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War hero, veterinarian dedicated his life to students, profession

Dr. Erwin Small is remembered

July 17, 2009
By Jennifer Fiala

A dedicated and celebrated veterinarian died early this month, and his passing has colleagues remembering Dr. Erwin Small as an incredible educator and mentor who touched the lives of the many students he worked with.

Small died at age 84 on July 1 in Urbana, Ill. In an online obituary blog about his passing, he is remembered as "the living breathing spirit of the University of Illinois" — a bigger-than-life professor who liked to smoke cigars and made "legendary" contributions to the profession.

"My former College of Veterinary Medicine will never be the same to me without his presence in those hallways," writes one former student. "As students he knew us all by name ... and actually truly knew something about each and every one of us. We were his corps!"

Oncologist Dr. Bob Rosenthal, a VIN consultant and former resident and graduate student at UI, remembers Small as a "fine man." 

“When I first arrived in Champaign, I was pretty sure that my eighteen-month old daughter’s fascination with his bristled haircut and rotund middle would get me fired," Rosenthal says. "Instead, he took to her immediately. He was like a grandfather to my kids and would ask about them for many years afterward. We all will miss him greatly.”

A memorial to honor Small is planned for Aug. 18 at Temple Sinai in Campaign, Ill. 
Small was a war hero who enlisted in the Marines during WWII with the 7th War Dog Platoon and served in Iwo Jima. He later fought in the Korean War, and his name is engraved on the War Dog Memorial in Quantico, Va.

After returning to the United States, Small completed a BS in veterinary science and earned his DVM from the University of Illinois (UI) in 1957. The following year, Small, a charter diplomate in the specialties of dermatology and internal medicine, embarked on what would be a 35-year career at UI, starting as an instructor of veterinary medicine. Ten years later, he became a full professor in veterinary clinical medicine, and in 1970, headed the small animal medicine section. In 1979, he became associate dean for Alumni and Public Affairs. Small held that position for 13 years, and during his career in academia, earned a Master's in Veterinary Science.

Small became assistant director of the UI's veterinary teaching hospital in 1989, holding that position until he retired in 1992 and was named professor emeritus. His curriculum vitae is nearly 50 pages, showing that Small was a member of more than 20 science-related associations and honor societies, held dozens of association board and committee seats and received numerous honors of prestige. They include, among others, the 1992 American Association of Veterinary Clinicians Faculty Achievement Award, the 1993 Bustad Companion Animal Award and the 1997 American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Robert W. Kirk Distinguished Service Award.

An award also was created in Small's honor. The Dr. Erwin Small Distinguished Alumni Award acknowledges distinguished Illinois graduates who have excelled in their respective fields and have made significant contributions to the profession and or veterinary medical college.

Yet despite Small's notable professional achievements, his relationships with students and colleagues are remembered most and missed.

"The College of Veterinary Medicine at the U. of Illinois was a unique and special place because of Erv Small," one former student writes in the obituary blog. "He will never be replaced and will live on in the memories of his students forever. I will always be thankful that Erv Small was part of my life."

Rosenthal adds: “Erv didn’t attend rounds too often, but when he did, you sure paid attention. You were likely to see something very rare, perhaps the only time you ever would. There was no more dedicated teacher or supporter of the learning process. Illinois was blessed with this good man.”

Memorial contributions can be made to the Dr. Erwin Small Veterinary Student and Alumni Activities Fund, The Dr. Erwin Small Scholarship Endowment Fund or the Dr. Small/DermaPet Challenge Fund at or office of advancement at (217) 333-2762 or by e-mail at Condolences may be offered at .Dr. Erwin Small

VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email

Information and opinions expressed in letters to the editor are those of the author and are independent of the VIN News Service. Letters may be edited for style. We do not verify their content for accuracy.


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