More than 50 years ago, former Creighton professor Gary, DDS’69, and Judy Westerman met over an act of late-night thievery.
Judy was a nurse working the second shift at Children’s Hospital of Omaha. Gary was a Creighton dental student doing an externship at the hospital.
They hadn’t yet met when, one night, Judy caught Gary stealing popsicles out of the freezer.
“Those popsicles were supposed to be for the kids,” Judy says now. Gary smiles mischievously.
Fortunately for Gary, Judy was charmed.
“After that, we just became friends, and the rest is history,” she says.
The irony isn’t lost on Dr. Gary Westerman — that a man who’s dedicated his life to promoting children’s dental care was caught indulging in a late-night sugary snack that didn’t belong to him. Though if it weren’t for his sweet tooth, he might never have met and married the love of his life.
The Westermans are partners, in every sense of the word — in life, family, work and now in their legacy.
They recently established the Dr. Gary H. and Judy W. Westerman Endowed Scholarship Fund to assist students in the Creighton School of Dentistry. The scholarship will favor students who graduated from Gonzaga University. This reflects Dr. Westerman’s own trajectory from Spokane, Washington, to Creighton University, where he’s spent most of his past five decades.
Upon graduating from Creighton in 1969, Gary served two years in the U.S. Army Dental Corps. He then received his master’s in Pediatric Dentistry from The University of Iowa before joining the Creighton faculty. He spent the next 43 years at the University, both as a professor and the chair of various departments, before retiring in 2016. All the while he maintained a part-time pediatric dentistry practice in Omaha. Gary was also active in numerous local, state and national dental associations.
Born and raised in Spokane, Gary always knew he wanted to be a dentist, he says. Even back in elementary school. He doesn’t know why. No one in his family was a dentist. It’s just always been what he wanted to do.
But the question remained: Where to do it?
As he was nearing the end of his time at Gonzaga, it just so happened that his academic adviser was a Jesuit. The Rev. Timothy O’Leary, SJ, told Gary to make sure he applied to Creighton.
There were three other Gonzaga graduates in Gary’s Creighton class of ’69. (They all met again for Reunion Weekend this summer.)
From left: Bob Kinniburgh, John “Jack” Thiel, Gary Westerman, Lynn Whiting – Gonzaga University transfers and ’69 graduates from Creighton University’s School of Dentistry.
That number of Gonzaga exports grew over the years. Fr. O’Leary, Gary says, pretty much single-handedly established a Gonzaga-to-Creighton pipeline for a stretch of time in the ’60s and ’70s.
This scholarship, he says, is his way to reestablish that pipeline.
“I have had a lot of help to get here,” Gary says. “If I didn’t get that help, I wouldn’t have become a dentist. This is our way to give back — to the University, to the community and to future dentists.”
What Gary misses most since retirement is interacting with the students, being able to guide and mentor them. He and Judy love running into former students at Creighton basketball and volleyball games. Establishing this scholarship is also a way to strengthen their bonds with the next generation of Creighton dentists.
Gary might not know why he wanted to become a dentist, but he does know why he went into pediatric dentistry: He likes working with kids.
He particularly likes helping children in need.
“We have a responsibility to take care and help those in need,” Gary says. “It’s important for us as dentists to not hide behind closed doors, to go out into the community and offer our expertise.”
Judy added, “It’s so gratifying to be able to help people, to make them smile.”
Dr. Westerman had many roles at Creighton: teaching, mentoring, writing research papers, serving as chair of the Department of Community and Preventive Dentistry, and as the holder of the Dr. Oscar S. Belzer Endowed Chair in Dentistry and The Philip Maschka Endowed Chair for Ethics in Dentistry.
But he’s just as proud of the part he played serving the community. Judy was there with him, every step of the way.
They were there to see many children receive their first toothbrushes at numerous children’s health care events. Gary brought dental students to grade schools to teach proper oral hygiene.
“We have tried to set a good example for our two children — Amy and Eric — and grandchildren,” Judy says. “One should give back to their community.”
When asked why they make such a good team, the Westermans each had ready answers.
“Well,” Gary says. “For one, we love each other.”
“We respect each other,” Judy says.
Even if one of them is, as previously noted, a popsicle thief.
“I haven’t had a popsicle in a long time,” Gary says. “They can be bad for your teeth.”
For more information or to make a gift to the dental school, contact Paul Findley, director of development for the School of Dentistry, at 402.280.1119 or PaulFindley [at] creighton [dot] edu.