Two years ago when Herbert Siess was going through the NEWSTART program at Weimar Institute, he had no idea he’d be giving a human skull to the students for use in their academic studies. Siess, a retired dentist, participated in an 18-day program called NEWSTART, an acronym for Nutrition, Exercise, Water, Sunlight, Temperance, Air, Rest, and Trust, designed as a recovery program to prevent and reserve diseases through natural methods.
During his visit to Weimar Institute in November 2015, Dr. Siess learned to appreciate the educational style and approach he experienced at Weimar.
“They used the Bible to teach science. It was hands-on. Practical. Smart,” he commented.
So, when Weimar Institute mailed out their “Bucket List” year-end mailing in December 2016, Dr. Siess said to himself, “I’ve got something that would help in the pre-med and pre-dental classes at Weimar.”
Dr. Siess had an unusual gift: a human skull.
The Bucket List was a catalog of the in-kind items or items needed for sponsorship on campus that donors could underwrite for the lifestyle, educational, and medical evangelism center. Christina Harris, Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry with a background in medicinal chemistry and chair of the Natural Science program at Weimar, had requested several items for the department.
Those items ranged from a scanning electron microscope valued at $125,000 to dissecting trays and instruments in the $300 range.
She had no idea that someone would want to share a human skull with her students.
Dr. Siess bought the skull in the early 1960s from a traveling salesman, shortly after he graduated from dental school at Loma Linda School of Dentistry.
“I bought it for $150. We didn’t have much money back then,” he said. “That’s when you could get a filling for $10.”
He said that throughout his almost 40 years of dentistry practice that he referred to the skull many times. “I got my money out of it,” he stated when referencing his years of practice in Chico, California, and in Corning, a small town of about 7500 people on the way to Red Bluff, California.
Dr. Siess doesn’t know the exact origin of the skull although there’s speculation that it was a young adult male from India. “I’m guessing from the structure and size. All three molars have erupted which translates in our culture to mean, he had his wisdom teeth.”
“The salesman told me not to ask questions about its origin. He alluded that it could be from a grave robbing or that the family sold it to make money to survive.” Since that time, it is now illegal to obtain a skull in that manner.
The skull is in mint condition. It has been engineered by a German company as a teaching tool with springs that allow the bones to be opened to expose the sinus cavities and show where muscles attach, something that’s helpful for teaching where to give an injection to numb the mouth for dental procedures.
“It’s not common that this skull has survived this long.”
Turning 86 in May, Dr. Siess still has a quest to learn and teach. “It’s something my wife and I did together.” His late wife Hazel was office manager and receptionist in their dental practice until they retired in 2000. She passed away in January of 2017. They met before college and married during his junior year of college. They attended school at both Walla Walla University and La Sierra University.
The couple have two sons neither of which continued in the dental profession. He’s proud of the German heritage and tells how his grandfather was a Seventh-day Adventist in Germany that escaped to the United States.
Although a master carpenter, his grandparents were not wealthy and being persecuted for their Christian faith. Dr. Siess tells that in 1902, some activists told his grandparents to buy the most expensive clothing they could afford and go stand in the line at the steam ship to leave the country. “If you looked wealthy, no one would ask questions.”
That’s exactly what happened. The Siesses spent every penny they had on their traveling clothes and boarded without a hitch. They traveled to Canada where they had to borrow $50 to deboard the ship. From Canada, they moved to Wisconsin and started their family in 1904 when Dr. Siess’s father was born.
“The rest is history. Something we are living every day,” he continued. Currently, Dr. Siess spends his days reading and exercising. He plans to come back to a NEWSTART alumni lunch soon. “I’m going to hitch a ride with one of the ladies in my church who also went through the NEWSTART program.”
“Be sure and tell Dr. Gallant and Dr. Lukens that I’ve lost some weight since coming to the NEWSTART program,” he bragged while patting his stomach. Dr. Roger Gallant and Dr. Richard Lukens are medical directors on the staff at Weimar Institute’s NEWSTART program.
Because of the positive, life-changing experience at Weimar Institute, Dr. Siess is pleased to support the educational programs with the gift of the skull. For others who would like to support Weimar Institute with donations or gifts-in-kind, contact the Advancement Department at [email protected] or 530-422-7987.