schooling, Ritchey returned to his Oklahoma roots in 1997 and has been a faculty member at OSU CVM ever since. He served as department head of veterinary pathobiology for five years and interim director of the Oklahoma Animal Disease and Diagnostic Laboratory twice. In this role, he oversees the pre-clinical veterinary curriculum, admissions, recruiting and student organizations.
Ritchey has an undeniable passion for mentoring present and future veterinarians. He has mentored more than 35 master’s and doctoral students during his time at OSU.
“In being a mentor, Dr. Ritchey took me under his wing to develop myself as a possible anatomic pathologist,” said Dr. Alexis Steckley, OSU CVM class of 2019. “He let me help with necropsies, go over cases and participate in research projects.”
Ritchey said his most memorable accolades are those that involve recognition from students. His selection as a 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award winner is a culmination of the impact he has had on students during his time in the CVM.
“I was totally surprised when I was nominated for the Distinguished Alumni Award, it’s nothing I ever expected,” Ritchey said.
He said he has watched fellow alumni receive this award in the past and to be among those talented individuals is quite humbling and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“In my mind, there is no other person that represents the spirit of OSU better than Dr. Jerry Ritchey,” said Dr. Craig Miller, an adjunct OSU CVM member. “He is the primary reason I came to OSU to begin my career.”
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