Editors’ Note: Northwest Dentistry presents the
following letter in recognition of the passing of a giant in Minnesota dentistry, Dr. Erwin Schaffer.
It is with the greatest sadness that I inform
you that the School
of Dentistry has lost 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 25. He was 85 years old.
I learned of Dr.
Schaffer’s passing when his son called me. He shared with me many thoughtful
memories and spoke about how much the School of Dentistry
meant to his father. His personal recollections about his father’s career were
vivid and emotionally inspiring. I extended him our collective condolences and
gratitude for all Dr. Schaffer has done for the School of Dentistry
and the profession.
To put Dr. Schaffer’s
long and stellar career in some perspective, here is a brief review of the
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
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 more than 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 Moos
Tower 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 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
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 (second only to the
Honorary Doctorate). He was one of only two dental school alumni to ever
receive this award.
Although I know that many
of you knew Dr. Schaffer much longer and better than I, he was one of the very
first people to meet with me when I arrived at the School of Dentistry.
He was a most gracious and trusted advisor and someone I am truly honored to
have known. The School
of Dentistry, generations
of our graduates, and hundreds of our faculty and staff have lost a most
The family has requested
that memorials are preferred to the Cleft Palate Clinic at the University of Minnesota in Dr. Schaffer’s honor. A
formal military burial was held at Fort
Snelling on January 4,
the fondest of remembrances,
University of Minnesota
School of Dentistry