History of the Trust/Conference

Dr.-Sommer-webDr. Ernst August Sommer 1869-1936

Ernst August Sommer was born to Reinhold and Katherine Hering in Pittston, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, on January 27, 1869. The death of his father and of three of the five small children in the family occurred while Ernst was still an infant and left on the shoulders of his mother the sole responsibility for the care and education of Ernst and his tiny sister, Hermine. The foremost wish of Mrs. Hering was to see her children well educated and with this purpose she accepted the offer of the Reverend Aloysius Sommer, Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of which she was a member, to take the children with him to Montreal to pursue their schooling. There he placed Hermine in an Academy conducted by the Madames of the Sacred Heart and Ernst in a local school, while he continued his own studies. Shortly thereafter the Reverend Sommer adopted the Roman Catholic faith and was ordained a priest. Ernst and Hermine also became converts to the Catholic faith.

In 1887 the Reverend Sommer journeyed to Oregon, bringing with him his two wards. In the city of Portland the Reverend Sommer founded and became pastor of the St. Joseph’s German Catholic Church. The two children remained with him and continued their schooling, and on September 29, 1888, Ernst registered at Willamette Medical School in Portland under the name of Ernst August Sommer, which he had apparently assumed after being placed in the care of the Reverend Sommer and by which he was known throughout his adult life.

Following his graduation from medical school in 1890, Ernst accepted an internship at St. Catherine’s Hospital in New York and thereafter was for a year house physician at the New York Polyclinic. It was here that he met Sara Sackett who was to become his wife some years later.

After a period of service in the New York Lying-In Hospital, Dr. Sommer accepted appointment as surgeon on a transatlantic liner and his year in that service made it possible for him to visit and observe at various medical centers in France, Germany and Vienna. In 1894 he returned to Oregon and began his practice in the pioneer town of Oregon City in association with Dr. W. E. Carll. In the following year a visit of Dr. Carll in the East and his meeting there with Sara Sackett, then head nurse of the Bayonne Hospital at Bayonne, New Jersey, brought about a resumption of her old friendship with Dr. Sommer through correspondence and culminated in their marriage on May 10, 1898, in San Francisco. His sister, Hermine, died on June 17, 1899, at the age of 28.

The qualities which most characterized Ernst Sommer throughout his life were his forceful personality, his boundless energy and his insatiable desire to learn. The action of his mother in her almost sacrificial decision to allow the Reverend Sommer to take her two young children for the educational opportunities he could offer them, could well have been prophetic of this deep respect for learning in Ernst Sommer, and there can be little question that it was further nourished in the experience of his early professional years. A medical practice in a small Western town at the turn of the century was a demanding taskmaster, and Dr. Sommer found it necessary to develop a broad and varied medical proficiency. His training had been primarily in surgery and despite the long office hours and the need to visit many patients at their homes, often at night and on horseback, he read and studied unceasingly with the driving energy and will to improve himself that characterized his life. It was a habit that never deserted him and many years later one of his medical friends observed that no physician in the Pacific Northwest was more widely read than Ernst Sommer. Twice in his early years his compelling desire to learn drew him from his practice–first, in 1901 when he returned East to visit and study at clinics in Chicago, New York, Washington and Baltimore, and again in 1905 when, with his wife, he journeyed to Europe to study intensively for two years at the famed medical centers of that continent.

Although medicine was always his absorbing interest, even it could not exhaust his driving vitality, and he found time for other activities. He was an enthusiastic hunter and fisherman and the proximity of the Western streams and mountains gave him every opportunity for this sort of relaxation. He took an active interest also in political matters and his ventures in this field included election as mayor of Oregon City shortly after his marriage, and in later years, after his move to Portland, a period of service on the School Board of that city. These were relaxing diversions but nothing could distract from his dedication to medicine, and the record of his later years testifies to the success in that profession to which this untiring interest carried him.

During World War I, Dr. Sommer was commissioned a Captain in the Army Medical Corps. Following his return, with his flourishing practice now in metropolitan Portland, he was named Chief Surgeon of the Portland Railway Light & Power Company. He was a charter member of the American College of Surgeons, its Vice President in 1924-25 and a member of its Board of Regents from 1928 to 1933. He was also a charter member of the Pacific Coast Surgical Society, was its President in 1933, and was a member of the Portland Academy of Medicine, the North Pacific Surgical Society and the Oregon State Medical Society. Notwithstanding his busy practice, his engrossment with every facet of medicine kept him in active participation in the affairs of his state and where he was Clinical Professor of Surgery, and in his hospital, the St. Vincent Hospital of Portland, where his enthusiasm and leadership were a vital influence for many years.

On his retirement from his active practice in 1931, Dr. Sommer’s actions were characteristic of the pattern of his life. With his devotion to medicine and the depth of his feeling about education it was typical that he should donate his fine library to the University of Oregon Medical School and begin to give thought to the plan which was to ripen into the Sommer Memorial Lectures.

No children had been born of the marriage of Ernst and Sara Sommer, and it seemed to Dr. Sommer that after making provisions for his wife and others near to him there could be nothing more constructive than to devote his estate to the advancement of the knowledge and techniques of the profession which had meant so much to him. With the assistance of Mr. Franklin T. Griffith, President of the Portland Railway Light & Power Company, who was his legal counselor and close personal friend, Dr. Sommer gave long and careful thought to the most practical method of achieving this objective. The result of this study was the establishment by Dr. Sommer of an immediate living trust of the major portion of his estate (with his Will providing for the addition of his remaining assets to the trust fund on his death) with United States National Bank of Oregon as Trustee. The trust was designed to assure financial protection for Dr. Sommer and his wife during their lives and provided, after the death of both of them and after certain benefactions to others, for the income of the fund to be used for the conduct of the Sommer Memorial Lectures for the advancement of medical science.

Dr. Sommer died on March 15, 1936. His wife survived him by only a few months and with her death on July 23, 1936, the Sommer Memorial Lecture Fund came into being and the provisions charting the course of the Lectures into the measureless future became operative.

With wisdom and forethought which have been borne out by subsequent experience, Dr. Sommer did not attempt to project his own controls and restrictions over the lecture programs in minute detail. Rather, he reposed broad discretion in his Trustee and its Advisory Committee so that his paramount objective might be accomplished in the face of changing times and conditions. In brief, he directed that the income of the trust should be used for the financing and presentation of lectures for the advancement of medical science, that they should not be confined to any particular branch of medicine or surgery nor be given to promote any “fad or fancy” but should deal with the problems which arise in the general practice of medicine and surgery, should acquaint the regular medical profession with sound, scientific spring program firmly established, the year 1948 saw the inauguration of a second major annual lecture series and beginning in 1953 the and clinical facts, and should be known for their practicability to the profession.

He directed that his Trustee should appoint, from time to time, recognized leaders of the profession in Oregon and Washington as members of an Advisory Committee of four, to select the speakers for the Memorial Lectures, and in order that the lectures might be of the highest type and cover a broad field of subjects, he suggested, but did not require, that the members of the Advisory Committee include one internist, one surgeon, and two others in allied fields.
Dr. Sommer specified that the lecture programs should be conducted in Portland, Oregon, and provided that they might be presented under the auspices of St. Vincent Hospital, or of a regular medical school or university. He further directed that admission should be granted without fee or charge to all physicians and surgeons regularly admitted to their profession, and to all medical students in good standing in an accredited medical school or university. The succinct but fully adequate provisions made by Dr. Sommer in his trust agreement governing the conduct of the Sommer Memorial Lectures and expressing his wishes concerning them are quoted in full at page 10 of this pamphlet.

The settlement of Dr. Sommer’s estate and the disposition of certain legal complications required a period of several years following the deaths of Ernst and Sara Sommer in 1936, and it was not until the year 1940 that these were resolved and it became possible to lay plans for the first series of lectures. Because it was their desire to inaugurate the Sommer Lectures under the most favorable conditions and to make them available to as many members of the profession as possible, the Trustee and the Advisory Committee concluded to present the programs, at least for the time, on dates which would correspond with the time of the annual Alumni Meeting of the University of Oregon Medical School. Dr. Thomas M. Joyce, then Chairman of the Advisory Committee, secured the gracious approval of St. Vincent Hospital to this arrangement. The first series of Sommer Memorial Lectures was presented in March, 1941, in accordance with this plan. Since that time Sommer Memorial Lecture programs have been presented each year except in 1945 when transportation restrictions due to war conditions required their temporary suspension.

By the terms of Dr. Sommer’s trust the principal funds are to be held in perpetuity and only the income is to be used for the conduct of the Memorial Lectures.

The financial stabilization provided by the very satisfactory performance of its investment portfolio has made possible a gradual expansion of the lecture events sponsored by the Sommer Fund. With the Fund began the sponsorship of other special lecture events supplementing the two basic annual programs.

Presentation of the Sommer Lectures as an independent activity and in coordination with the meetings of other medical groups have both been tried. The results have convinced the Trustee and the Advisory Committee that programs planned in collaboration with other medical meetings promote better attendance and derive the greatest value from guest speakers making them available to the maximum number of members of the profession. The planning of the Sommer Lectures in collaboration with other medical groups has, therefore, been the pattern during recent years, particularly in the case of the two major annual programs. The association of the special lecture events with other medical meetings necessarily varies according to the circumstances of each occasion and the feasibility of such an affiliation.

As has been the case since the inception of the Sommer Lectures, the spring program is presented on dates to correspond with the meeting of the Alumni Association of the Oregon Health Sciences University Medical School and the two programs are closely coordinated. The second program is conducted in the fall and is customarily planned in collaboration with the annual session of the Oregon Medical Association (formerly the Oregon State Medical Society) with the Sommer Lectures being scheduled to complement the program of the State Association meeting.

The special lecture events do not follow a similar fixed pattern and necessarily vary as to character, time and duration. The first such activity was early in 1953 when the Trustee and the Advisory Committee were highly gratified to be able to complete arrangements to bring to Portland Dr. F. H. Bentley to serve as “Sommer Resident Lecturer” for a 12-month period. Dr. Bentley was at the time Professor of Surgery at the University of Durham Medical School in England. He had been a guest speaker in October, 1951, as a participant in the 14th series of Sommer Memorial Lectures, and had made a distinguished contribution to the program. As Sommer Resident Lecturer, Dr. Bentley, under the auspices of St. Vincent Hospital, took part in the educational activities of St. Vincent and other local hospitals and medical groups on a regularly scheduled lecture basis until the termination of his assignment early in 1954. During his year on this assignment Dr. Bentley participated also as speaker in the 17th series of Sommer Lectures in April, 1953.

In December, 1956, Dr. Alan Gregg, a distinguished internist and former head of The Rockefeller Medical Foundation, was brought to Portland by the Sommer Fund to present a special lecture in coordination with the 50th Anniversary Meeting of the Portland Academy of Medicine.

The Sommer Fund expressly reserves the privilege of printing lectures presented under its sponsorship, or excerpts therefrom, as deemed practicable and advisable by the Trustee and the Advisory Committee. The original concept was that this would make it possible to perpetuate those lectures which were considered to be of broad general interest and of value for future reference and make them more widely available for physicians and medical schools. During the earlier years of the Sommer programs selected lectures were printed in pamphlet form on several occasions, but subsequent experience has dictated a modification of this practice. Few speakers prepare their lectures in manuscript form that is adaptable for direct reprinting. Moreover, the Sommer Fund places no restrictions on the use of the lecture material in other publications after the presentation of the lecture, and medical journals, with their wide distribution and comprehensive coverage, provide an ideal medium for the recording and disseminating of such new medical knowledge on a scope beyond the intent and objectives of the Sommer Fund. They can never duplicate, however, the inspiration and individual stimulation that come from the personal confrontation of doctors and students with those who have attained distinction and oftentimes global recognition for their medical achievements, and in this lies one of the unique values of the Sommer Lectures. The Sommer Fund does, nevertheless, continue to reserve the privilege of publishing selected lectures should it at any time be considered desirable and in furtherance of the objectives of Dr. Sommer. Also, tape recordings of the talks are made and are available without cost to members of the medical profession.

No greater tribute could be paid to the soundness of Dr. Sommer’s altruistic vision than the enthusiastic reception accorded the Memorial Lectures by members of the medical profession, the uniformly good attendance at the programs and the unsolicited compliments received from those who have had the opportunity of attending. All thanks are due those distinguished and renowned members of the medical profession, both from the United States and abroad, who have been willing to give their time and energy to participate as speakers on the programs and to assist in the advancement of this fine humanitarian activity. This booklet includes a list of the speakers who have taken part in the various Sommer Lecture events from their inception to the date of this publication, showing also their medical specialty, their teaching affiliation or residence at the time of the lecture program and a summary of the respective lecture subjects.

No history of the Sommer Memorial Lectures would be complete without an expression of appreciation also to those men who have willingly given time from a busy professional life to serve as members of the Advisory Committee and who have done so, as Dr. Sommer wishes, entirely without compensation. Their names and respective terms of service are set forth on the inside back cover of this booklet and the Trustee takes this opportunity to thank each of them for the important contribution they have made to the success of the Sommer Lectures.

Seven committee members have served as Chairman since its inception. The first was Dr. Thomas M. Joyce, a colleague and personal friend of Ernst Sommer, who, like Dr. Sommer, was a general surgeon and a leader in staff activities at St. Vincent Hospital throughout his medical career. On the death of Dr. Joyce in 1947 he was succeeded by Dr. Frank R. Menne, pathologist at St. Vincent Hospital, who had also been a member of the Committee since its inception and was a personal friend of Dr. Sommer. In 1958, on the retirement of Dr. Menne, Dr. Eugene W. Rockey was named Chairman. He had been a committee member since 1947 and was the last of the Committee Chairmen who were colleagues of Dr. Sommer.

In 1959 health considerations caused Dr. Rockey to request a less active participation in the committee functions and he stepped down from the chairmanship, to be succeeded by Dr. Arthur L. Rogers, who had been named a member of the Committee two years previously. Dr. Rogers served as Committee Chairman until 1977, when he resigned from the committee and was succeeded by Dr. Ernest T. Livingstone who had been a member of the Committee for two years. Dr. Livingstone resigned in 1988 after serving as chairman for 11 years and was succeeded by Dr. R. Mark Vetto who had been a member of the Committee since 1981. Dr. Vetto served as chairman for ten years and was succeeded by Dr. Curtis Holzgang upon his resignation in 1998. Dr. Holzgang served as chairman for 9 years and was succeeded by the current chairman, Dr. David Cook in 2008.
Few men who knew Dr. Sommer personally during his professional career remain active in medical practice. A new generation is taking their place, but the ideals which molded the life of Ernst Sommer and are so perfectly reflected in this fine philanthropy remain to provide the leadership and inspiration which guide the Committee and the Trustee and which assure the perpetuation of his objectives in creating the Sommer Memorial Lectures.


United States Bank of Oregon


Excerpt from Trust Agreement dated April 25, 1934, between Ernst A. Sommer, as Trustor, and the United States National Bank, as Trustee, establishing THE SOMMER MEMORIAL LECTURES for the advancement of medical science.

ELEVENTH: Upon the death of the Trustor and upon the death of the said Sara S. Sommer, in the event she survives the Trustor, the net income derived from the trust estate which may be available and unencumbered by any of the provisions hereof, shall be utilized and used by said Trustee and devoted to the advancement of medical science by the giving of lectures to be known as the “Sommer Memorial Lectures” . The lectures to be given in pursuance of said “Sommer Memorial Lectures” shall not be confined to any particular branch of medicine or surgery, but shall deal with the problems which arise in the general practice of medicine and surgery, it being Trustor’s intention and desire that this trust shall be administered, not to advance any “fad or fancy”, but to acquaint the regular medical profession with sound, scientific and clinical facts, and shall be known for their practicability to the profession. It is Trustor’s purpose in providing for the class of lectures mentioned above to advance medical science, and thereby serve mankind. Said Trustee is authorized and directed, from time to time, to appoint, to serve at its pleasure, recognized leaders of the profession of medicine and surgery from each of the states of Oregon and Washington, as members of a committee of four, whose duty it shall be to select the lecturers to give said “Sommer Memorial Lectures”; said committee shall act without compensation. In order that the subjects of the lectures may be of the highest type and varied in the subject pertaining to the healing art and that the lecturer must be of the highest type and recognized by the profession for his original and scientific attainments, it is Trustor’s suggestion, although not an express direction hereof, that the said committee be made up of one internist and one surgeon and the other two of allied subjects of medicine and surgery.

The said “Sommer Memorial Lectures” shall be given in Portland Oregon, and it is Trustor’s preference, although not an express direction hereof that said “Sommer Memorial Lectures” shall be under the auspices of the St. Vincent’s Hospital of Portland, Oregon. In the event said hospital shall be unwilling or unable, in the sole and absolute discretion of the Trustee, to make arrangements satisfactory to said Trustee for the giving of said lectures, said Trustee is authorized, directed and empowered to make such arrangements as in its sole and absolute discretion it deems necessary and essential for the giving of said “Sommer Memorial Lectures” in Portland Oregon, provided, however, that it is Trustor’s direction that said “Sommer Memorial Lectures” shall be given under the auspices of a regular medical school or university (said medical school or university shall not be a party to or select any of the lecturers, but the names of proposed lecturers may be submitted to them for approval). All physicians and surgeons regularly admitted to their profession, and all medical students who may be enrolled in good standing as medical students at any regular medical school or university which may in the sole and absolute opinion of said Trustee, be generally regarded as an accredited institution shall be entitled to attend said lectures without payment of any fee or charge.