School of Dentistry Loses a Dear Friend and Champion

Dr. Erwin Schaffer, dean emeritus of the School of Dentistry from 1964 to 1977, passed away early in the morning on December 25th. He was 85 years old.

Dr. Schaffer served the School of Dentistry and the dental profession in the nation and the world for more than 60 years. A visionary leader and the school’s most accomplished statesman, he pioneered advances in dental education and research, guided the school through its most pivotal years, and left a 19-story legacy.

He received a D.D.S. in 1945 and an M.S.D. in periodontology in 1951, both from the University of Minnesota. He served in the Marine Corps in the mid-1950s and, during that time, was the first periodontist in the world to graft cartilage to the jaw. He is one of the founders of modern scientific, evidence-based periodontology, with over 100 articles published in scientific journals, most on the topic of periodontal regeneration. He served as director of the American Board of Periodontology and president of the American Academy of Periodontology and helped to guide the development of the specialty at the national level.

Yet, among the many accomplishments in his remarkable career, Dr. Schaffer’s work at the School of Dentistry leaves a particularly lasting legacy. He was a faculty member and department chair. His time as dean, from 1964 to 1977, was, perhaps, the most transformational in the history of the school. Although always quick to credit others, it was his forward-thinking vision, his personal and political skills, and his endless enthusiasm for and commitment to the School of Dentistry that resulted in the necessary funding from the legislature and private sources to build a new dental school in 1975. During his tenure, the school consistently ranked number one or number two in the nation for federally funded research money. He also created a dozen new programs – including programs in health ecology, auxiliary education, management of cleft palate and maxillofacial deformities, self-teaching methods, practice management, oral biology, and human oral genetics – and tripled the number of full-time faculty. He also established the School of Dentistry’s Century Club, a model for fundraising for the University, and was personally responsible for raising millions of dollars to support our school initiatives, including, most recently, fund-raising efforts in support of the school’s new Simulation Clinic.

In 1987, the Erwin Schaffer Chair in Periodontal Research was established in his honor. Officially retired in 1991, he continued teaching until 2006. Dr. Schaffer was an avid outdoorsman and, at age 70, won a silver medal in NASTAR downhill ski racing. In April, 2007, Dr. Schaffer received the school’s prestigious 2007 Distinguished Dental Alumnus award in recognition of a lifetime of outstanding service to the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry. This fall he was also honored by the University of Minnesota Board of Regents with the University’s Outstanding Achievement Award. It is the second highest award offered by the University (2nd only to the Honorary Doctorate).

The School of Dentistry, generations of our graduates and hundreds of our faculty and staff have lost a most cherished friend.

A formal military burial was held at Fort Snelling on January 4, 2008.

The School of Dentistry will celebrate the life of Erwin Schaffer at a service on Friday, April 25 at 4:30 p.m. at the Radisson University Hotel.

Star Tribune Obituary

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