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Founding History

In 1967, Jerry Franzel, O.D. a private practitioner in University City was appointed chairman of a task force of the Missouri Optometric Association to pursue the establishment of an optometry school in Missouri. It was to take 13 years before a school began operations. A constant through this third-of-a-century of successes and frustrations were the tireless efforts of St. Louis optometrists led by Jerry Franzel, O.D., Robert Mobley, O.D. and Robert Cable, O.D. of Joplin, Mo.

Over these early years, more than fourteen studies were conducted on the need, feasibility and educational demand for an optometry professional program in Missouri. Two of these studies were particularly helpful: the 1970 Heath Report authored by Gordon Heath, OD, PhD, and Dean of the Indiana University School of Optometry; and the 1974 Report of the Committee to Establish a College of Optometry at the University of Missouri.

The Heath Report was a major asset in obtaining the support of the state legislature in 1974, when State Senators Richard Webster, Robert Young and State Representative, Jay Russell lead an effort culminating in a $50,000 appropriation assumed to be for the start-up of an optometry school. However, the money was only used for planning purposes.

In the spring of 1975, State Senator Robert Young and State Representative Jay Russell introduced companion bills for the school. These pieces of legislation made it clear that the school would open with a first-year class of 30 students, increasing to 65 students in its 5 th year of operation. Both of these bills were passed easily and sent to Governor Bond for his signature. At this time, the Curators of the University of Missouri supported the establishment of an optometry school in St. Louis, but stipulated that the campus would have to expand for this to happen. At this same time, Marillac Colleges 44-acre campus, located just to the southeast of the UM-St. Louis campus, was put up for sale. Governor Bond vetoed both the bill to establish the school and the purchase of Marillac in June of 1975.

In 1977, several factors combined to move the establishment of a school of optometry forward. Federal funds were available for the start up of health professions schools, and Senator Thomas Eagleton moved to secure them for Missouri. In Missouri, a bipartisan, St. Louis lobby was formed to secure a school of optometry for St. Louis. Another positive factor was the large number of potential applicants, both from Missouri and nearby states. In addition, there was support from the Mayor of St. Louis, James Conway and from the Regional Commerce and Growth Association (RCGA).

Because of the organized efforts of Drs. Franzel, Mobley and Cable, and Executive Director of the M.O.A. Don Bell and because of the impact of responses from the significant geographic distribution of optometrists in Missouri along with growing public support, House Bill 691, establishing a school requiring financial support from neighboring states, passed the legislature in April, 1978, and was sent to Governor Joe Teasdale, who signed it into law.

The UMSL administration turned to Dr. Gordon Heath appointing him Consulting Dean. His task was to ensure that the new school would be accreditable and secure the necessary federal funds.

Representative Jay Russell developed legislation that removed the stipulation that other states participate in the funding of the school. Russell and Senator Harriet Woods introduced the legislation in the House and Senate and the measure was signed into law by Governor Teasdale.

Finally the school officially began operations on June 1, 1980. Jerry Franzel now serves as Professor Emeritus at the school.

modified from "The History of the College of Optometry" by founding dean, Jerry L. Christensen, O.D., Ph.D.