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Published on November 16, 2015

Van and Mary Elston awarded with Foundation's highest honor

"The Founders Award was created in 2004 to recognize outstanding lay and medical leaders for their advancement of medical education, medical research and community health initiatives," explains David Amborn, senior director, Gundersen Medical Foundation.

Van and Mary Elston get Founders Award

Mary Elston and A.C.V. (Van) Elston, III, MD

He adds, "The Founder's Award is the Foundation's highest award. It has been given six times each for lay leadership and medical leadership. Never has the Founders Award been presented for both lay and medical leadership. That is, until recently."

Gundersen Medical Foundation Board of Directors recently recognized A.C.V. (Van) Elston, III, MD, and his wife of 55 years, Mary Elston, with its highest award—the Founders Award.

Van and Mary both earned degrees from the University of Wisconsin; Mary's in nursing and Van's in applied math and engineering physics. Van later went on to pursue a medical degree and he completed his first year of residency at Gundersen. Following stops at the University of Colorado and John Hopkins University, Van accepted a position at Gundersen and the couple returned to La Crosse.

During his 33 years at Gundersen, Van served in several roles. In the early part of his career he helped establish the cardiology program and a children's intensive care unit. Later, Van organized a technical pacemaker clinic and helped develop an echocardiography laboratory. For more than a decade, Van served as the director of Medical Research for the Foundation before retiring from the Foundation in 1999 and the Clinic in 2002.

While Van pursued his medical career, Mary helped develop music programs in La Crosse schools. In 1968 Mary made a career change. As the only woman in her class, she earned a degree in Dairy Herd Management and went on to manage her family's 560-acre farm.

"Despite their busy careers, the Elstons have always considered community service 'a natural part of life.' They have provided support to a number of community organizations, and have demonstrated an especially deep commitment to the mission of the Foundation," says David.

According to David, "In 1977, the Elstons partnered with the Foundation to build a handicap-accessible playground on the Gundersen La Crosse Campus. The playground was designed to benefit all ill children receiving care at Gundersen, while honoring their son, Vanny, who died of leukemia at the age of 5 years. The playground opened in 1979. Thanks again to their support, it recently underwent a major renovation."

In 1999, looking to encourage the development of the next generation of medical professionals, the Elstons established an endowment for the Foundation's Summer Fellows Program in support of nursing research.

Through both personal and professional endeavors, Van and Mary have demonstrated a lifelong commitment to serving others.

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