Story by Christian Knoll
Since 2012, Colorado State University’s College of Health and Human Sciences has been honoring retired staff and faculty emeriti for their exceptional work and forward-thinking contributions to our shared history and accomplishments as a college. On May 23, Louise Wendt White, along with several other honorees, was recognized through the Legacies Project.
White started working as an instructor for the Department of Occupational Therapy in 1967, but her time at CSU actually dates back to her collegiate career. White is a Fort Collins native. She remembers when the town was much smaller, when the population was as few as 12,000 people.
To White, CSU was the best choice for getting an education. A state school in her hometown meant that knowledge was readily accessible and easily affordable. However, like many college newcomers, she did not know what she wanted pursue as a career. Her first major was in home economics, before she changed her major to occupational therapy (OT).
At first, White was discouraged with her educational path. She found the OT program’s early coursework disappointing. However, despite this, her adviser Neil Kooiman convinced her to continue pursuing an education in occupational therapy.
White graduated from CSU in 1960 and decided to leave Colorado. She was employed full time at Sunnyview Orthopaedic and Rehabilitation Center in Schenectady, New York. There she gained invaluable experience by helping those with disabilities. During this time, she reflected on her adviser’s advice. Kooiman was right: White may not always have enjoyed occupational therapy in the classroom, but she loved it in real-world application.
After three happy years in Schenectady, she returned to Colorado. Upon her return, White worked at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver. There, she worked closely with people with physical disabilities, which she loved. Also, while working in Denver in 1965, White joined the United States Army Reserves in the Army Medical Specialist Corps. This enabled her to work with many disabled Vietnam War soldiers. She remained in the reserves for 14 years and resigned her commission as a lieutenant colonel.
After spending more than three years in Denver, White once again made her way back to the East Coast. She took a position at St. Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie, New York, where she served as the hospital’s sole occupational therapist.
Teaching and service at CSU
White did not stay in the Empire State long. After a year of working as an occupational therapist, White once again moved back to Colorado and decided to try her hand at something new: teaching.
In 1967, CSU’s Department of Occupational Therapy hired her as an instructor. White’s work had a heavy emphasis on helping with those who had physical disabilities. She soon found that she loved teaching just as much as occupational therapy, and it did not take long for her to find her own unique teaching method.
“I thought it was really important for students to walk into a clinical situation and have some tools they could use immediately with patients,” White said. “It was always important for me, for students to have some hands-on experience. So I always tried to bring patients into the classroom. I developed group study situations for small groups of students who would work with patients I was treating, and I’d supervise them.”
Along with teaching, White was especially known for her advising and service to OT. She received several recognitions for advising, and she was a key member of several college and University committees. Her dedication to service earned her CSU’s Oliver P. Pennock Distinguished Service Award.
Providing real-world experience
Students greatly benefited from White’s educational model; they obtained the knowledge and real-world experience of helping those with disabilities, and the patients benefitted from therapy.
“Throughout the time I was working at CSU, I’ve always treated patients in some way or another,” White said. “I worked with a hand surgeon in town, and he used to refer all of his patients who were CSU students to me, and they would get free therapy because I would have students work with them.”
Working with patients made for an incredible learning environment. However, working with people who had physical disabilities required a high standard of practice in terms of patient well-being, student education and application. White’s standards set a bar for soon-to-be practitioners, and with it, she created an exceptional teaching model for the department to follow.
“Louise brought that special heart-felt care that she has as part of her character to her students – that hands-on quality,” said Peggy Short, former head of CSU’s OT program. “She displayed that, but she also lived that.”
Andy White Memorial Scholarship
In 1971, White met her husband, Andy White, at the first meeting of the Faculty Singles Club at CSU. They hit it off and Louise ended up “marrying a family” as Andy had two daughters. They were together for 29 years. Tragically, Andy passed away from a brain tumor in 2000. The Louise Wendt White Scholarship was established in her honor when she retired in 2002. In 2008, she added a significant gift to endow the scholarship and renamed it the Andy White Memorial Scholarship.
White was featured in the CHHS Legacies Project, which honors the history and contributions of former faculty and staff. Go to White’s Legacies webpage to watch her video, read her biography, view photos and learn more about what she is doing today.
“I hope that many former students that I’ve taught will continue to be occupational therapists, whether or not they are working as an OT,” White said. “[That is] a problem solver, an optimistic helper of people and a concerned citizen.”
To make a gift in White’s honor, visit the online giving page to support the Andy White Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship, is granted to a “CSU occupational therapy graduate student who is focusing on neuro-rehabilitation and who has a desired goal to work with adults with acquired brain damage.”