A lifetime friendship inspires College of Veterinary Medicine scholarship

As a child in Woodburn, Oregon, Lanny Skovborg (’67 DVM) took long walks with his mother down the country roads of this rural community. Along the way, they would stop to watch the cows and horses grazing in the fields.

“These are my earliest childhood memories, and this is when I decided to become a veterinarian,” Skovborg said. “From the time I was born, I was always interested in animals.”

Skovborg followed his guiding star and love for animals to Washington State University. In 1963, he began veterinary school. That year, John James “Kicker” Curtis (’67 DVM) also started his veterinary studies at WSU.

While in his first year at WSU, Skovborg became acquainted with Curtis during mutual classes. Though they had very different personalities, a friendship unfolded between the two. For the next several decades, they shared dreams, challenges, laughter, and camaraderie. However, their friendship didn’t start this way. In fact, it didn’t start as a friendship at all.

In the fall of his sophomore year, Skovborg returned to WSU ready for school but without a place to live. One of his fellow students needed a roommate. That student was Curtis.

Sepia image of John James "Kicker" Curtis. He's wearing a dark shirt, light vest and a cream cowboy hat.

“Kicker had rented an apartment in the middle of a wheat field,” Skovborg recalled. “However, this “apartment” wasn’t an apartment at all. It was an abandoned, run-down, almost log-cabin-like little house in a stubble field on the road from Pullman to Albion. It had no running water and no electricity.”

Out of necessity, Skovborg and Curtis had become roommates. With time, they became friends – and found a nicer place to live in town.

“Kicker was hard to live with, but I learned that underneath the loud guy there was a beautiful soul,” Skovborg said. “Kicker was a storyteller and had a sense of humor. His stories over the years could outsell James Herriot.”

During their sophomore year, Skovborg and Curtis lived and studied together. Then, between his sophomore and junior years, Skovborg married his high school sweetheart, Cathy Risberg. The two met in seventh grade and were married for 57 years before Cathy’s passing in 2021.

After they married, the Skovborgs moved into an apartment where Curtis was a frequent dinner guest. The three friends became closer and shared countless good times during the last two years of veterinary school.

Following graduation, Skovborg and Curtis were drafted, and both served in the US Army Veterinary Corps. Skovborg was stationed at Fort Meyer, where he cared for the horses that pulled caissons to Arlington Cemetery. Curtis served in South Korea as a veterinarian to the sentry dog units. There he also met his wife, Gaelen.

After military service, Curtis and Skovborg went on to launch their own practices. Curtis headed to Montana and opened the Phillips County Veterinary Clinic with Gaelen. There, he practiced livestock, equine, and small animal medicine. The Skovborgs established The Ark, a small animal practice, in Bend, Oregon.

“I loved the work,” Skovborg said. “The most fulfilling and gratifying thing was my community – the people and their animals. I saw the connection they had, and the depth of the human-animal bond.”

Though separated by geography, Curtis and Skovborg shared a parallel commitment to the people and animals in their communities. Despite the distance, the connection between the Skovborgs and Curtis also flourished.

“We didn’t see each other often, but our friendship evolved over the years,” Skovborg said.

In 2021, the Skovborgs made a decision to pay tribute to this cherished friendship and established the Dr. Lawrence “Lanny” and Cathy Skovborg and Dr. John James “Kicker” Curtis Veterinary Scholarship.

“My motives for the scholarship were two-fold: I felt a need to give back to WSU because this school put me on the path I loved, and I appreciate this,” Skovborg said. “There are a lot of great people at WSU, and I wanted to recognize that.

“My second motive was to honor the relationship Cathy and I had with Kicker. I’m blessed to be surrounded by positive people in my life. My wife was a positive person, and so was Kicker.”

Make a gift to the Dr. Lawrence “Lanny” and Cathy Skovborg and Dr. John James “Kicker” Curtis Veterinary Scholarship.