by Lynne Haley, senior director of development
I first met David Bielski (’70 Comm.) in 2002 at a WSU Alumni Association Board meeting. He mentioned to me that he’d been to the college several times to talk about pet loss and his company, Petland Cemetery in Aberdeen, Washington. The business was started in 1973 by three partners—one was David’s father and another was Cougar alumnus Glenn Hilliard (’54 DVM). David took over the business in 1983 and has run it ever since with his wife Sandi. Sandi’s dad, Dr. J.R. Fuller (’50 DVM), is also an alumnus of the college.
David and Sandi knew they wanted to find a way to support veterinary students and honor her dad at the same time. The result was the Dr. J.R. Fuller Memorial Scholarship, which has helped 27 students since 2005. As David says, if it makes the difference between being able to stay in school or leaving for financial reasons, that is what the scholarship is all about.
We are so grateful to them and to the legacy they are passing to future Cougar veterinarians.
David and Sandi Bielski, WSU Benefactors
What does one business, two Cougar veterinarians, three WSU degrees, and an adopted Cougar make? A Cougar legacy.
Looking back, the Cougar legacy created by David and Sandi Bielski seems almost inevitable. And listening to their story, there was a Cougar thread linking their lives along the way.
Their friendship with the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine started after a chance meeting between David and Lynne Haley, now director of development, at an alumni function in 2002. David and Sandi knew they wanted to find a way to support veterinary students and also honor her dad, WSU graduate J.R. Fuller (’50 DVM). The result was the Dr. J.R. Fuller Memorial Scholarship.
“He would have been embarrassed by it, but then quickly pleased because he enjoyed his profession and was serious about how he worked with his clients,” says Sandi. “He thought about pets as well as people.” Describing her father, Sandi says he was an old fashioned country doctor who would know all the pets’ names—sometimes before the people’s names. He was also a very compassionate man, says David. Dr. Fuller passed in 1998 before the scholarship was created, but Sandi and David know the scholarship would have meant a lot to him because it is helping future Cougar veterinarians and, by extension, their patients. From 2005 to 2014, the scholarship had been awarded to 27 WSU veterinary students.
“It is amazing to us how many students we’ve been able to help,” says Sandi. “We’ve also been fortunate to meet about three-quarters of them in person.”
When the scholarship was originally established, the Bielski’s pledged $1 for every private cremation done at their business, Petland Cemetery, in Aberdeen, Washington. That seemingly small amount has added up to more than $6,000 each year since. Petland was started in 1973 by David’s dad, along with cougar alumnus Glenn Hilliard (’54 DVM) and another local businessman. David and Sandi took over the business in 1983. “We’ve been building the business ever since,” says David.
Providing services to over 120 clinics in Washington and Oregon, Petland’s services help veterinarians humanely dispose of animals that have died, says Sandi. And private cremations and burials offer pet owners comfort. They also work with local humane societies and zoos such as Woodland Park in Seattle and Point Defiance in Tacoma. As policy, they don’t charge for service animals or for military or police K9s. “We go wherever the need is,” says David.
But their connections to WSU run even deeper. David is a WSU graduate (’70 Comm.) and so are two of their three children. They are Platinum lifetime members of the WSU Alumni Association. Their business is also listed on the Cougar First Business Network, a free service offered by the WSU Alumni Association. So when Lynne learned Sandi had not gone to WSU, she was understandably surprised. “She [Lynne] told us that they would like to adopt her,” says David.
Sandi was formally adopted as a Cougar in 2013. “That was the only surprise in 37 years of marriage that David was able to pull off,” says Sandi. “It was nice to be honored in that way and asked to be part of the family.”
For the Bielskis, helping WSU veterinary students is a priority. As life-long pet lovers they appreciate veterinarians who ensure good health. They also know how expensive a veterinary education can be. Through the scholarship, they pay it forward to future veterinarians and animal patients. Over 12 years, they have generously given more than $80,000 to the college to support veterinary student education. “We are glad to be able to help in some little way so someone can follow their dream,” says Sandi.
The Dr. J.R. Fuller Memorial Scholarship is given to second or third year veterinary students at the college who are in the top three-quarters of their class, have a commitment to small or mixed companion animal practice, and have a financial need.