Eminent Latvian professor, dentist Mirdza Neidere celebrates 90th birthday
Written by the Latvian Medical and Dental Association (LĀZA)
in collaboration with the RSU Faculty of Dentistry
Soon, on 21 August, Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) will be able to congratulate Mirdza Neidere, Professor at the University at Buffalo, and Honorary Doctor of RSU, on a very significant birthday. She was born in Latvia in 1933, but her professional career as a dentist is linked to the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine in the USA. Her ties to Latvia have always remained strong and have been of great importance to Latvia.
Prof. Mirdza Neidere at Rīga Stradiņš University in 2005
Professor Mirdza Neidere’s name is well known in the world of medicine. In 1964, she passed her examinations in the USA and became the first woman ever in the United States to be a certified oral and maxillofacial pathologist. Until 2021, Prof. Neidere taught undergraduate and graduate dental students at the University at Buffalo (UB) – the State University of New York. In 1988 and 2001, she was named Teacher of the Year by the Alpha Omega Dental Fraternity. While, in 2001, Dr M. Neidere received the SUNY Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching, and in 2002, she was granted the status of a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor. In addition, Neidere was one of the first three recipients of the University at Buffalo's newly established Outstanding Contributions to International Education at UB Award, which she received for her outstanding contribution to international cooperation at UB and in recognition of her importance in building the University's relations with Latvia. According to the Spring 2004 issue of the UB’s News Center, ‘Soon after Latvia gained independence from the Soviet Union, Neidere supported the Medical Academy of Latvia by advising its School of Dentistry and hosting faculty members for short-term visits to UB. She often returns to Latvia to lecture and provides assistance to the Institute of Stomatology in Riga.’
Prof. Neidere’s contribution has not gone unnoticed in Latvia - on 29 June 2005, she received the title of Doctor Honoris Causa from RSU for her contribution to the development of education at the RSU Faculty of Dentistry. She worked as a lecturer and researcher for 57 years. In addition to the doctoral theses she supervised, Prof. Neidere's contribution to research includes more than 100 scientific publications in internationally recognised journals. Prof. Neidere ended her active career in 2021, but her work in support of Latvian medicine continues. It started immediately after Latvia regained its independence, as she got involved in the Latvian Medical and Dental Association (LĀZA) – Prof. Neidere was a board member and registrar at LĀZA, and together with Dr Zaiga Alksne-Philips issued the LĀZA newsletter.
The Second World War shaped her fate – Prof. Neidere’s family fled from their home and in March 1950 emigrated from Germany to the USA. A separate article should be written about the many facets of her life, but for now let us focus on her enduring collaboration with the RSU Faculty of Dentistry. In anticipation of her milestone birthday, colleagues from the faculty share their memories.
Ilga Urtāne, RSU Professor Emeritus
It was the eve of 18 November, 1991, the beginning of Latvia's still fragile independence, when Prof. Neidere arrived in Riga. It had been 47 years since she left Latvia in 1944 as a refugee at the age of 11 together with her family. Her goal was to meet the lecturers of the Faculty of Dentistry, learn about dentistry in Latvia and see how she could help. Before the war, her mother had graduated as a dentist and her father as a doctor from the University of Latvia. Prof. Neidere had heard from her mother that dental education in Latvia during the time of Professor Kārlis Barons (1865-1944) was in line with the education in Europe, that student clinics had been set up with German-made equipment and technical facilities, that many lecturers had been educated in the West, and that a generation of Latvian lecturers had been formed during that time. After 50 years of Soviet influence on Latvia, Prof. Neidere was met with poor material and technical facilities and insufficient knowledge of dental science and technology. She was eager to share what she had acquired in America – good dental education, experience and global perspective on science. We appreciated it very much because we had a burning desire to change and move westwards.
Before her visit to Latvia, Prof. Neidere had been involved with and supportive of the collaboration with Riga Technical University (RTU) and Professor Ivars Knēts. One student group from RTU was already at the University at Buffalo for a training course on information technology. It can be said that the beginnings of the RTU Riga Business School, now headed by Jānis Grēviņš, a former student at the University at Buffalo, were formed during this time. Grēviņš successfully continues to develop cooperation between the universities.
When she first arrived, Prof. Neidere already had a plan for how dentistry could develop. She felt it was important to give our lecturers a global perspective and knowledge. She was able to speak about our everyday reality, which was far behind the West in terms of the possibilities available, without humiliating or reproaching us. Instead, she encouraged and showed us the way. I was the first to be lucky enough to go to the University at Buffalo. In February 1992, Prof. Neidere got funding, mainly from the Soros Foundation, to cover a one-month visit to UB, access to the International Dental Science Congress in Boston, as well as a visit to Canada. I was welcome to stay at Prof. Neidere’s house, where I ended up only spending late evenings, nights and early mornings, as the schedule every day was full so that I could get to know the clinics at UB. There was a particular focus on the Department of Oral Pathology and Periodontology where she worked at the same time holding a leading position in the university management. I saw the respect that Prof. Neidere received from her colleagues. She emphasised the important role of science in the development of dentistry and the ability to draft projects and get them funded. Callin this the way forward, she considered an achievement if even two out of ten project applications were successful. The level of dental education and science at UB was very high, even compared to other universities in the USA.
It was very interesting for me to go to Boston and participate in the congress, visit Harvard University and meet Latvian physicians and dentists in Boston. Prof. Neidere’s enthusiasm and ability to provide as much information as possible about dentistry and American culture was admirable. My visit to Toronto was unforgettable: it included a visit to the School of Dentistry with its extensive, well-equipped student training clinics, and an introduction to the Latvian-Canadian community, especially the family of Pēteris Apse, who would play an important role in the development of Latvian dentistry in the future.
At the end of my visit, Prof. Neidere had arranged a meeting with Ilze Lakstīgala, a dentist of Latvian descent, who cooperated with the Institute of Stomatology both by hosting Latvian specialists in her home during their trips to events that took place in New York, by giving them the opportunity to learn practical skills in her private practice, and by donating funds to establish the first pre-clinical training centre at the Institute of Stomatology.
Seeing and experiencing the level of dentistry in the USA at that time was a professional shock for me. At the same time, it was a high bar for the rest of my professional life, the goal of which was clear – to develop the Faculty of Dentistry and the Institute of Stomatology. I treasure the memory of my visit to UB and the generosity of Mirdza Neidere.
After I visited Buffalo, Prof. Neidere came to Latvia several times to get to know our specialists in periodontology and oral pathology better, to conduct seminars, and donate the latest books. She continued to look for opportunities for our colleagues to travel to UB and attend dental congresses in the USA. Prof. Neidere built a network with Latvian dentists, manufacturing companies, and the Soros Foundation to foster the development of dentistry in Latvia. She also arranged a visit and ensured funding for lecturers of the Department of Therapeutic Dentistry, among whom was Inguna Grīnvalde. She recalls that the trip of 1996 to UB was a new milestone in the development of Latvian periodontology and led to the establishment of new study programmes. It was not easy to start a new direction and we were beset with uncertainties and doubts. At such times, we could count on Prof. Neidere for support and advice.
Prof. Ingrīda Čēma, Head of the Department of Oral Pathology, also developed a close professional collaboration. Prof. Neidere was awarded the title of Honorary Doctor at RSU in recognition of her untiring enthusiasm in the development of dental education in Latvia.
Prof. Mirdza Neidere at the inauguration ceremony for Honorary Doctors on 29 June 2005
As Prof. Neidere still retains some influence on the field of dentistry at the University at Buffalo, she is an enthusiastic supporter of further cooperation between the universities. This cooperation has now developed on a higher level. She does all her work with enthusiasm and from the heart. When I reach out to her, I can feel the enthusiasm as she arranges yet another visit, this time for Anete Vašķeviča, a lecturer in periodontology at our faculty and the director of the residency programme.
Prof. Mirdza Neidere (centre) with RSU Rector Prof. Aigars Pētersons, colleagues from the University at Buffalo and representatives of the Latvian delegation after the signing of the Memorandum of Cooperation in May 2022
Andris Ābeltiņš, Associate Professor, Dean of the RSU Faculty of Dentistry
I first met Prof. Neidere on 5 May 2022, during my first visit to UB. Before meeting her, I had already heard good things about her from Jānis Grēviņš and Ilga Urtāne. Our meeting took place at the UB School of Dental Medicine, where Prof. Neidere welcomed us with a speech in clear Latvian.
Then we had several meetings with the UB School of Dental Medicine, in which she actively participated. It was clear that she commanded a lot of respect from her American colleagues. The meetings were very successful and the conditions for further cooperation between the two universities were created. It was agreed that Anete Vašķeviča would visit UB in autumn 2023 for one month, with the expenses to be covered by Prof. Neidere from her personal funds.
A Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in the field of dentistry was formally concluded between UB and RSU at the end of April 2023. Prof. Neidere attended the signing ceremony.
After the ceremony, an informal event was held at the UB School of Dental Medicine, where colleagues from different dental specialties and representatives of the RSU delegation were invited. The next day was a full working day with discussions on possible cooperation, which Prof. Neidere actively participated in. I consider my visit to UB a great success, and I consider Prof. Neidere's activities at UB to be one of the factors. Her directness, sharp mind and excellent communication skills aided our cooperation.
As we approach her 90th birthday, I wish to thank the professor for her inexhaustible contribution to the development of dental education in Latvia on behalf of the Faculty of Dentistry. We wish her a lively spirit, sparkling enthusiasm, good health and satisfaction in her work.
Latvian delegation at the University at Buffalo in May 2022. From the left: Vice-Dean of the RSU Faculty of Medicine Prof. Ingus Skadiņš, Director of RTU Riga Business School Assist. Prof. Jānis Grēviņš, Dean of the RSU Faculty of Continuing Education Prof. Ilze Grope, Professor Emeritus of the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine Mirdza Neidere, Dean of the RSU Faculty of Dentistry Assoc. Prof. Andris Ābeltiņš, Associate Dean for Student Affairs at the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine Joseph Gambacorta and RSU Vice-Rector for Administration and Development Toms Baumanis. Photo from UB archives