Gifted Mausoleum Supports New Body Donation Program at Oakland University’s William Beaumont School of Medicine


Representatives from OUWB, Rochester and Pixley Funeral Homes recently unveiled a mausoleum that will be the final resting place for those who generously donate their bodies to medical education.

On a beautiful fall afternoon, about 30 people attended the Oct. 28 dedication for the OUWB Mausoleum and Reception Vault located in Mount Avon Cemetery near downtown Rochester.

The vault will house those who donate their bodies to medical education through the recently launched OUWB body donation program. Use of the building was given in kind by the City of Rochester with a redesign overseen by Pixley.

“We are grateful to the Pixley family for partnering with us in supporting the education, research, and college of our medical students,” said Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, MD, president of Oakland University. “This heartfelt in-kind donation will impact our medical students and students studying other professions such as physiotherapy or bioengineering.”

“This partnership means we can give medical students the opportunity to conduct valuable research, while ensuring that body donors are buried with the most compassionate care,” said Vern Pixley, Senior Managing Director of Dignity. Memorial, Central Business Unit.

“Without it, we cannot have a body donation program,” said Malli Barremkala, MD, associate professor, Department of Basic Medical Studies and director of OUWB’s body donation program.

“I’m so excited that everything is finally falling into place.”

“Nothing Comes Close”

A look at the redesigned arched main entrance.

Students in OUWB and the Oakland University School of Health Sciences physical therapy program learn about body structure and receive a more humanistic education during human anatomy when they have a donor body to study.

Students study the same donor throughout the school year and often consider donors as their first patients.

Stefanie Attardi, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Basic Medical Studies, said “there is no greater gift” a person can give than donating their body for educational purposes. medical. Attardi was among several OUWB professors who attended the inauguration.

“There’s all this new software and fancy ways of teaching anatomy, but nothing comes close to the real human body…the different pathologies, different body types, etc.”, she said. declared.

To honor donors and show their appreciation for their donation, a memorial service is held by medical and physiotherapy students. In honor of donors, students write poems, reflections and autograph songs.

“Our students recognize that these donors are their first patients and treat them with great respect and reverence,” said Duane Mezwa, MD, Stephan Sharf Dean, OUWB, who also thanked Pixley and city officials.

“They understand the importance of the gift entrusted to them.”

Since welcoming its first class in 2011, OUWB has worked with other schools like the University of Toledo to find body donors. So far, donors have been referred to organizations the OUWB has partnered with, who then deal with the remains.

However, all of that is changing.

That’s because establishing a body donor program for the OUWB has long been a “top priority” for Doug Gould, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Basic Medical Studies.

Among other things, Gould said, having its own program provides OUWB with a “great opportunity to bond with the community” and allows the school to collect medical histories from donors, which will help with the students’ overall educational experience.

Having such a program also requires a place for the interment of the ashes once the donors are cremated (unless other arrangements are made), which is where the Mount Avon Mausoleum comes in.

“Easy to handle”

An image of Vern Pixley speaking
Vern Pixley speaks at the grand opening on October 28, 2022.

Mount Avon Cemetery was built in 1826 – the first in Oakland County. In 1979, the Michigan Historical Commission listed the cemetery on the National Register of Historic Places.

The reception vault was built in the 19e century originally to shelter the bodies in winter until the ground thaws. Advances in technology since then had rendered the beautifully constructed and solid structure obsolete.

Several years ago — and before he was a member of Rochester City Council — Gould contacted Pixley to begin exploring options for a possible final resting place for those who donated their bodies to OUWB.

Working with several city officials, it was determined that the outdated safe could work. At a regularly scheduled public meeting on December 13, 2021, the Rochester City Council approved the agreement with OUWB to allow the school’s use of the vault.

“This gem of a cemetery is important to the City of Rochester and we believe in caring for it,” said Stuart Bikson, Mayor of Rochester. “It’s easy to support when we can make improvements like this and work with a long-time business partner like Vern Pixley.

Pixley, whose ancestors are among the earliest settlers in the area and among the oldest in the cemetery, oversaw the redesign of the vault which measures approximately 17 feet by 12 feet.

New brass doors (which will generally remain locked) have been added with a polished granite threshold. Inside, new granite shelves have been installed – enough to hold up to 5,000 urns. The thick limestone walls and roof have generally stood the test of time and required no work.

“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to support OUWB, to continue and improve the relationship with the city, and to use a very cool structure that exists in the cemetery for such a great purpose,” Pixley said.

Students like Joseph Solomon, a first-year medical student at OUWB, are also thrilled. Solomon spoke at the inauguration.

“For me, it was important to represent our class and show our gratitude to Rochester and the Pixley family to let them know that we truly care about honoring the donors who have given themselves to our education and future careers as doctors.” , did he declare.

Now, Mezwa said, “the real heavy lifting starts when the (body donor) team develops call scripts and engages with the community to register donors for our program.”

For more information about the OUWB Body Donation Program, email [email protected]

Photos by Rob Hall Photography.

To request an interview, visit the OUWB Communications & Marketing webpage.

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