Dentist and outdoorsman leaves legacy for UDM dental students
Norman C. Vielmette, a 1935 graduate of the first class of University of Detroit School of Dentistry, split his career between dentistry/oral surgery and fishing the waters of the Pacific Northwest. In his zest for living, he held fast to the belief that helping others was part of the good life.
After graduating from dental school, Norm went to France to study oral surgery. Upon returning to the United States in 1937, he started a dentistry practice in Royal Oak, MI. A native of the Upper Peninsula who grew up hunting, fishing and chopping wood, he was well educated, a quick study and earned a nice living pursuing his interests.
He practiced 20 years as a dentist and in 1957 he moved to the northern Oregon coast, bought into a crab fishing business and started investing in the stock market. In the summers, he ran fishing charter expeditions and in early fall would pursue his love of deer, pheasant and chucker hunting in eastern Oregon.
"It was unheard of back in the 1950s to follow your passion," said Steven Gustafson, D.D.S., Norm's godson. Steve's father, Donald Gustafson, D.D.S., bought his cousin's dental practice. "He was ahead of his time.
"He encouraged my dad to go into dentistry. He was a mentor to him," said Steve, who joined his dad in the practice. "He had lots of friends and many of his friends were also patients."
For 30 years, Norm captained boats that he owned or leased. He and his partners bought a cannery when the one they used didn't meet their standards. He also bought a fuel dock for that same reason.
"If he didn't like the way that a vendor operated his business and it impacted his fishing enterprise, he would either buy it or go elsewhere for that service," said Norman E. Vielmette, a nephew who handled his estate.
When he retired from the commercial fishing industry in his 70s, he still took his friends out on salmon trips in the summer, made firewood for himself and friends in the fall and knitted crab pots for a commercial crab pot company.
Norm died Oct. 29, 2007 at age 95. From all accounts, this private but responsible and respected businessman has left the world a better place. He donated the majority of his estate to charity and gave $456,000 to the dental school, which is being applied toward scholarships.
"On behalf of UDM dental school students, we applaud Dr. Vielmette's achievements as a dentist and generosity in giving back to his alma mater," said Rick Kelley, executive director of Advancement for UDM School of Dentistry.