Dr. James Van Stone right at home in Pierz

New owner of Pierz Veterinary Clinic has always wanted to work in a rural community

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor

Dr. James Van Stone, left, took over the helm of Pierz Veterinary Clinic from Dr. Gordon DeVries in October 2012, after working with him for two years. He called DeVries a “great mentor.”  Van Stone and his wife, Heather, live next door to the clinic.
Dr. James Van Stone, left, took over the helm of Pierz Veterinary Clinic from Dr. Gordon DeVries in October 2012, after working with him for two years. He called DeVries a “great mentor.” Van Stone and his wife, Heather, live next door to the clinic.

James Van Stone, doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) grew up in Aitkin, but not on a farm. However,  he had friends who did.

“I spent more time at my friends’ houses than I did at home — I liked the farm.”

He said Aitkin used to be much more of a dairying community and as time progressed things changed. Van Stone found the necessity for a focus on dairy herds was no longer there.

“Now it’s mostly beef operations in that area,” he said.

Van Stone attended the University of Minnesota (U of M) in St. Paul with a dairy cattle emphasis.

“My idea was to return to rural Minnesota and to a small town and hopefully make a difference and provide animal care for all creatures — whether they be small or large,” he said.

It takes eight years of college to become a veterinarian.

He graduated after four years with a bachelor’s degree in animal science. Van Stone continued his next four years at the U of M in its veterinary program.

Veterinarians complete three years of book studying and the last year is spent in rotations.

“We go through these two-week periods of time of being in different departments,” he said. “We’d have a two-week rotation in radiology, taking and reading X-rays, but again, this is all built on all the radiology courses that we had up to that point — it’s taking our first three years of training and actually using it.”

People would bring their animals to the U of M to let vet students work on them for hands-on training.

As part of the program, students were able to work in externships with a practicing veterinarian.

Dr. Gordon “Gordy” DeVries, the veterinarian at the Pierz Veterinary Clinic, agreed about two years ago to take Van Stone on as an extern and the young vet moved to Pierz.

The two started learning from each other, one old-school, one newly-trained.

“I don’t know how much he’s learned from me, but I can tell you I’ve learned a fair bit from him,” said Van Stone. “As much as we’d like to think we come out of school prepared, the truth of the matter is it takes a good mentor to kind of shape and mold you once you get out there — and he’s been a great mentor.”

DeVries said he brought Van Stone on with the thought of retiring.

After 46 years as a veterinarian, “I had some idea that I was going to retire … he was really interested in purchasing the facility and we just kind of went on from there,” DeVries said.

In October 2012, the sale was finalized.

While DeVries considers himself retired,  he still goes out on calls. “They talk me into it once in a while,” he said.

Practicing veterinary medicine has changed over the years, DeVries said. “We don’t have the number of calls that we did back 40 years ago or 30 years, or even 20 years,” he said.

“One reason is that there are a lot less small farms,” he said.

Another reason, both DeVries and Van Stone agreed, is that many  of the things vets used to do, farmers now do themselves.

DeVries said veterinarians used to do a lot of what he called “fire engine work,” running from one farm to another, making short stops.

“We were real busy back in the day and I used to have a couple of other veterinarians working for me,” he said.

Van Stone said the animal medicine of today employs much more preventive medicine, such as vaccinations and work with  nutrition, that eliminate a lot of the calls veterinarians used to make.

“With Total Mixed Rations (TMR) we’re trying to feed to prevent milk fevers from occurring,” said Van Stone. “I know Gordy used to say he had four or five milk fevers treated before he even ate breakfast,” said Van Stone. “Now, you might get a milk fever once a week — caused by a newly-fresh cow that is low on calcium in her blood and too much calcium goes into the udder.”

Veterinarians work to help farmers with the quality of the milk produced on their farms.

“It goes back to monitoring their milking habits, pre-dipping and post-dipping teats — basically going back to prevention,” said Van Stone. “Good mastitis treatment helps farmers financially and to get rid of problems before they spread.”

Another change in a veterinarian’s work has to do with what type of farming is still in the community.

DeVries said he hasn’t delivered pigs for a long time. “Everybody used to have a few sows for farrowing and that’s pretty much totally eliminated, except for a couple of places,” he said. “All of that has become a large industry on its own.”

DeVries, who grew up on a dairy farm in Ada, enjoyed the Pierz area.

Now, he’s content to run a little farm of his own, north of Pierz, closer to Brainerd, he said. DeVries is raising 16 horses and said he has lots of farm equipment. He makes hay for the horses and tries to grow some oats, he said.

“I guess I always wanted to be a farmer,” he said. “But my dad talked me into going to vet school.”

He’s never regretted it.

“I greatly appreciate having had the opportunity to practice my career in the Pierz area,” he said. “I guess I always will; it was a big part of my life.”

Van Stone is eager to continue his career in the Pierz area, where he will not only take care of farm animals, but since his coming to the Pierz Veterinary Clinic, the veterinarians take care of pets as well — a new feature of the clinic. He said he has enjoyed the people he’s met as well as the work.

He takes his work seriously.

“What a lot of people don’t realize, is that really we’re the forefront of protecting our nation’s food supply,” he said. “I mean that’s the cold hard truth of it — that people don’t realize that it’s us out there diagnosing diseases, screening for diseases, looking for diseases, making sure that our food supply is healthy.”

Van Stone has been married to Heather for two years. She recently moved to Pierz after living in Cedar, in the home she grew up in, as she finished her internship in Cambridge to complete her doctorate in audiology. She too, would like to practice in the area.

The Pierz Veterinary Clinic is located at 105 Second Ave. N.E. Office hours are 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday – Friday, and 8 a.m. – noon Saturdays.

“However, those get kind of flexed as need be,” said Van Stone, who lives just next door. “I try to be as accommodating as I can be for a lot of my clients.”

Such as those who work until 4:30 p.m., and can’t make it for a vaccination appointment for their pet until 5 p.m., he said.

“I’m sure that things will always work out for him,” said DeVries. “I sure hope they do.”

DeVries said he had no doubt Van Stone would continue to offer quality veterinary care.

“He’s doing that already,” he said.

For more information about the clinic, call (320)  468-6174. Office Manager Trista LeBlanc is happy to help.