Fulfilling a dream

Program in Occupational Therapy benefits from couple’s gift of gratitude

Alice Cinader Oyer, OT 52, and her husband, Calvin E. Oyer, MD.

Alice Cinader Oyer, OT 52, and her husband, Calvin E. Oyer, MD.

BY Diane Duke Williams

When Alice Cinader Oyer, OT 52, treated patients in clinic who had suffered strokes, she realized that addressing patients’ emotions was a vital part of their recovery. Oyer also taught classes about the psychiatric aspects of occupational therapy and strongly encouraged her students to observe all aspects of patients’ lives.

“The physical disabilities of a patient who has had a stroke are more concrete,” says fellow occupational therapist Claire N. Glasser, who taught with Oyer at Kean College (now Kean University) in Union, N.J., for a number of years. “With psychiatry, you have to dig a little to find out what’s going on. I think Alice taught that important skill to her students.”

Alice Oyer was also known for her rapport with students and willingness to help others. “She was an endearing person,” says Glasser, “and one of the most extraordinary people I’ve ever met."

Alice’s husband, Calvin E. Oyer, MD, a clinical associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University, says she took great pride in the field of occupational therapy.

“She found it fascinating,” he says. “She enjoyed working in it and teaching it. She had a great enthusiasm all those many years.”

Alice Cinader is remembered at Washington University as an excellent student with a great deal of poise and a wonderful sense of humor. She was held in high esteem by her peers as well as the faculty.

Alice's engagement photo

Her gratitude for her Washington University experience, coupled with her husband’s appreciation for his own education, motivated the Oyers to endow a student scholarship in occupational therapy through their estate.

But after Alice Oyer’s death in 2006, Calvin decided to go ahead and establish the scholarship with an outright gift to the Program in Occupational Therapy.

“This would mean so much to Alice,” Calvin Oyer says. “She was a soft touch and wanted to help those in need.”

The demand for scholarships is significant and is expected to increase in years to come. The annual cost for a student in the Program in Occupational Therapy is about $50,000, including tuition, room, board and books. Starting salaries and average annual salaries in the field are outpaced by the debt burden experienced by occupational therapy graduates.

M. Carolyn Baum, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, the Elias Michael Director of the Program in Occupational Therapy, says the Oyers’ gift is extremely important to the program.

“The generosity and foresight of the Oyers will benefit occupational therapy students for years to come,” says Baum, who also is a professor of occupational therapy and of neurology. “Many top students would not be able to attend Washington University without the benefit of scholarship support. Gifts from alumni like Alice Oyer pave the way for future occupational therapists

Calvin Oyer and Alice Cinader met while Alice was completing a rotation in occupational therapy at Indiana University as part of her degree and Calvin was a medical student there. After they both graduated and then married, they moved to Ann Arbor, Mich., where Calvin interned in internal medicine and Alice worked as an occupational therapist at a vocational rehabilitation center. They started a family after a few years, and Alice stayed home with their four children.

Occupational therapy in action: Clockwise from upper left, practicing splinting skills, participating in the Race for the Cure, practicing cooking skills to help clients, and presenting a poster at the Faces of Hope volunteer celebration.

Years later, Alice earned her master’s degree in occupational therapy at New York University before serving on the OT faculties of New York University and Kean College. In 1988, the Oyers moved to Providence, R.I., where Calvin, a pathologist who studies cardiovascular anomalies in fetuses and neonates, joined the faculty of Brown University’s medical school.

Calvin Oyer says Alice was a devoted mother and the world’s greatest grandmother to their 10 grandchildren. An avid reader, she often took her grandchildren to libraries and bookstores and found great joy in introducing them to literature.

In their spare time, the Oyers enjoyed attending the theater, visiting their grandchildren and hiking. They visited the Grand Canyon, Lake Louise in Canada, and Aspen, Colo. They also spent time cross-country skiing.

“She was a wonderful wife,” Calvin Oyer says.

At her 50-year Washington University School of Medicine Program in Occupational Therapy reunion, which she was instrumental in arranging, Alice Oyer marveled at the program’s spacious facilities.

“She was incredibly gracious and kind, so pleased that the OT program at WU had grown,” Baum says. “She couldn’t believe how much things had changed since she was a student here.”

Calvin Oyer says it is satisfying to fulfill his wife’s dream of establishing a scholarship.

“We hope that other alumni, as they get older, will feel as Alice and I did about giving back,” he says.

The couple also has given generously to the Eliot Society at Washington University through the years and established scholarships at Brown University.

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