A Touch of Klass

Rosemary Klass with her dog, Simeon, whom she rescued in 2010 after he was burned in an abusive environment.

Marketing — it’s a powerful tool. When asked how I got into veterinary medicine, my mind instantly dials back 30 years to when I saw a cheesy little commercial. A young lady wearing scrubs was examining cats and dogs. After she finished, she looked into the camera and said, “I’m a veterinary technician, and I’m doing what I love.” I exclaimed, “That’s what I want to do!”

Before making that life-altering decision to challenge myself in medicine, I owned a residential cleaning and floral design company. I had thought about a career in nursing and always loved animals — so vet medicine combined those interests.

After 25 years, I’m still enjoying a career at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center (VMC) Lewis Small Animal Hospital, where I care for farm and domesticated animals.

In 1998, I was the first African American, and part Blackfoot Indian, veterinary technician hired at the VMC. I continue to be passionate about creating diversity in historically white, male-dominated spaces such as veterinary medicine. I helped launch the VMC Diversity Initiative alongside my colleague Pat Berzins. We connect with elementary, middle, and high school students throughout the Twin Cities. For students ages 16 and up, we provide opportunities for mentorship, job shadowing, and even employment at the VMC. Soon, one of our high school recruits will become the first BIPOC man to be a tech assistant at the VMC.

Through education, confidence-building experiences, and role modeling, we hope that students of color will be able to visualize themselves pursuing a career in veterinary medicine. Because I take this initiative personally, I see it as more than just a recruiting effort — it is healing and validating. If I can help even one child silence that negative voice of limitation, this initiative will be worth it.

I have often had the title “First.” At 16, I was the first to hold pantomime and Miss Congeniality titles in the same contest for talented teenagers. In 1988, I was the first young female clergy member ordained in my church and later the first woman to be the chair of the board. This year, I was the first to represent the CVM at the University of Minnesota MLK Tribute concert.

While I keep finding myself in spaces where I am “the first,” the irony is that throughout my life I struggled with feelings of being last. My third-grade teacher harmed my self-worth and crippled my confidence to excel for decades. If it were not for my parents and fourth-grade teacher Mrs. Minette Greenberg’s gentle guidance and affirmation, there is no telling where I would be.

Because I had the opportunity to heal from childhood harm, one of my dreams is to create a retreat space called The Cottage, a peaceful and aesthetic space with gardens and healing rooms, where caregivers, veterinary specialists, and health care workers can feel relaxed, refreshed, loved, and affirmed.

Listen to what your life speaks to you. Your gifts will make room for you. I encourage you to make room for them.