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A wonderful life

Long-standing ties to the Medical School inspire couple to champion scholarships

"My major achievement as an undergraduate was meeting Jan," her husband, James House, M.D., earnestly recalls.

By Kristine Mortensen


Trim in appearance and outgoing by nature, James H. House, M.D. (Class of 1963), a renowned hand surgeon, revered teacher, and enthusiastic ambassador for the University of Minnesota Medical School, describes the 50 years he and his wife, Janelle, have spent together at the University as “a wonderful life.”

“A year ago my heart stopped beating down in Florida, and I came home with a pacemaker,” House notes, to put things in perspective. “I’ve been very blessed in so many ways, and I think that staying connected to the Medical School has been a very positive thing for me.”

Both he and Janelle are from humble beginnings and value the opportunities the University has offered. Their gratitude is clearly evident in their philanthropy. Cumulatively, they have contributed nearly $500,000 to the Medical School in outright and planned gifts, including a 1999 donation of undeveloped land in Roseville to the James and Janelle House Scholarship and the James House Hand Surgery Education Fund.

More recently, the Houses accelerated a portion of their future estate gift by taking advantage of federal legislation temporarily permitting individuals over the age of 70½ to make tax-free distributions to charity from individual retirement accounts. Like their previous giving, these contributions reflect the couple’s desire “to provide a boost” for today’s medical students and residents and to inspire philanthropy in others.

True dedication

The studious farm boy from Woodlake, Minnesota, was smitten the moment he met the attractive home economics student at South Dakota State in 1957. Jim House graduated and entered medical school at the University of Minnesota the following year, and the couple married in 1961 after Jan completed her degree in child development.

House excelled in Medical School, was elected to the Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society in his third and fourth years, graduated as the valedictorian of his class, and in 1968 joined the faculty as a professor of reconstructive hand surgery.

His interest in orthopaedics stemmed in part from personal experience; he had polio when he was 10. “I think that gave me a little empathy for children with musculoskeletal deformities,” he says.

As a teacher of anatomy, House has trained hundreds of orthopaedic residents and taught nearly every medical student at the University over the past half century—including Jonathan Herseth, M.D. (Class of 2010), and his father, Ralph Herseth, M.D. (Class of 1974). “Dr. House is a true gem,” says the younger Herseth, recipient of the House scholarship in 2008 and now an orthopaedic resident. “There are few who have the enthusiasm and dedication to teaching that he has maintained for many years.”

House became active in fundraising in 1988. It was the 100th anniversary of the Medical School, the 50th anniversary of the Minnesota Medical Foundation (MMF), the 25th anniversary of House’s graduation from Medical School, and his 50th birthday. “It seemed like it was time to get involved,” he says.

In the years since, House has helped MMF raise tens of millions of dollars for medical and public health scholarships. In recognition of his contributions, he was one of three Medical School graduates honored with MMF’s inaugural Alumni Philanthropy and Service Award in 2010.

“It makes you feel good to be able to help somebody,” says House. “And the little personal notes of thanks from the students mean a lot.”

To support Medical School scholarships, contact Holly McDonough Gulden at 612-625-8758 or h.gulden@mmf.umn.edu.

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