Decades after tragic death, DVM alum still helping others

Mark Strother sits on the summit of Burgundy Spire in Washington in 1982
Close profile image of Mark Strother  in August of 1982 in the North Cascades.
Mark Strother, 1982

Mark Strother (’83 DVM) was a skilled mountaineer who had his sights set on summitting the tallest of peaks on the globe. He had recently graduated from Washington State University with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, married and purchased a small animal practice in Western Washington.

But in 1986, on a fateful climb to Mt. Robson, the highest point in the Canadian Rockies, the tracks of Strother and his climbing partner stopped just 100 feet from the summit.  

Not long after his death, his family established the Dr. Mark Strother Endowed Scholarship to honor his legacy and to support veterinary students. More than three decades later, the fund is still helping Cougs achieve their dreams.

A love for animals and mountains

From an early age, two things were clear about Strother: He had a deep love for animals and there was no keeping him away from the mountains.

As a teenager, his friends and family remember, he would bike to a nearby veterinary clinic in his hometown of Yakima, Washington, to volunteer. When he wasn’t at the clinic or school, his golden retriever, Sampson, was likely in tow.

“It was amazing to watch them because Sam hung on every motion Mark made,” Strother’s friend Jim Lundblad said. “Mark truly loved that dog.”

Strother was a driven and committed student and had his heart set on becoming a veterinarian, but he also was determined to conquer the outdoors, mountain by mountain.

His passion for the outdoors was shared by his close friends, Steve Soos (‘81 mathematics) and Lundblad. The trio spent nearly every weekend in the summers hiking, rock climbing, and summiting area peaks before Soos and Strother graduated high school in 1976 and headed to WSU.

Strother and his close friends Steve Soos and Jim Lundblad hike their way up Ptarmigan Ridge in Washington in 1977.
Strother, Soos and Lundblad are pictured at the summit of Ptarmigan Ridge.

Big plans

Shortly after graduation, Strother married his wife, Susan, who also earned a DVM from WSU. After completing residencies in California, the couple returned to Washington, where they purchased a small animal clinic in Monroe.

Nancy Strother, Mark’s sister, remembers how dedicated her younger brother was to his clients and patients. Even on holidays, Mark would drop everything to help his clients.

“Mark didn’t think twice to go be with his clients and their pets – he would do anything for animals,” she said. “He just had a real love for animals.”

Early in the summer of 1986, Mark began making plans to climb the 12,972-foot Mt. Robson and approached Soos about joining the expedition.

“It is an impressive mountain, notorious for its weather,” Soos said. “There really isn’t any easy way up that mountain, and I told him I wasn’t in any shape to do it.”

Mark eventually found a climbing partner, Ken Nelson, an experienced 42-year-old mountaineer. 

The day before Mark was to leave for Canada, he sat down for dinner with his wife and Lundblad, who had just flown in from New York City, where he was attending medical school. 

“My plan had been to surprise him and go on a couple of local climbs because I hadn’t been doing much climbing,” Lundblad said. “He asked me to join him on his climb of Mt. Robson, but there was no way I was in any kind of condition to do that.”

The friends made an agreement to get together when Mark returned from his climb, but that gathering never happened, as Mark died on the mountain. The cause of the fall that ended his life was never determined.

“It is pure conjecture on my part, but as strong of climbers as they both were, it was some objective hazard they had no control over,” Soos said. “On that side of the mountain, if you get pulled down, it is a 60-degree slope. There is no chance for survival.”

A lasting legacy

Soon after Mark’s death, his family established a scholarship at WSU in his name to continue his legacy and as a reminder of his passion for animals and helping people. Recipients must show substantial compassion for people and their animals and have an interest in practicing small animal medicine.

The Dr. Mark Strother Endowed Scholarship has been awarded to more than 30 third-year students, including James Schmidt (’21 DVM) in 2020. While he only recently learned about Mark, the two share a love of animals and the outdoors.

“It is sad that he died so young, but it is pretty impressive that he was already so accomplished,” Schmidt said. “I am honored to have been awarded this scholarship.”

Mark has also had a lasting impact on those who knew him.

“I think about him pretty much every day,” said Lundblad, now in his 60s and semi-retired from a career in medicine. “In a lot of ways, he was as close as one of my brothers to me.”

Soos, too, often thinks of his friend and has made a personal commitment to donate yearly to Mark’s scholarship. “He had such an impact on me and others,” Soos said. “If I could talk to him again, I would say, ‘We wish you were still here to enjoy the love of family, friendships, and the warmth of the autumn sun. We miss you. The memory of the life you lived has given strength and purpose to others.’ ”

Give now to the “Dr. Mark Strother Scholarship Endowment.”