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Professor Thomas Lee Bahler

Professor Thomas Lee Bahler, 1920 - 2004

Photo Courtesy Bahler Family

Sculpting Healers

Remembering Professor Tom Bahler

Mention the name “Thomas Bahler” to his former students and prepare for sudden reverence, gratitude and stories of a mentor who “changed my life.”

Bahler joined USU’s faculty in 1949, with the ink barely dry on his doctoral diploma from the University of Wisconsin. For more than 40 years, the Ohio native devoted himself to teaching and guiding students on the rigorous, and often daunting, path to medical school, dental school and other demanding endeavors.

“Thinking about him always bring a smile to my face; even 50 years after my graduation,” says USU alumna and retired research scientist Roberta Clement ‘67. “At USU, Dr. Bahler always had a friendly greeting for me. I was impressed that he even remembered who I was and I felt like he cared about me.”

Bahler’s daughter, Kathy Roark, says her father loved to interact with people and “was very accepting of people’s differences.”

“He was kind and very tolerant of others,” says Roark, who earned a master’s in social work and built a successful career in mental health. “That’s one of many valuable lessons he passed on to me.”

Roark took one of her father’s summer physiology classes, but not without a struggle to gain admittance.

“Dad thought it would be a conflict of interest to have his own daughter in the class, but my mother and brother intervened on my behalf,” she says. “Dad finally relented.”

Getting herself to 7:30 a.m. classes proved difficult and Roark admits to nodding off in class.

“Dad didn’t say a word; he didn’t embarrass me in class,” she says. “But he confronted me about it when I got home.”

Roark isn’t the only student who succumbed to classroom drowsiness.

R.J. Tesi ‘77, retired transplant surgeon and president and CEO of Seattle-based INmune Bio, recounts a humorous incident as Bahler enlightened students about the peripheral nervous system.

was 45 years ago,” Tesi says. “Dr. Bahler was droning on in a monotone about the parasympathetic nervous system. It was hot. It was Monday.”

The lecture lacked Bahler’s usual enthusiasm and much of the class was lulled to sleep.

“He suddenly took a ruler and slapped it on the podium with a thunderous clap,” Tesi says. “Everyone jumped out of their seat; several students let out a scream. Everyone was wide awake and on the edge of their seat.”

With an impish grin, Bahler announced, “And THAT is the sympathetic nervous system.”

“Dad had a great sense of humor,” Roark says.

“I laughed so hard in class, I think I snorted at a few of his jokes.”

A perennial favorite was Bahler’s offer to establish a college fund for the new child of any student, who would name the baby after a body part.

“‘Uvula would make a lovely name,’ Dad would say,” Roark remembers. “Or ‘Ligamentum Flavum.’”

Despite his classroom antics, Bahler was all business, when it came to encouraging students and helping them prepare for professional and graduate schools.

“His door was always open,” says Stockham, who graduated from the University of Utah School of Medicine in 1980 and practices anesthesiology in Salt Lake City. “He’d get all of the pre-med students together and make sure we were staying on top of deadlines. He was generous with his time and always willing to help.”

Physician Harmon Eyre ’63 says Bahler was instrumental in keeping him on track and in school.

“He instilled confidence in me and assured me I could succeed at a time I was struggling financially to stay in school and support my young family,” says Eyre, who graduated from the University of Utah Medical School in 1966 at the top of his class and served as chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society.

Eyre says Bahler not only provided him with “book knowledge,” but how to learn.

“He taught me how to study and how to think, reason, evaluate and listen,” he says. “He also taught me how to relate to professors and fellow students – all skills that would help me succeed in medical school and in the medical profession.”

Most of all, Eyre says, Bahler was a genuine friend.

“He invited me, my wife and other students to his home and served a meal he’d prepared himself,” Eyre recalls. “He made you feel important as a person.”

Current pre-health advisor and principal lecturer Andy Anderson also benefited from Bahler’s tutelage

“When I arrived at USU in the summer of 1983, Dr. Bahler was one of the people who interviewed me and was very kind,” Anderson says. “Though it was May, we went to dinner in the blowing snow and though my first impression of Cache Valley weather was not very positive, I felt welcome.”

In the years that followed, Anderson would sit in on Bahler’s lectures and observe how the seasoned educator drew students into discussion.

“He had a huge chart with all of the students’ names and assigned seating, so he could get to know everyone and encourage participation,” Anderson recalls. “He had a lively sense of humor and would sometimes purposely misidentify a bone to get students to correct him.”

As Bahler approached retirement, Anderson volunteered to take over his human anatomy and human dissection courses.

“I then came to his classes and sought his advice, because I’d never taken human dissection and found the subject particularly daunting,” Anderson says.

Bahler immediately assured Anderson there was a “precise and scientific way” to dissect cadavers but, many years before, he’d switched to “the fun way.”

“By this he meant students and instructors should take their time and explore organ systems and body structures in depth to further their understanding of the human body,” Anderson says. “I have followed his wise advice ever since and my students, teaching aides and I have all had the most illuminating and enjoyable experiences.”

Anderson has followed Bahler’s lead outside the lab as well, in mentoring students, helping them prepare for the rigors of applying for medical school and writing well-thought-out letters of recommendation.

“My colleagues and I get to know students very, very well and take the process of helping them prepare for advanced education and professional endeavors very seriously,” he says. “This is part of Tom’s legacy.”

Bahler’s influence is still felt in the university, where USU graduates’ acceptances to medical, dental and other professional programs consistently exceed national averages.

“I benefited greatly from Tom’s mentoring and it has helped me be a better educator for many decades,” Anderson says. “I hope that as time goes by, I can encourage other educators as Tom encouraged me.”

-- Mary-Ann Muffoletto

Utah State is conducting a capital campaign to name a teaching laboratory in the new Life Sciences Building in honor of Professor Bahler. We invite you to learn more about this effort at: tombahler.usu.edu

Dr. Thomas Bahler

Courtesy Bahler Family