By Sarah Carey
Louise Courtelis, a longtime friend and supporter of the UF College of Veterinary Medicine whose contributions in the late 1980s and early 1990s, along with those of her late husband, Alec, were directly responsible for the successful completion of key facilities projects at the college, passed away at her home in Kentucky on March 30.
The Alec P. and Louise H. Courtelis Equine Teaching Hospital at UF, which opened in 1994, was named in honor of the couple, whose involvement in college life was notable during a difficult period in the 1980s marked by regulation and accreditation challenges as well as sick building syndrome.
Born on a dairy farm in Corfu, New York, Louise Courtelis, née Hufstader, studied at the University of Miami, where she received a bachelor’s degree in education. It was there that she met her future husband, Alec Courtelis, a successful real estate developer. In 1970, the Courtelises founded Town and Country Farms in McIntosh, Florida, which they subsequently built into the largest Arabian horse-racing facility in the United States.
When the college faced regulation and accreditation problems in the 1980s — relating to a lack of adequate space to accommodate teaching and patient care needs, along with the problem of sick building syndrome, a term used to describe building-related sickness relating to ventilation problems — the Courtelises, early advocates of expanded equine treatment facilities at UF, stepped up to the plate.
Louise Courtelis turned her impressive managerial talents to bringing a statewide focus of philanthropic support to bear on the problem. In 1987, she volunteered to chair the college’s advisory council, leading the college through the development of a strategic plan and an aggressive fundraising program. This program resulted in more than $1.75 million for the Alec P. and Louise H. Courtelis Equine Teaching Hospital, which opened in 1994, and $2.9 million for the college’s Veterinary Academic Building, which opened in 1996.
She was personally responsible for the extraordinary success of the 1991 and 1992 Florida Derby Galas — fundraising dinner-dances that were among the most successful events ever held by a public university in Florida at the time, bringing in $750,000 in private funds for the college. She also led the major gifts committee for the college in UF’s first capital campaign, Embrace Excellence, in which the UF College of Veterinary Medicine raised $10.4 million. In 1993, she received UF’s Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of her many contributions and accomplishments on behalf of veterinary medicine, education and UF.
Part of the lasting legacy of the Courtelises on Florida education was their joint effort to create the Alec P. Courtelis Facilities Enhancement Challenge Grant Program, a program that provides state matching funds for private gifts made in support of campus construction projects. The projects the couple helped bring to fruition at the college benefited from this program at a time when such support was badly needed.
“Learning about Louise’s passing caused me to have an immediate emotional setback,” said Dr. Michael Schaer, a professor emeritus of small animal internal medicine who specializes in emergency and critical care. “She epitomized graciousness and humanity and helped rescue the college during the lowest point in its short life.”
“The financial situation of the hospitals had run amok, the entire AVMA accreditation was at risk and the teaching hospital was ground zero of sick building syndrome,” Schaer recalled. “Although she focused much of her attention to the large animal hospital, because of her love of the college, she was wise enough to see the importance of the small animal hospital and the impact its success would have on the state.”
Schaer recalled the close relationship the couple had with the late Dr. Woody Asbury, an equine theriogenology specialist and administrator who served as interim dean in 1988 and how they worked together and with subsequent dean, Dr. Richard Dierks, to “put the college back on track” to achieve the success it would accumulate over the next 25 years.
“Louise was a light of inspiration because she never accepted the word ‘never,’” Schaer said. “She was a doer, and our college should forever remember her name.”