by Marcia Hill Gossard ’99, ’04 Ph.D.
In 1966 when Norm Rantanen (’67 DVM, ’71 M.S.) was in his third year of veterinary school, he signed up for the early commissioning program with the U.S. Air Force. When the time came for him and his wife Marlene to be stationed for his first assignment with the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology at the Walter Reed Army post in Washington, D.C., the young couple found they needed a little financial help to make the move. They applied for the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine student loan fund and received $300.
“It meant a lot to us at the time to get that money,” says Marlene. “We paid it back at $10 a month and just never quit.”
With 45 years and counting, the Rantanens are the longest consecutive donors to the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine.
The Road to Equine Sports Radiology
Norm grew up in Spokane, Washington. When his older brother decided to attend WSU, Norm followed him. And his interest in science led him to veterinary medicine. “After visiting with people in the veterinary school, I thought I would like it, so I applied,” he says.
But it was during his third year of veterinary school that he discovered his passion for radiology. “Once I was introduced to radiology by Jack Alexander, he gave me a very good impression about what could be done in the field. From that time on I was interested in imaging,” he said. Dr. Alexander was the very first radiologist hired at the college.
After his assignment in D.C., Norm returned to WSU to earn a master’s degree in 1971. He continued to serve in the Air Force until 1975 and was then hired by his alma mater to teach veterinary radiology.
“I had been teaching at WSU and took a leave to go to Kentucky to see the potential with ultrasound for racehorses,” says Norm. “Once I got there, I knew there was a lot of good work I could do.” Marlene (’64 B.A., ’83 B.S.) finished her degree in Landscape Architecture at WSU in 1983 and joined him in Kentucky.
Norm worked as an imaging consultant for racehorses and used ultrasound as diagnostic technology. At the time, this work was brand new. “There wasn’t anyone else doing such a thing,” says Marlene.
Before using ultrasound, Norm explains, someone might say a horse’s leg felt hot and know that the horse was in pain, but they didn’t know exactly what was going on inside of the leg.
“Ultrasound allows us to peek under the skin so we can see the injured tendons,” says Norm.
And that helped pinpoint a more accurate form of treatment for racehorses. “With ultrasound you can see the soft tissue and muscular skeletal structure,” he says.
Norm treated some of the top horses in the circuit, including racing thoroughbreds Seattle Slew and Secretariat. When Seattle Slew developed arthritis in his neck, for instance, Norm used ultrasound to help pinpoint precisely where to inject cortisone to relieve the pain.
“I was so impressed by the faculty when I was at WSU, it is easy for me to pay back and help students.”
—Norm Rantanen (’67 DVM)
Leading by Example
During an alumni reception at the American Association of Equine Practitioners annual conference in 2017, WSU equine veterinarian Warwick Bayly announced that the WSU equine program was raising money for a new ultrasound machine. Norm and Marlene were the first to raise their hands to give.
“It was a very important modality for me, and I felt good about giving,” says Norm. “The equipment is changing rapidly so I thought it would be better for students to learn from a state-of-the-art machine.”
But Norm didn’t stop there. He began to encourage other alumni at the event to give as well. “I knew how much it would benefit the students at WSU to have the new machine,” he says.
Norm and Marlene left Kentucky in 1991 and moved to California where Norm still works as an imaging specialist. And they continue to support the college wherever they can.
“We know we are not the biggest givers, but we are consistent,” says Marlene.
“I was so impressed by the faculty when I was at WSU, it is easy for me to pay back and help students,” says Norm.