The Wempe Family

Honoring a Family's Dedication and Passion for Animal Health Care

KVMA Conference (l-r): William's daughter, Nancy, William, Louis, and his wife, Mary.

The Alumni Recognition Award was presented to the Wempe family at the KVMA Conference on Jan. 13, 2001. An astounding 14 family members are veterinarians. Nine of those family members graduated from K-State. The KSU graduates include Albert ('15), Joseph Luckeroth ('21), Lillis ('35), William ('42), Leo ('44), Charles ('49), Louis ('49), Norman Luckeroth ('54), Robert ('56), and John ('80). The family was honored for their dedication to veterinary practice and service.

For the Wempe family, the desire to care for all animals must run in the family. An astounding fourteen members of the family are doctors of veterinary medicine. Nine of those family members graduated from the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. The Veterinary Medical Alumni Association (VMAA) presented the Alumni Recognition Award to the Wempe family at the Kansas Veterinary Medical Association (KVMA) Conference on January 13, 2001, in Wichita, Kansas. The family was honored for their dedication to veterinary practice and service.

The family legacy began with Albert F. Wempe. One of Albert's sons, Louis, and six of his nephews, Lillis, William, Leo, Robert, and Charles Wempe and Joseph Luckeroth, became veterinarians. Joseph's son, Norman Luckeroth, also became a veterinarian. This "generation" all credit Albert with the inspiration to become a veterinarian.

In 1915, Albert graduated from the Kansas City Veterinary College (KCVC), which K-State eventually "adopted" in 1918. Albert spent most of his career operating the Wempe Animal Clinic in Marysville, Kansas, which specialized in the care of large animals, especially horses. In fact, it was Albert's passion for horses that led him to raise and show American Saddle horses. Additionally, Albert served on the K-State Board of Veterinary Examiners during the early 1930s. Albert passed away in January 1984.

Lillis Wempe grew up in Seneca, Kansas on a horse and cattle farm. His uncle Albert would visit the farm on a regular basis to take care of his family's farm animals. His wife, Hazel, believes this contributed to his desire to become a veterinarian. He followed his dream and graduated from the K-State CVM in 1935. Lillis spent the majority of his career in the U.S. Army as a food inspector. "He was very wrapped up in work…a workaholic!" said Hazel. He passed away in January 1994.

Life had a strange way of working out for William Wempe. He vowed he would never be a veterinarian like his uncle, Albert, and cousin, Lillis. "I'll be a grave digger first!" he often said. William attended K-State with the intention of earning an agriculture and animal husbandry degree to become a farmer. When he graduated with a B.S. in 1940, he had accumulated a few extra courses that would count towards a DVM degree. He decided to continue for two more years to become a veterinarian, which he did in 1942. William was a general practitioner for small and large animals. The amount of large animal work decreased over the years as the Lawrence, Kansas area developed and the number of companion animals increased. Although William is "officially" retired, he keeps busy by raising ponies, which have won national recognition and awards.

Leo Wempe was two years younger than his brother, William. As any younger brother does, Leo must have looked up to him and wanted to follow in his footsteps. Leo graduated from the K-State CVM in 1944 and he eventually owned his own practice in Morganfield, Kentucky. Although his practice primarily dealt with large animals, he did work with small animals as well. In addition, he has served as the president of the Kentucky Veterinary Medical Association. Leo passed away in June 1990.

Charles Wempe also grew up on a livestock farm in the northeast Kansas town of Seneca under the influence of Albert. Although his cousin, Joseph Luckeroth, was the primary practitioner for the family's animals, he still admired his uncle Albert who visited his farm regularly. He was most influenced to become a veterinarian due to the need for veterinary care on his family's farm. After serving in the Navy as a fighter pilot during World War II, he graduated from the K-State CVM in 1949. He briefly worked in Illinois until he moved back to Seneca to work temporarily for Joseph Luckeroth. Charles opened the York Veterinary Clinic in York, Nebraska in May 1950. The beginning of his career was mostly devoted to the care of large animals. Due to the popularity of companion animals, the last fifteen years of his practice was devoted to the care of small animals.

Charles served eight years on the State Board of Health and also served as a past president of the Nebraska Agriculture Council. One of the most prestigious awards he has received was the Veterinarian of the Year in 1981 by the Nebraska Veterinary Medical Association. Charles has admirably sponsored nine York County men through veterinary school. Although he sees his clients by appointment only, Charles is still very active in his practice today at the age of 84. When asked about humorous anecdotes from his career, he responded, "You'd have a hard time practicing without a sense of humor due to the long hours and being on call 24 hours a day!"

Louis Wempe is the only son of Albert's to become a veterinarian. He still remembers the day when he knew he would be a veterinarian. When Louis was a young boy he would go on rounds with his father. The farmers always asked him whether or not he was going to be a veterinarian like his father when he grew up. He always said no. Then, one day when Louis was ten he was watching his father shave. His father said to him, "Son, the next time some farmer asks if you're going to be a veterinarian when you grow up I want you to tell them yes!" Louis replied, "Yes, sir." From that day forward Louis knew he would be a veterinarian. He graduated from K-State in 1949.

After graduation, Louis was a general practitioner for mostly large animals while also serving as the director of the KVMA. After 25 years, he joined the USDA as a Veterinary Medical Officer and Inspector in Charge. He received two merit awards during this time. In 1987, Louis was one of eight veterinarians from the USDA and Puerto Rico selected to attend Executive training in Washington, DC. In addition, Louis raised and showed American Saddle Horses along with his father. Although formally retired, he is currently a member-at-large of the K-State VMAA. In 1995, Louis and his wife, Mary, established the Dr. Albert F. and Clara I. Wempe Memorial Scholarship in the College of Veterinary Medicine at K-State.

Robert Wempe was the only family member of this "generation" to receive his DVM from a university other than K-State. He attended the University of Minnesota and graduated in 1956. However, he also credits Albert for the inspiration to become a veterinarian. He remembers his uncle Albert coming out to his family's farm in Frankfort, Kan. to help with the animals. After co-owning a large animal clinic for fifteen years, he owned his own practice in Parkston, South Dakota until his retirement in 1987. According to his wife, Genevieve, Robert never had any outside hobbies. He always said, "I like my work…that's my hobby."

Joseph Luckeroth is also a nephew of Albert's and a member of the Wempe family. Joseph's mother, Theresa, and Albert are siblings. Like Albert, he attended the Kansas City Veterinary College. When the college closed in 1918, he transferred to the St. Joseph Veterinary College and graduated in 1921. In 1924, K-State eventually "adopted" St. Joseph's. After graduation, he opened his own practice in Seneca, Kansas working primarily with horses. He was one of the only veterinarians in the area who would work with poultry. Joseph passed away in 1959.

Joseph Luckeroth's son, Norman, carried on the K-State tradition by graduating from the CVM in 1954. After graduation, Norman entered the service for a few years and then returned to his hometown of Seneca, Kansas. He and his father practiced together for about six months when his father suddenly passed away. Norman inherited his father's practice, Luckeroth Veterinary Clinic, where he worked up to his retirement in 1995. Norman recently gifted the practice to the KSU College of Veterinary Medicine to establish the Norman and Audrey Luckeroth Endowed Scholarship.

This "generation" of family members established the Wempe/Luckeroth Family Scholarship in Veterinary Medicine in 1995. The scholarship assists a first semester senior in the professional veterinary curriculum.

The next "generation" of Wempe family members to carry on the family tradition of veterinary care are: John, KSU '80; James, Iowa State University '80; Michael, University of Missouri '72; David and Stacy, Louisiana State University '90.