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A lifelong passion for veterinary medicine

What began as a spark ignited within a 12-year-old boy, grew to become a dynamic and fulfilling career that spanned 40 years.

Wayne Schmotzer’s calling into veterinary medicine was clear and undeniable. From the young boy who watched as surgical intervention saved the life of a beloved farm animal, to the man who dedicated his life to that very calling, the journey has been made up of meaningful influences and relationships, amazing opportunities, and remarkable accomplishments.

There was no fanfare or big retirement party, Schmotzer simply stepped quietly into retirement from Bend Equine Medical Center, while remaining open to whatever this next chapter holds for him. For the clients and coworkers who have relied on, learned from, and been helped by his expertise and compassion, Schmotzer’s absence will be felt on a deep level. Yet there is a legacy that will continue, a legacy that has touched and affected many lives —both animal and human.

It all began years ago with a parental decision to move from the suburbs of Detroit to an 80-acre farm in the country where the young Schmotzer boys could grow up in a more wholesome atmosphere. This new life included farm animals, and it was during this chapter that a beloved Shetland pony needing hernia surgery allowed young Wayne to observe life-saving veterinary efforts. At that moment, the spark was ignited, and along with early mentoring by a neighbor who had once dreamed of being a veterinarian, a life purpose was being cultivated.

In high school, Schmotzer spent time with a local veterinarian who specialized in standardbred horses. Within a practice focused on racehorses, there were extraordinary opportunities to learn about lameness and sports medicine even before being accepted into the veterinary school at Michigan State University (MSU). It was at this time that Schmotzer also met an anesthesiologist who would become pivotal, not only during his time at MSU but also in his future career. Each experience and mentor was a critical building block necessary for the doctor being formed.

Schmotzer recalls, “I never stressed one minute about what I wanted to be, not one minute — I had one focus.” During his third year of undergraduate studies in a biology major at MSU, Schmotzer applied to the veterinary program, and was accepted in his fourth year. During this undergrad period, Schmotzer was a teaching assistant in biology.

After graduation, Schmotzer spent one year working within a mixed practice in Michigan. He was then approached by the anesthesiologist who had come into his life earlier, regarding a teaching position at Oregon State University (OSU) in their newly developing veterinary school. It was time to leave his home state of Michigan to build his career in Oregon.

OSU initially hired Schmotzer as an instructor in medicine. He completed his surgical residency in 1986, was promoted to assistant professor in 1987, became board certified in surgery in 1992, and was promoted to associate professor with indefinite tenure in 1993. Schmotzer also became a diplomate in the American College of Veterinary Surgeons in 1992.

Schmotzer developed an ophthalmology referral service through OSU and authored or co-authored over 40 scientific publications. Schmotzer was becoming a mentor to others while being instrumental in the formative years of the veterinary school.

“It was a time filled with opportunities and accomplishments shared with mentors and colleagues that were really cool and fantastic people,” Schmotzer said.

In just a few short years, however, OSU found itself facing financial challenges that threatened the program’s survival. Schmotzer’s efforts shifted to public relations, which included building broader support within the agricultural community. Additional funding finally came through and the program was saved. However, a new chapter was about to begin for Schmotzer.

In 1994, one of Schmotzer’s graduating students was moving to La Grande where he had purchased a practice. An offer was made from this new grad to his mentor, and, despite being told by many that he was crazy to leave his tenured position, Schmotzer decided that it felt like the right move.

Idealistic pursuits and a return to small-town rural life felt exciting. The practice had a primary focus on small animal and cattle needs, and expanded to have a strong emphasis on horses as well.

Schmotzer also found himself conducting research for Starkey Experimental Forest and Range, performing surgeries on mule deer, implanting radio transmitters in bull elk, and even operating on a cow elk to fix a tibial fracture.

As his career in La Grande evolved, Schmotzer’s focus eventually became almost 100 percent equine.

“Clients were fantastic,” he said. “Rural people, kind and appreciative people, the kind of people who want to give you eggs when you leave.”

Those relationships made it hard for Schmotzer to think about leaving; however, the next chapter was waiting to be written.

Central Oregon was identified as a nice blend of rural life with expanding potential and another beautiful setting for the type of work Schmotzer loved. Despite finding no open positions at that time, Schmotzer met with local veterinarians, including Dan Harrison, who was operating a sole ambulatory practice. Harrison and Schmotzer had previous interactions through OSU, so they knew something about one another.

Although there was no obvious need at that moment, Harrison decided to take a chance on what they could build together. The practice remained ambulatory for two years. Clientele doubled in the first year and they found themselves in need of an actual physical clinic. Doing surgeries out on the grass, despite million-dollar mountain views, simply needed to be improved upon.

They located a property along Highway 20 with great visibility and easy access for horse trailers; a business loan was secured with a handshake, and the future held new dreams.

As ideas expanded, the loan got revamped again and again. The evolution of Bend Equine was broadening. The opportunity to create a local equine surgical hospital capable of meeting many of the needs that were then only able to be directed to OSU, would ensure that Central Oregon and Eastern Oregon would have a high level of surgical and diagnostic expertise to rely on locally. It was a gamble at a time when there was no certainty that Central Oregon could support it; yet, despite the odds and a recession, Bend Equine continued to grow and succeed.

Creating a highly functional workspace with revolutionary safety features was just the beginning of the facility’s metamorphosis. Recruiting exceptional technicians and doctors and creating externship and internship programs with residential offerings, all added to the growth and success of the practice. Partnership eventually exchanged from Harrison to Wendy Krebs, DVM, and then from Schmotzer to Krebs and Shannon Findley, DVM.

Schmotzer reflects, “It was the golden era when one could take a stab at something, develop it, grow it, and make it happen,” and he is grateful for each chapter.

Supported by incredible mentors, he became one himself, while always remaining dedicated to saving and restoring animal lives. He took risks several times, and all paid off. His love of surgery and teaching brought an invaluable resource to each of his positions. There were moments of triumph, and moments of heartbreak. It has been the life Schmotzer knows he was meant to live, fueled by that long-ago spark that ignited a passionate pursuit of exceptional skills and unbridled dreams that evolved and affected countless lives.

In his next chapter, Schmotzer hopes to continue to surround himself with good people, enjoy a pace that allows him the time to have fun and embrace new experiences, share in adventures with his wife, Michelle, and contribute positively wherever he can. With rewards and accomplishments that were unimaginable early on, Schmotzer sums up his 40-year career with emotion, stating that “It’s been such a great ride!”


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