By David Schriemer, MD
Thom and Kristine DeWolf have been a part of the Schoolcraft community for years. Kristine taught at Howardsville Christian and continues to teach piano and strings to local students. Thom works at CareLinc and has run the audiovisual portion of Battle of the Books for 19 years. Their children Joshua, Paul and Rebekah are all Schoolcraft High School graduates.
On July 24, 2013 the unthinkable happened. Paul, a fourth year medical student at the University of Michigan (UM) did not report to his surgical rotation at the Ann Arbor Veterans Hospital. He was found murdered in his own apartment. Thom and Kris lived in anguish and uncertainty as investigators unraveled the events of the crime. The perpetrators were caught. The DeWolfs endured three separate trials. The final sentencing was concluded March 2015. Even in the midst of their grief, the DeWolfs showed extraordinary grace comforting the parents of those convicted.
Thom reports working through grief is very difficult. Initial sessions of grief counseling did not go well. Eventually, Thom said, “We decided not to be overwhelmed by this. We know Paul is in heaven.” They found a program, GriefShare, which helped them process their thoughts and feelings. They have facilitated GriefShare meetings at Berean Baptist Church to help others.
Paul’s classmates approached the DeWolfs about starting a scholarship at the University of Michigan Medical School in Paul’s honor. They needed to raise $100,000 for an endowed scholarship. Thom was skeptical. They are not wealthy, and Paul’s classmates were all in debt. Even so, they approved. Paul’s classmates used social media, the DeWolfs reached out to family and friends, and contacts were made to medical school faculty and alumni. Over 160 individual contributions have been made and the threshold to establish the Paul De Wolf memorial scholarship was reached last spring.
At the University of Michigan Medical School reunion October 9, 2015 James Woolliscroft MD, Dean of the medical school, introduced the DeWolf family and the first recipient of a Paul DeWolf memorial scholarship, James Mossner. James is a first generation college graduate and medical student. Through the scholarship, the DeWolfs not only want to honor Paul but “to have something good come out of this, so somebody could help people like Paul would.”
Medical school is expensive. At the UM, in-state students pay $32,700 and out of state students pay $51,116 for tuition annually. About 10 students receive full tuition scholarships but even so, the average medical school debt is over $123,000, with some students more than doubling that total. This makes it very hard for students to pursue a career in primary care or practice in smaller communities like Schoolcraft. The DeWolfs’ goal is to grow the scholarship fund to provide full tuition for a student at the University. That would require $650,000 of endowed money to fund in-state tuition annually for one medical student. This would honor Paul and potentially help small communities attract primary care doctors.
Paul DeWolf was an extraordinary young man. Not only was he very accomplished; he had uncommon kindness and empathy. As an undergraduate at Grand Valley State University, Paul worked at a local nursing home. Many young people would recoil from that environment but Paul told his parents “They’re real people. Everyone has a story.” Even that young, he held the hand of dying patients. At the Veterans hospital he talked to a very anxious family anticipating surgery that morning. He took the time to explain and offer reassurance. He was at the bedside of a 2-year-old kidney transplant patient who was slow to wake up after surgery. The child’s mother had fallen asleep waiting. The child woke, stood up in bed and embraced Paul. His mother awakened to see her child being held by Paul. She was so relieved. Paul told her, “He just wanted to be held,” and gave him to his mother.
“He had the gift of people.” Thom humbly states he’s not sure how Paul developed that trait. “Maybe it was his time in the nursing home,” he muses. But after only a short visit with the DeWolfs, it becomes quite evident from whom Paul learned grace, empathy and kindness. They have demonstrated a love that always hopes and always perseveres. Their love for their son has now been extended to a much wider community.
To make a contribution to the Paul DeWolf Memorial Scholarship Fund, make out checks to the University of Michigan then memo Paul DeWolf Scholarship, and mail to the University of Michigan Medical Development, 1000 Oakbrook Suite 100, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104-6815 or visit victors.us/Pauldewolf.