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Alumnus of year Salem George gives back to UofL

by Janene Zaccone, editor last modified Oct 08, 2010 09:35 AM

At an age when he really doesn't have to do anything other than kick back and relax, that's the last thing on Salem George's mind.

Alumnus of year Salem George gives back to UofL

Salem George accepts the Alumnus of the Year award at a ceremony Oct. 7. Alumni Fellows also were recognized.

The University of Louisville Alumnus of the Year for 2010 just entered his 51st year practicing medicine in Lebanon, Ky.

"Work isn't work, to me," George explained. "I like getting up at 5:30 in the morning and going to work."

It isn't quite that simple. Before George goes to his office, he routinely stops at a nursing home his family owns and checks on a few residents. At 8:30 a.m., he starts seeing patients in his office. At the end of the day, when most people want to just leave the office behind, he'll make a house call on his way home. And it isn't unusual for someone to come to his house at night looking for the doctor.

Then there are days like Sept. 29, when George drove to Louisville to attend a fundraiser at the Galt House hotel. He's on the Board of Directors of the Catholic Education Foundation of Louisville (one of several civic and professional boards on which he serves.) That day he helped to raise $100,000 for Catholic elementary schools.

And there was Sept. 22, when he and Eva, his wife of 54 years, opened their home to 110 guests of UofL. They weren't just guests, though. Many were prospective students invited to meet President James Ramsey who was in Marion County on his annual outreach tour.

"We want to do it as payback for us — my children and students of Marion County," he said of the event.

Helping to recruit good students is just one thing that George does for the university. He is vice chair of the Board of Trustees, class agent for his college class and organizer of its reunions, preceptor for medical students and mentor to undergraduates. He also sponsors students from Marion County who need financial assistance.

"It's through a financial grant," George explained. "I leave that to the university because they do it so well."

But George isn't completely hands off.

"I let (the students) know I'm available to them," he said. "I'm very proud of these students, but they wouldn't have done well if the university hadn't reached out to help them" with scholarships and other things they need to succeed.

If you ask George why he is so involved with UofL — why he does so much for the university — first he'll tell you "I love my university." Then he'll tell you that it isn't what he does for the university, it is what UofL has done for him.

George's immigrant mother didn't speak English when she came to the United States. His father may not have gone to school past the seventh grade. But George, their oldest child, graduated from UofL in 1955 with a B.A. in chemistry. He earned his medical degree from UofL four years later. Four of his six children also graduated from UofL with professional degrees. Two are physicians, one's a lawyer and another is a dentist.

"They have been good to us," he said of UofL and its people. "They made us what we are professionally."

He has passed along those good works by helping students attend UofL.

George tells the story of one young man who came to his home one night for advice. He was working as a carpenter. While he had graduated from high school, he had not gone to college.

"I want to be a doctor like you. What can I do?" he asked.

The young man told George that he couldn't go to school too far from home. So George helped him enroll at Campbellsville University, about 20 miles from Lebanon. When he graduated, he came to UofL for medical school.

"He graduated at the top of his class," George said. "I don't mean third or fourth. I mean the top."

George not only was there for his graduation, but he also walked with him at commencement. Now the young doctor is doing a residency in urology and plans to return to Lebanon when he completes it.

"Look what he found for himself," George said. "You're a part of it. There's no better thrill."

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