The ties that bind

Born and raised in Easton, Pennsylvania, Jack English had never been further west than Pittsburgh. Teri Learn English, on the other hand, was born and raised in Los Angeles. She did, however, have parental roots in Hershey. With a combination of pioneering spirit and what, in retrospect, they realize was naiveté, Jack and Teri came to Hershey in the summer of 1967 to become part of Penn State College of Medicine's first class. Once there, they found their life-long passions—both for medicine and for each other.

Today, even having lived on the West Coast for nearly forty years, they are critical players in keeping that first Class of 1971 together.   

"Our class was an interesting mix of people. Half of us, like Jack and I, right out of college; the other half older who had done other things, like being in the military, working in other professions and earning graduate degrees," says Teri, who now resides in Carmel Valley, California with Jack. "I think it was part of (founding dean) George Harrell's vision of putting together a class of people who were pioneers."

"We were called that a lot."

Harrell actually conducted Teri's only admissions interview at the Los Angeles International Airport. "He didn't fly out there just to meet me, but he had other business in Los Angeles so he suggested if I could fly down he would like to interview me there," recalls Teri, who was majoring in biology at Mills College, a women's liberal arts college in Oakland. She had also been accepted at the Medical College of Pennsylvania (MCP) in Philadelphia, a long-time women's medical school. But, having already gone to a women's college, she ultimately felt that—since "I figured I'd already have to be competing with men for the rest of my life"—MCP didn't make sense for her.

Then there was the impression Harrell made on her. "He was an amazing man who just drew you in to his philosophy and his plan to make humanists of physicians. His famous quote was: ‘Doctors with handbags and hearts.' That just drew me in."

She never visited the Hershey campus before matriculating there. But she is pretty sure she had been to the town as a child. Her father was a Pennsylvania state police cadet stationed in Hershey who, though he didn't dance, met Teri's mother when she came down from her home in Lewistown, Pennsylvania, to dance at a big band dance pavilion. They married in San Francisco, in 1942, after her father had joined the FBI and took a position there.

Teri was born in Los Angeles after the FBI transferred her father there. However, she became quite familiar with the Keystone State. "Every two years, religiously, we got in our car and drove cross-country to Pennsylvania to spend a week to ten days with our Pennsylvania relatives, so I also felt comfortable in Pennsylvania," she explains.  

During his junior year at Lafayette College in his hometown, Jack, a biology major, read about plans for the new Penn State medical school. He wrote to express his interest. Harrell responded with an invitation to visit, and when Jack and his father drove to Hershey, they were quite impressed, despite the fact that the school was only a hole in the ground at the time of the visit. Harrell expressed to Jack the importance of family practice, but reflecting on the encounter, he was also impressed by the plans to link the medical school laboratories with veterinary laboratories for basic research. "Obviously," he recalls, "Dr. Harrell had enormous research plans."

Accepted the fall of his senior year, he didn't apply to any other medical schools. "My attraction was being part of the first group and helping make it what it was to become," recalls Jack. "I was looking for a different kind of experience rather than being just the latest in a long line of medical students over the past 200 years at the University of Pennsylvania, for instance."

At the time, it did not occur to him that such an enduring reputation might pay dividends in terms of internships and residencies when compared to a school that would not become accredited until he graduated. "I just thought it was an exciting idea," he says. "I was young and naïve."  

When their first class arrived at Hershey, scaffolding surrounded the under-construction medical school; only the third floor of the seven-story building was finished. All the construction workers knew their names as they snaked their way up the stairs past curtains of plastic and underneath naked, hanging light bulbs. The second floor housed the gross anatomy lab, classrooms, a small lounge area, and student cubicles with bookshelves and microscopes. A farm house called "the Barn" housed the physiology department.

With only forty students, Jack and Teri met as soon as they arrived. Then Theodore Banks, a trustee of Lafayette College who also was on the Hershey Company Board of Directors, invited the two to dinner. His wife, like Teri, was a graduate of Mills College. The pair began dating the following year and got married, with all their classmates present, during the one-week break between their third and fourth years. Their three-day honeymoon was at Split Rock Lodge in the Poconos.

As medical students, they benefited from the fact that the faculty was so small the chairs of the departments were their professors. They also had to demonstrate some initiative and independence, including during their clinical rotations, since the Medical Center did not open until 1970, the year before they graduated.

The couple then spent four post-graduate years in Denver, Colorado. Then, the U.S. military brought them back to Teri's home state of California. To satisfy a required military service obligation of all male medical students at the time, Jack had joined the U.S. Air Force Reserve during his internship and residency. Afterwards, he entered the Air Force as a major, and for two years, was stationed at the medical center at Travis Air Force Base near Sacramento. Conveniently, the base also needed a pediatrician with training in child development, so Teri also was an Air Force major at the medical center.

After a brief two-year stint in southern California, the couple moved to the exquisite Monterey Peninsula, where they raised their two children, Elizabeth and David, and have lived ever since. After three years as a private practice pathologist and lab director at another hospital for eighteen years, Jack was part of a pathology group practicing at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.

Teri, meanwhile, conducted a private pediatric practice for sixteen years before retiring in 1997. Although Jack retired from full-time practice at the end of 2000, for the next ten years he continued as an emeritus member of the Monterey hospital staff. Currently, on a part-time basis, he directs the medical laboratories of the George L. Mee Memorial Hospital in King City, California, and the Salinas Valley State Prison. On an as-needed basis, he is a pathologist at several other regional hospitals, as well.

The couple's passion for Penn State College of Medicine and its first class remains unabated. Teri was one of the main organizers of their class' fifth and tenth reunions, and at the 1981 reunion she began to lay the groundwork for what has become the Class of 1971 scholarship program.

"I care about the institution," explains Teri, who also has served three three-year terms on the College's Alumni Society Board. "Our class was very close and we really cared for each other, and through the scholarship program we have shown that we care about the students who are following in our footsteps. It's so important for the future of medicine."

Since the class' first scholarship was awarded in 1996, it has awarded 104 College of Medicine student scholarships totaling nearly $107,000. "I was the recipient of scholarships when I was at Penn State," adds Jack. "I know how important it was for me, so I know how important it is for today's students."

The Next Chapter:
When their children were growing up in the Monterey area, over dinner each night Teri and Jack English would naturally talk about how their work days had gone.  "When you're parents come home and all they talk about is medicine, wanting to be a doctor when you grow up is the last thing on your mind," says their son, David.

Elizabeth, now an avant-garde play producer in New York City, certainly resisted the call. But not David. While majoring in biology at the University of Pennsylvania, he fulfilled a work-study job in the allergy and immunology clinic at the nearby Children's Hospital of Philadelphia—one of the institutions where his mother had done her clinical rotations decades earlier.

That ultimately led him to interviews with various faculty members for admission to Penn State College of Medicine. Not wanting to rely on any alumni legacy, David did not mention that his mother was on the alumni board. But the faculty quickly figured out who he was.

"Oh, I know your parents," they told him.  Or, "Oh, yes, I know who you are."

"I just fell in love with it," says David, a 2008 graduate who, after a residency and internship at the University of Washington, is now an anesthesiologist at both a hospital and a children's hospital in Orange County, California. "Hershey is a great little town with great people, and I liked the fact that all of the faculty, students and staff are very invested in the success of the institution."

His current colleagues, he says, are incredulous when he tells them that, when he was a medical student, the chair of the department of medicine, Robert C. Aber, M.D., knew him by name. Or that, when he was working out in the gym, Darrell Kirch, M.D., the former dean of the medical school and CEO of the Medical Center, would ask him, "How are things going?"

Teri English says her son had a great experience in Hershey, and he agrees. "I'm really lucky that I got to spend four years there," he says. "I enjoy where I am now, but I think it made me into a great doctor."

Click here to read additional stories on the Penn State College of Medicine Alumni Update.