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OHSU School of Dentistry receives largest private gift in 112-year history

The $5.1 million bequest will provide scholarships for oral and maxillofacial surgery residents and dental students

The late Wilbur N. Van Zile, D.D.S., professor emeritus of the OHSU School of Dentistry’s Department of Oral and Maxillofacial surgery (OMFS), has made a $5.1 million gift to benefit OMFS residents and dental students. The bequest from the Van Zile estate is the largest private donation in the dental school’s 112-year history.

“Wilbur Van Zile was an excellent clinician and teacher. He was known for being extremely ethical, professional and compassionate about his patients and students,” said School of Dentistry Dean Jack Clinton, D.M.D. `64. “This exceptional commitment to our oral and maxillofacial surgery residents and dental students will ensure OHSU continues to attract the highest caliber individuals pursuing oral maxillofacial surgery training.”

Beginning fall of 2011, the dental school will select up to four OMFS residents each year to receive a Wilbur N. and Ruth H. Van Zile Scholarship, which will fund all the tuition charges for the OMFS advanced specialty program curriculum. If funds remain after the OMFS resident scholarships are awarded, the bequest allows the School of Dentistry to award additional scholarships to third- and fourth-year dental students, with preference given to dental students interested in and pursuing oral and maxillofacial surgery training.

“This bequest creates an unprecedented opportunity to attract and support the students with the highest potential to enrich our student body and enhance oral surgical patient care,” said OHSU Foundation President Allan Price. “Dr. Van Zile has left a legacy that will benefit students and patients for generations to come. We are profoundly grateful for this transforming philanthropic investment.”

The new scholarships come at a time when the prospect of large student loan debt puts advanced studies out of reach for many promising students. “Dr. Van Zile clearly understood that by supporting tomorrow’s dentists and oral surgeons, we can make a long-lasting contribution to the health and well-being of Oregonians while reducing the debt burden our graduates carry with them into dental practice,” said Clinton.

Wilbur Van Zile had a distinguished career as a general dentist and oral surgeon, including 25 years in the Navy Dental Service, where he perfected surgical techniques to correct misaligned jaws. He served 10 years (1959-1969) as chair of oral and maxillofacial surgery at the University of Oregon Dental School (the precursor to OHSU School of Dentistry), helping to transform oral surgery into an operating room specialty.

A lifelong inventor, Van Zile was continually tinkering and discovered a device to improve outcomes for root canal restorations. Upon retiring from OHSU, Van Zile continued in private practice, retiring fully in 1979.

Van Zile met Ruth Harrison during his senior year of dental school at the University of Southern California, and they were married for 70 years before her death in 1998. Van Zile died in 2009 at age 104.

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