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Author Traces Van Liere’s Role at WVU Medical Center

WHEELING — A physician and educator with ties to Wheeling played a vital role in the development of West Virginia University’s School of Medicine.

Dr. Edward J. Van Liere served as dean of the School of Medicine from 1937 until 1960. Van Liere, known as the “Father of the WVU Medical Center,” developed the two-year medical school into a four-year accredited program.

Van Liere, who became a professor of physiology at WVU in 1921, married Helen Kimmins, a 1920 WVU graduate from Wheeling, in 1923; she died five years later. Van Liere’s great-niece, Karen Caveney, resides in Wheeling.

Dr. William Neal, a retired pediatric cardiologist, spoke about Van Liere recently at the Ohio County Public Library’s Lunch With Books series.

Neal, a WVU professor emeritus of pediatrics, wrote a 2017 book, “Quiet Advocate: Edward J. Van Liere’s Influence on Medical Education in West Virginia.”

In the 1800s, a doctor tried unsuccessfully to form a Wheeling Medical University, but left after two years and went to Indiana to start a for-profit medical school, Neal said.

After WVU was established as a land grant institution in 1867, Dr. Hugh Brock became the first physician on staff and medical studies were offered at Hick House. Dr. John Nathan Simpson was appointed as first dean of the medical school, serving from 1903-35.

WVU became affiliated with the Baltimore College of Physicians, but regulators didn’t look favorably upon the relationship, Neal said. In 1912, WVU launched a two-year School of Medicine under Simpson’s leadership. The first medical building was constructed in 1917.

“The Depression devastated WVU, especially the medical school,” Neal said. WVU lost its accreditation completely in 1935.

Van Liere, who was named acting dean, sought more funding from the Legislature and straightened out deficiencies in two years. By 1937, the medical school was re-accredited completely, with Van Liere as dean officially.

In 1951, the Legislature approved a controversial “pop tax” to fund a new medical center. Gov. Okey Patterson decided the $33 million complex should be located in Morgantown, Neal said.

The basic science building was constructed in 1957; University Hospital was completed in 1960 and WVU Medical Center was opened in 1962.

A statue of Van Liere was unveiled at the Pylons on the WVU campus Oct. 4. The WVU Museum of the Health Sciences is set to open next year in the Pylons atrium, Neal said.

Neal, a native of Huntington, attended Wheeling College for two years before transferring to Xavier University, Cincinnati, to complete a degree in chemistry. He earned a medical degree from WVU and received the first Edward J. Van Liere Award for medical student research.

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