Service has been a way of life for Dr. James Van Delden (’70). He has delivered babies in war-torn nations, cared for children on Native American reservations of the Great Plains and served on medical missions in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
“I was a family doctor; I wanted to help wherever families and kids needed a doctor,” he said.
Van Delden’s career path began when he emigrated with his family from the Netherlands to Grants Pass in 1961 at the age of 12. He was born in what is now Indonesia, and became a U.S. citizen while studying pre-med and playing soccer at Southern Oregon College in the late 1960s. He chose the small college in Ashland because of the atmosphere – it offered what he needed.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my time at SOC,” Van Delden said. “The professors were very helpful, I made a lot of friends and I loved soccer.”
The kindness of his instructors, friends and teammates made a lasting impression on Van Delden, who studied biology. His experience at SOC had a profound influence and led to a lifelong commitment to help others. “When people give to you, you want to give back,” he said.
Van Delden entered medical school in 1969 at Creighton University in Nebraska, with a bachelor’s degree and just three years of pre-med coursework at SOU. “Graduation was a glorious day, but then I went back to work swing shift at the plywood mill to earn some money for med school,” said Van Delden.
“I truly had no funds when I reached third-year status at Creighton, and the U.S. Army came to the rescue by signing me up in 1971 and made me an instant ‘butter bar’ (a second lieutenant),” explained Van Delden.
He was then on active duty during his senior year and was stationed in West Germany after completing his medical degree in 1973.
After retiring from active duty in 1977, Van Delden joined the Army National Guard and signed on with the Indian Health Service as a civilian. The Indian Health Service is a division of the U.S. Public Health Service, and is the principal federal health care advocate and provider for American Indians and Alaska Natives who belong to the more than 550 federally recognized tribes.
“I had two careers simultaneously,” he said. “I was working full time at the Indian Health Service and part-time as a soldier.”
Van Delden was recalled to active duty with Army National Guard during Desert Storm in 1990. He retired from the Army in 2001 after 30 years, earning the rank of Brigadier General upon retirement. Van Delden’s career with the Indian Health Service ended in 2005, although he remained busy helping tribal administrators with their own medical clinics for almost 10 years.
“It was a fun ride,” he said. “I met lots of good folks, and I was honored to have been able to be a part of their lives.”
Throughout his career and into retirement, the SOU alumnus’ focus has remained squarely on serving those in need.
“If there is a situation where I can be of help, then that is what I will do,” he said.
He volunteers with veterans’ organizations and continues to work at the Omaha Nation tribal clinic in Nebraska.
Van Delden said his sense of service comes from the joy he takes in meeting people and the many kindnesses people have shown him over the years.
“I’d tell anyone who wanted a career in medicine or in any public service to just think of those who were of service to you,” he said. “Then knuckle down, hit the books and engage with your community.
“So many people were good to me and supported me when I first came to the United States. It never occurred to me not to give back.”
Reposted from the Spring 2017 issue of The Raider, SOU’s alumni magazine