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John A. Hoepner, MD, Endowed Professorship in Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences created at the Upstate Foundation

The John A. Hoepner, MD, Endowed Professorship in Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences has been established at the Upstate Foundation. In addition, Peter D. Calvert, PhD, has been appointed as its first endowed professor. The announcements were made by Eileen Pezzi, vice president for development at Upstate, and Lawrence Chin, MD, dean of the Alan and Marlene Norton College of Medicine at Upstate.

“It’s a pleasure to reward Dr. Hoepner with this endowed professorship for his esteemed career at Upstate beginning in 1973, followed by his appointment as chair in 1984. He was truly a visionary, establishing the Center for Vision Research 25 years ago,” Chin said. “It’s equally an honor to name Dr. Calvert, whose work is rigorous and meaningful, embodying Dr. Hoepner’s dream for an internationally recognized research program.”

The Center for Vision Research recently celebrated its 25th anniversary with a major symposium. 

“The endowed professorship is the result of more than two decades worth of collaboration between the Upstate Foundation and Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences,” Pezzi explained. “We worked together to conduct a successful $1 million campaign called Vision 2000. The campaign exceeded its goal, primarily owing to the local Lions Club District 20-Y1 and patients who had experienced Dr. Hoepner’s care and were grateful. We’ve enjoyed a robust partnership ever since.”

Mantosh Dewan, MD, president of Upstate Medical University, cited the importance of endowed professorships to academic institutions. “Building a strong base of faculty talent enriches the academic environment, which attracts the brightest students. Endowed professorships support faculty already performing at a high level, enabling them to make even more significant contributions to the institution as well as their respective fields,” Dewan said.

As long as he can remember, Hoepner, ophthalmology professor and department chair emeritus, has had an interest in how things work.

Fortunately for countless patients, medical students and peers at Upstate, across Central New York and beyond, he applied that curiosity and interest—not to engineering as originally planned—but to biology, the workings of the human body and the mechanics of vision.

Hailing from Davenport, Iowa, Hoepner attended medical school at the University of Iowa, completed his residency through the University of Pennsylvania, and earned the rank of captain in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam war. Soon after, he entered into private practice in Syracuse, joining the Upstate department of ophthalmology faculty in 1973 and was appointed chair in 1984. It was at this time his “vision” of focusing on fundamental ophthalmological research began to take form.

“When I took over the department, the first clinical need I addressed was for more space that would be efficient for seeing patients and training residents, and consequently increase the department’s capabilities, capacity and impact,” he said.  

Next came growth and investment in the department’s human potential. In attracting and retaining excellent staff, Hoepner said he was blessed with a small multidisciplinary team that helped him adopt a critical guiding principle: “provide a vision, supply the resources your team needs and then get out of the way.”

Finally, he turned his attention to establishing a center focused on conducting basic research.

“I always had the idea that if the opportunity ever arose where I could start a basic science program in ophthalmology, I would seize it,” said Hoepner.  “I was interested in the basic processes of how the eye and the brain operate. Most major discoveries in medicine have started, occasionally by accident, but more often by learning to understand the basic mechanisms of our biological systems.”

With support from the Upstate Foundation through the Vision 2000 campaign, a plan was launched to create the Center for Vision Research. In Hoepner’s mind, it was to be rich with PhDs conducting research absent the day-to-day demands of clinical care, and overseen by a scientific advisory committee of internationally recognized experts focused on ensuring the research conducted would be worthy of support from outside funders that would come to include the National Eye Institute, National Science Foundation, among others.

Hoepner was characteristically modest about his career accomplishments. “The most amazing part of building the Center for Vision Research was the enthusiastic support from chairpersons and faculty from all other Upstate departments,” he noted. “To all of the members of the center, thank you for your scientific productivity and most of all, for the collegial atmosphere you have created.” 

William Brunken, PhD, director of the Center for Vision Research, applauded the appointment of Calvert as the first Hoepner endowed professor. Calvert’s research focuses on molecular mechanisms of protein transport and localization in retinal neurons, and mechanisms of retinal degenerative diseases.

“I can think of no better researcher to carry on the legacy of Dr. Hoepner and continue the prolific work conducted at the center than Professor Calvert,” Brunken said.


Caption: The endowed professorship has been established in the name of John Hoepner, MD, left. It will be held by Peter Calvert, PhD.