The date — May 5, 1973 — is indelibly etched in the memory of Edward Cordes, OD ‘77
. Not only was it the day the famed racehorse Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby on his way to on becoming the ninth horse to win the Triple Crown in thoroughbred racing, but it was the day that Dr. Cordes’ life changed.
He and his wife Gail were driving from Philadelphia back to their home in Dayton, Ohio. Dr. Cordes had decided to apply to the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) and they were in Philly to interview with John J. Crozier, OD ‘48, FAAO
, then the dean of Student Affairs, Registrar and director of Admissions at PCO, and Edward Barrett, then assistant director of Admissions.
Dr. Cordes’ academic career was off to an inauspicious start. He admittedly wasn’t mature enough to start college at The Ohio State University right out of high school, so after two years of being an average student, he dropped out and joined the U.S. Navy.
A tour of Vietnam in 1970, where he served as corpsman and participated in a Med Cap (Medical Civic Assisted Program), took him into harm’s way and into civilian villages to provide healthcare to locals.
“I was 23 years old and I learned pretty quickly that the rest of the world was not like middle class America where I grew up,” said Dr. Cordes. “I found out that we had it pretty good. By then I knew that I wanted to be an optometrist and that reinforced that idea.”
After his stint in the Navy was over, he returned to college more mature and became a straight A-student, completing his junior year and most of his senior year of undergraduate at Wright State University in Dayton.
That maturity was evident to Dr. Crozier and Barrett during his interview, who were willing to accept him into PCO under the early acceptance program, in which he would receive his bachelor of science from PCO at the end of his first year.
“They interviewed Gail and me the weekend of the Kentucky Derby. They told us then they recognized that I had grown up and was much more motivated than I was at 17,” said Dr. Cordes. “They felt because of the maturity change in my life that they were going to take a chance on me.”
And, now Dr. Cordes and his wife would like to give back - they have decided to become Heritage Society members for PCO/Salus University.
Heritage Society members are those who have made provisions for Salus University as part of their estate planning in the form of a gift, annuity, trust agreement or life insurance. Through their foresight and generosity, these donors help preserve the heritage of the University and build a stronger future for Salus.
“I just feel that if we can give back in a positive way, that we have an obligation to do that,” said Dr. Cordes. “All of us who go to a professional school and go on to do healthcare, we do it because we want to help people. That’s what it’s all about.”
That’s certainly been the case for Dr. and Mrs. Cordes. They’ve been giving back their entire lives.
After graduating from PCO in 1977, Dr. Cordes had the opportunity to take over a private practice in Corning, New York, a town of about 13,000 people. Gail, who had supported the family with clerical jobs at Einstein Medical Center while Dr. Cordes was at PCO, would eventually become a licensed optician and work with her husband in the Corning practice.
“We moved to Corning right after graduation and we didn’t have a lot of debt because I had the GI Bill to pay for school,” said Dr. Cordes. “But we didn’t have hardly any assets and this community supported us. If it weren’t for the people in the community, we would not have been able to accomplish what we’ve accomplished.”
The couple kept the practice until 2002, then sold it to a large multidisciplinary medical group in the area. They both joined the staff of that group until Dr. Cordes retired in 2015, with Gail following him a year and a half later.
While at PCO, Dr. Cordes was involved in the Student Optometric Service to Haiti (SOSH)
. His interest in the organization was prompted by his military service in Vietnam, and Dr. Cordes was chairman of the SOSH group his senior year.
That in turn led to a Lions Club International membership, since the Lions supported the SOSH program. Dr. Cordes would eventually serve at the local, state, national and international level with the Lions and still serves to this day.
In fact, the Lions have been a big part of Dr. Cordes’ life. He was elected to serve a two-year term as a director of Lions Clubs International at the association's 79th International Convention, held in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in 1996; he was appointed to the international board of directors by International President Kajt Habanananda during the 1998-99 Lions’ year; and he currently serves as chair of the Lions KidSight USA Foundation, an initiative to create a national vision screening program for kids six months to six years old in which all Lions Clubs in the United States have the opportunity to participate.
Even in retirement, the couple is still giving back to the greater community. In April 2019, Dr. Cordes was able to return to Vietnam for the first time since 1970 to serve on a mission trip arranged by the Lions of California. He was one of eight doctors, and Gail was one of two opticians, on the trip who provided medical care to residents in Cam Ranh Bay, which is now called Nha Trang.
“It was a very positive experience to me. They have a long way to go with their healthcare, though,” said Dr. Cordes. “If you didn’t know where you were, you would swear you were in Waikiki. Big stores and boulevards. It was an extremely positive thing to see such good progress.” Ultimately, PCO laid part of the foundation to what Dr. Cordes and his wife would become be able to accomplish during their lifetimes.
“I had enough medical experience after the Navy to know that PCO had a rather extensive clinical training program, between the campus clinic and satellite clinics, and I knew that the ability to get experience was a broad-based set of conditions. That was attractive to me,” said Dr. Cordes. “Everything we have, and all the things we’ve been able to do, would never have happened without PCO.”