To See It All: Dr. Harry Kaplan

Harry and Mae KaplanLocated just 15 minutes from the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge, on the New Jersey side, is Harry Kaplan, OD ’49, FAAO and his wife Mae’s cozy apartment. They live in a beautiful senior community complete with apartments, game rooms, a restaurant, snack bars, and a movie theater all located under one roof – it’s a perfect spot for those who like to keep busy.

Once inside the Kaplans’ apartment, it’s easy to spot what the couple has passion for: art comprised of a mixture of styles and Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO)/Salus University memorabilia. It isn’t surprising that Dr. Kaplan surrounds himself with the latter, especially as he’s been attached to PCO and Salus, in some form or another for more than half of his life. 

Dr. Kaplan is one who likes to keep busy, hence why it was only two years ago when he retired from PCO and Salus after 52 years of service, and at 91 years old. During his time at PCO as a faculty member and while in private practice, he garnered national attention as a contact lens specialist. But as if that wasn’t enough, he was also a researcher and investigator for a number of corporations over the years and very active in raising funds to push through much needed legislation for optometry.

Before Dr. Kaplan became a staple of the College and University’s faculty and an important member of the Philadelphia area optometric community, he was a student at PCO. He attended class with Martin “Marty” Hafter, OD ’49 who quickly became a lifelong friend.

After graduating with the class of 1949 to his appointment as a faculty member in 1964, Dr. Kaplan was a visiting contact lens lecturer at PCO instructing fourth year students while in private practice in the Frankford section of Philadelphia, not far from where he grew up.

Class of 1949
His practice shared space with a podiatrist and was on the second floor, about 20 steep steps straight up with practically no landing. Dr. Kaplan laughs now thinking about the comedy of people having to navigate the steps and landing as he was prescribing the very same patients with prescription bifocals.  As he shared space with the podiatrist, he began noting the difference between the two professions. Podiatry had fought for legislation, and gained the use of therapeutics and surgery – something that optometry at the time did not have. It convinced Dr. Kaplan to become extremely active in lobbying to push through much needed legislation for the profession. 

As Dr. Kaplan raised funds for legislation, he also was quite influential in fundraising for PCO – while it was another thing added to his plate, it was also another mission for which he was extremely passionate about. Dr. Kaplan reached out to his friend Dr. Hafter when funds were needed for the University’s new student center, which was named after Dr. Hafter and his wife as a result of their generous and major contributions to PCO. Dr. Kaplan also reached out to Morey Powell, OD ’36, who also gave generously back to PCO that in 1967, one of the dormitory buildings on the Oak Lane Campus was named in his honor and when PCO moved from the Oak Lane campus to Elkins Park, PA., the first level of the South Wing in the main building was dedicated to him in appreciation.

Kaplan in Office
Dr. Kaplan travelled with the majority of the Presidents of PCO/Salus – he has known all six – in order to recruit donations from alumni and other businesses to advance the mission. In 1985, he established a fundraising event, the “I” Care Raffle – recently renamed to Salus Cares Raffle –  that supports the University’s educational and clinical programs, allowing Salus to provide necessary treatment to patients in need, while giving students essential educational experiences. The total raised since its inception 33 years ago is more than $822,000.

Kaplan at His HomeIt is no surprise that a busy gentleman like Dr. Kaplan has been the recipient of many awards, a member of many professional memberships and has held many offices over the duration of his career. He is a former president of: Philadelphia County Optometric Society; Pennsylvania Optometric Association; PCO Alumni Association and Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Academy of Optometry. He received the Albert Fitch Alumnus of the Year Award in 1976, the PCO President’s Medal at the College’s 75th anniversary celebration in 1995,  and a Salus University Special Recognition Award in 2013. Dr. Kaplan also served on the PCO Board of Trustees from 1963 – 1964 and again from 1982 - 1983.

As he stirs in his La-Z-yBoy ® chair that matches his wife’s, he shoos the cat away so he can get up and stroll over to the PCO and Salus memorabilia on the wall. He looks at it and shakes his head in disbelief. “I’ve seen the profession grow so dramatically, and the school so dramatically, my mind is blown when I really think about it – that I was part of that growth,” he said.