WVPA Sharing

Wild West Benefit celebrated longtime educator, raised scholarship funds

West Virginia Press Association

LEWISBURG, W.Va. — Bob Foster, D.O., who retired from the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM) in July after 45 years of service, was a man who wore many hats. At the school’s Wild West Benefit, he wore the one that helped make him an iconic figure far beyond the medical school’s campus: a wide-brimmed cowboy hat.

The benefit, which took place Nov. 4 on WVSOM’s campus in Lewisburg, featured music, dancing, dinner, a photo booth and a silent auction. The event served as this year’s fall fundraiser for student scholarships, raising an estimated $97,000. It was also a tribute to Foster’s influential career.

In a speech he presented at the benefit, Ethan Galloway, a Class of 2026 student who is president of WVSOM’s Student Government Association (SGA), described the veteran medical educator who is known nationwide for his one-of-a-kind sense of style as if he were a mythical figure.

“In my role, I travel the country to attend conferences, and I interact with students from other medical schools,” Galloway said. “They ask where I go to school, and when I say ‘West Virginia’ they always say, ‘Oh, that’s the one with the professor who wears a cowboy hat.’”

But Foster’s reputation goes far deeper than the hat on his head. His devotion to osteopathic medicine and to transforming students into compassionate physicians has touched thousands of WVSOM graduates. He served in multiple capacities during his nearly half-century with the school, including roles as a faculty member, as associate dean for clinical education and, most recently, as assistant dean for osteopathic medical education.

While at WVSOM, Foster received three President’s Outstanding Faculty Awards, as well as numerous awards on the state and national levels.

On behalf of the current student body, Galloway thanked Foster — an Arizona native who came to West Virginia in 1978 and adopted the state as his home — for his commitment to preparing medical students to attend to the health care needs of rural areas.

“Dr. Foster has dedicated his life to serving those in need and educating the next wave of physicians. He is a legend in the medical education community both near and far. We are honored to have learned from him, and we are even more honored to celebrate his career,” Galloway said.

James W. Nemitz, Ph.D., WVSOM’s president, recognized Foster as the longest-serving faculty member in the school’s history but said his accomplishments go beyond his contributions to WVSOM.

“We’re here to honor one of the greats,” Nemitz said. “Dr. Foster spent 38 years as medical examiner for Greenbrier County, and many years serving on West Virginia’s Osteopathic Licensing Board. He also took care of rescue squads, nursing homes and rural clinics. He did it all. His giving is unsurpassed, and his record of service is incredible.”

Foster is also a past president of the American Association of Osteopathic Examiners.

The Wild West Benefit took place in the WVSOM Student Center, which was adorned with barrels, lassos and other frontier-themed decorations. Attendees were encouraged to dress in Western attire, and many wore hats, boots, bolo ties and bandanas. Guests danced to live music by the band Riverside Lights and enjoyed a buffet of Western-style cuisine.

At the event, Rich Sutphin, executive director of the West Virginia Rural Health Association, presented Foster with the inaugural Bob Foster, D.O., Award for Excellence in Rural Health Professions Education. Foster has served as a member of the statewide organization’s board of directors.

“Dr. Foster has been a part of the West Virginia Rural Health Association, and the association’s predecessors, since he’s been in West Virginia,” Sutphin told attendees. “He has worked not only with medical students, but with paramedics, nurses and professionals across the board.”

Foster said he was grateful that his retirement gave the school a chance to help future osteopathic physicians achieve their goals.

“I was humbled by the kind words, the expressions of gratitude, the love and the recognition of my devotion,” he said. “I feel personally blessed to have been given so many years to serve WVSOM and further its mission, the osteopathic philosophy and the rural health needs of West Virginia. When the Rural Health Association presented me with a new award named in my honor, I was speechless. I thank all who made this evening possible and who contributed to the student scholarship fund.”

Scholarships supported by WVSOM’s annual fall fundraising event help ease the financial burden of medical school. Scholarships are awarded to students who excel in areas including leadership, academic performance, community service and excellence in the practice of osteopathic medicine.

Of the funds raised at the Wild West Benefit, $9,800 came from a silent auction organized by the SGA with assistance from WVSOM’s Office of Multicultural and Student Affairs.

The Wild West Benefit’s gold sponsor was Encova Insurance, and the silver sponsor was the WVSOM Alumni Association. Copper sponsors were CAMC Greenbrier Valley Medical Center, CAMC Vandalia Health, Mason & Barry Inc. and Medical Missions and Imaging. Zinc sponsors were Boone Memorial Hospital, River Park Hospital, Dr. and Mrs. Arthur Rubin, the West Virginia Rural Health Association, Whit Yates and Jack Carvalho, and ZMM Architects and Engineers. Lead sponsors were Bailey & Wyant, Mako Medical, Jim and Nancy Nemitz, PracticeLink, the WVSOM Center for Rural and Community Health and WVU Medicine St. Joseph’s Hospital.