Updated: January 23, 2013
When it comes to philanthropy, Tom Berglund (M.D. 1959) takes a simple approach. He sees a need, recognizes his own desire to give back to the world, then takes action.
When he learned about the extraordinary need for scholarship support for University of Michigan medical students, he immediately thought of a charitable trust he’d been contributing to for years.
“I’ve been very thankful for the education I got at the Medical School. I wanted to pay back, but I didn’t have enough money to buy a building,” laughs Berglund, a retired Kalamazoo, Michigan, family practice physician. “But a scholarship seemed like a real good thing to do.”
Berglund was born in 1934 in Newberry, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula. When he was 8, his father Victor Berglund, a druggist, died. His mother, Marjorie, took over the business, remarried, and moved the family to Standish in the Lower Peninsula (though he still considers himself a “Yooper”), where Berglund and his siblings graduated from high school.
Berglund says he always knew he wanted to be a doctor. And when his older brother, Vic Berglund, headed off to the University of Michigan Medical School, Berglund was not far behind. In 1952, he entered the U-M freshman class. He recalls that during his undergraduate years, he sometimes sat in on his brother’s medical classes and got to know his friends. He was recruited into the Medical School in 1955, after his junior year. “I was just lucky that there weren’t more applicants, and they picked me,” he explains.
Tom Berglund loved medical school. “It was a lot of hard work, but a lot of fun — I always enjoyed school, and in medical school, I was always learning something new.”
Tom Berglund first met Detroit native Jill Diane Kent at Michigras — a New Orleans-style fraternity carnival. It was his sophomore year and they were playing a ring-toss game. In 1956, they married and moved into an apartment off of Pontiac Trail in Ann Arbor. Jill Berglund, who’d earned her education degree the year before, commuted for three years to her job as a teacher in Wayne, near Detroit, while her husband studied medicine with some of the legends of the school.
Tom Berglund recalls the first time he saw a tiny, stooped old lady walking the halls, carrying a big white bucket. “I thought, ‘That’s terrible; why don’t they retire that poor, old cleaning lady?’” He was surprised to learn that she was, in fact, legendary neuroanatomy professor Elizabeth Crosby, Ph.D., and that she was carrying a brain in that bucket. Tom Berglund says he marveled at the way Crosby drew with both hands on the blackboard in her classes, all without missing a beat in her lecture. Fascinated, he took hundreds of pages of notes.
He graduated in 1959, his love of learning soundly intact. During his rotating internship at Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo, he recalls enjoying every section and could have seen himself doing any of them. In the end, though, he decided on family medicine. He entered into practice with his brother and several other doctors and devoted himself to the care of the people of Kalamazoo for nearly 47 years.
The Berglunds have two children. Their daughter, Tracy Curran, lives in Grand Rapids. Son, Tom Berglund Jr., lives in Kalamazoo. Both are U-M graduates, and Berglund’s grandchildren are continuing the tradition — one is in his freshman year, another will begin classes at U-M in fall 2009.
Throughout his long and fulfilling career, Tom Berglund has found time to serve his profession via membership in a host of medical organizations. In 1986, he was named president of the Michigan State Medical Society — a post that Homer Perry, M.D. — the doctor who had delivered him back in Newberry — had held exactly 50 years before. He recalls a speech he made at that time, about all the changes in medicine over the past half-century, how the death of his father might have been prevented by a simple dose of antibiotics — so commonplace today.
Dr. Berglund also served as chair of the American Medical Political Action Committee and, for 22 years, as chair of the board of AP Capital, an insurance malpractice society.
Today, the Berglunds’ lives involve no shortage of activity and adventure. Besides being avid downhill skiers, they are also biking enthusiasts and have pedaled through the countrysides of France, Ireland, Italy, Thailand and Vietnam.