By Kelly Sylvester
Although he originally wanted to be a veterinarian, it’s clear that WSU alumnus John Oftebro, class of 1965, found his life’s calling as a pharmacist. He began his career as a staff pharmacist for a chain in Seattle, two stints for independent pharmacies, then a short time as a hospital pharmacist, but eventually continued working in independent pharmacy where he discovered his true niche. Eventually, John purchased Kelley-Ross Pharmacy and expanded it to six locations all over the Seattle area and became one of the pioneers of clinical pharmacy and innovation. He credits his success to building relationships, taking risks, and not just filling prescriptions.
On October 7, 2022, John’s 50-year career as a pharmacist and leader in the pharmacy profession will culminate in his recognition as the R. Keith Campbell Lifetime Achievement Award recipient for the WSU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. It’s an honor that John says he could not be more grateful to receive. But before all the success, came some tough decisions and lots of hard work. Ultimately, these pieces helped make his opportunities for success.
When John graduated from high school in 1960 and was considering the veterinary medicine program at WSU, he was influenced by a close family friend, and a pharmacy student at the University of Washington which turned his attention to pharmacy, and of course at WSU where his father graduated from in 1938.
John recalls, “I’d never spent much time in any pharmacy because my folks were healthy people, but I knew that Sandy, who introduced my parents, was a pharmacist who owned his own pharmacy and loved his career. I liked that. And I liked science and to study and learn new things, so pharmacy was starting to look like a good choice.”
John enrolled in Skagit Valley College for his pre-pharmacy first year and traveled to Pullman in the spring to check out the College of Pharmacy (as the college was known at the time before its name was changed to the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences in 2019). His tour guide was Dean Allen I. White and John was sold on the college and granted admission on the spot by the dean! John credits his favorite professors, Mel Gibson, Charles Martin, and Theodore Sokolowski with the guidance and encouragement he needed to advance through the gauntlet of chemistry and other sciences, and then onto and successful completion of his degree. John said the bonus was making lasting friendships for life with classmates and Cougs, and of course, enjoying the campus atmosphere and culture that helped develop such a strong appreciation for his education at WSU.
While at WSU, John had a summer job at an independent pharmacy in his hometown Mount Vernon and experienced his first mentor, Steve Wells. After graduation, and along his career path were mentors Don Kusler and John’s business partner, Rod Sampson at Kelley-Ross Pharmacy who were also leaders in professionalism, business and relationships that would provide the backbone of John’s ownership career. His experience fostered his love of mentoring dozens of pharmacy students as well. John said that mentoring his son, Ryan, was probably most rewarding.
John’s commitment to building relationships with customers, as well as the pharmacy community and its partner organizations, is legendary. One of the most important lessons John tries to instill in the pharmacy students he has mentored over the years is that advocacy for the pharmacy profession is critical to future success. He doesn’t just preach this; he has spent years in leadership positions with organizations such as the Washington State Pharmacy Association president and was president of the WSPA Foundation for thirty years. He has also served in leadership positions for the American College of Apothecaries and has served on the college’s Dean’s Advisory Council since 2009.
“I have always believed you have to show up if you want to make a difference. And I believe in these organizations and the work they do, not just for pharmacists, but for the betterment of our communities and public health.” Among John’s many honors for pharmacy service is the Bowl of Hygeia Award, Alumnus of the Year for the college, and the WSU Foundation Outstanding Service Award. He and his wife Deborah are recognized at the benefactor level for the WSU Foundation. John founded the Class of ’65 Endowed Scholarship and he and Deborah have endowed the Oftebro Family Scholarship as well.
When he is honored on October 7, John will be joined by his wife, Deborah, and other family members including his son, Ryan, who is the current president of WSPA and a pharmacy alumnus of the UW School of Pharmacy. Ryan owns Kelley-Ross Pharmacies now that John is retired, and John said he is proud of how Ryan and his partners have also grown the business and on the cutting edge of pharmacy innovations.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have the life I’ve had and the career I’ve had. I owe a lot to WSU and the college. I will always be grateful for the education, connections, and friendships I made during my lifetime as a Cougar pharmacist and WSU alumnus. And of course, as always, I have to finish by saying Go Cougs!”
Proceeds from the Crimson Gala will benefit the John Oftebro Leadership in Innovation Scholarship Endowment, which will be awarded to a top fourth-year pharmacy student who is exceptional in advocacy, engagement, and innovative ideas for pharmacy practice.
The R. Keith Campbell Lifetime Achievement Award was established in 2017 to honor Professor Keith Campbell, class of 1964, who served as a professor at the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences for 40 years. Professor Campbell was the first recipient of the award, which was subsequently named for him. The prestigious award recognizes a track record of excellence in pharmacy, patient care, advocacy, research, service and mentoring or teaching. In 2019, William Gaskins, class of 1969, was named as the second recipient of the award. John Oftebro is the third recipient.
The Crimson Gala takes place as part of the college’s Reunite Pharmacy Reunion Weekend on October 7-8, 2022. Class reunions will take place during the Crimson Gala, with pharmacy building tours on Saturday, October 8 and a viewing party for the WSU vs. USC game later that day at Flatstick Pub. Full details can be found at https://pharmacy.wsu.edu/homecoming/ or by calling 509-368-6675.