Veterinarian Steve Tharp the James Herriot of Wyoming
By Robert Waggener, Editor
Office of Communications and Technology
Worland veterinarian/author Steve Tharp carries on the legacy of veterinarian/author James Herriot but with pronounced Wyoming flavor, stated those who nominated him for a University of Wyoming College of Agriculture and Natural Resources outstanding alumnus award.
Tharp might not have a pen name, but he has a collection of writings, a reputation as an outstanding veterinarian, good humor, and admirable character, just like the late James Alfred Wight, who practiced veterinary medicine in England and became widely known for his semi-autobiographical short stories under the pen name James Herriot.
"Many times while visiting Steve's clinic, I am reminded of the James Herriot series of books beginning with The Lord God Made Them All," stated Worland resident and former state legislator Jane Wostenberg in her nomination letter. "Steve could easily have been the main character in these stories, and I often think of him as the James Herriot of the Big Horn Basin."
Tharp is one of two College of Agriculture outstanding alumni for 2009, and he will be honored during Ag Appreciation Weekend.
Department of Veterinary Sciences Professor Donal O'Toole says, "Steve is something of a Wyoming character. He enlivens veterinary meetings with his wisdom, humor, and common sense. He is an important part of his community, and he plays this part with good humor, generosity, civility, and grace."
When one meets Tharp for the first time, it doesn't take long for the humor to spill out. During this particular conversation, he opened: "Yes, I guess you can call me a 'character,' but I think I have picked that up because I believe we all take ourselves too seriously. I typed in the word 'Woodstock' on YouTube the other day, and here I'm watching these guys on stage really take themselves seriously. They were going to change the world. They believed it; they meant it. They took their music and their social agenda seriously."
Tharp adds, "I wonder how many of them look back and say, 'It was a great idea, but in the end the agenda was bigger than the people behind it?' They now probably get a laugh out of how they dressed and acted."
At the time of Woodstock, Tharp was entering his senior year at the then Manderson-Hyattville High School northeast of Worland. He and his four siblings worked hard on the family ranch, milking cows, tending sheep and hogs, and harvesting crops. That's when he started thinking about becoming a veterinarian.
Tharp enrolled at UW in 1970 and initially took classes seriously. But then he started enjoying the good times.
"I became one of those rabble-rousers on the first floor of Crane Hall. I partied quite a bit," Tharp vividly remembers of his second semester. "Then my dad had a pretty serious talk with me!"
The talk made a difference, says Tharp, who adds, "I connected with something after that, and then I began to perform to my abilities."
Tharp majored in microbiology in the College of Agriculture, and he says it was people like his adviser, Professor E. Lee Belden, who had a major impact on his life. "Dr. Belden did a lot in giving me direction. Oftentimes, it's less about what people say and more about what they do. You watch them in motion and say, 'I wouldn't mind being like him or her.' Those mentor figures do impact us."
Tharp graduated in 1976 with a bachelor's degree in microbiology, figuring the field would open many doors if veterinary medicine wasn't in his cards. "I thought microbiology was like a Baptist baptism - total immersion," he says.
He earned his doctor of veterinary medicine degree from Colorado State University in 1978. He headed straight back to the Big Horn Basin and started working under Worland DVM David Asay.
O'Toole says, "The College of Agriculture produces its fair share of pre-veterinary students who go on to professional school at CSU and beyond. But only a fraction come back to Wyoming since rural practice in small towns is not for everyone. Steve carries on the legacy of James Herriot but with a pronounced Wyoming flavor."
Tharp opened his own clinic in Worland two years later, and he continues to treat both small and large animals, from cats and dogs to cows and horses.
"In times gone by, that was common, but not in today's world," Tharp says. "You have to have a different level of awareness for each and every species."
Tharp describes running a veterinary practice as "endless hours of routine interrupted by brief moments of stark terror. It's like triage - emergency medicine after a quiet day of vaccinating dogs and cats. You learn to wear a lot of different hats."
Tharp says an outstanding staff has made his work easier, and among the employees is wife Bobbie. "She's the office manager, comptroller, accountant, spiritual director, counselor, and parent, and, on the side, she farms. If Bobbie didn't hold me in check, I would probably be some kind of New Age hippie."
Tharp says his career has been rewarding. "It's not what you get from it but who you become through it. I've become more introspective and have been able to not take myself too seriously. I try to put things in perspective and have learned you can stretch yourself a lot further than you thought."
Worland residents Kerry and Glo Clark stated in their nomination letter, "Steve is an astute businessman running an efficient and caring veterinary clinic serving ranchers and pet lovers alike. He is a great employer, challenging his employees to personal growth. And he has mentored many a young, aspiring veterinarian."
One of them is Douglas veterinarian Kenzie Mares, who grew up in Worland, interned for Tharp during high school, and then worked at his veterinary clinic for four years. "He inspired me to become a veterinarian by setting a stellar example, and he also encouraged me to go to UW," she wrote in her nomination letter. "He kindles the flame of the human spirit and evokes positive activity in those around him."
Worland veterinarian Dan Miller notes, "Dr. Tharp is my across-town competitor, yet he is always there for me in terms of professional help and assistance."
Lee Ann Baker, executive director of the Washakie Development Association in Worland, says Tharp is an active community volunteer and a great ambassador of UW.
"Dr. Tharp is a colorful professional in our area who can be counted on to perform a C-section on a heifer, clean up and get to a charity event to be the MC or auctioneer, all on a Saturday night," Baker wrote. "That is, of course, if he is not in Laramie at a Cowboy game."
Tharp participates in the UW Cowboy Joe Club's Steer-A-Year program, is the representative of Washakie County on the UW Alumni Association board, and calls himself an avid Cowboy and Cowgirl fan. He's an officer at-large with the Wyoming Veterinary Medical Association and a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Closer to home, Tharp volunteers with 4-H, FFA, Worland-Ten Sleep Chamber of Commerce, and Special Olympics. He is on the board of Washakie County Public Health, participates in school reading programs, and was this year's speaker at the Worland High School graduation.
"In life, you'll come to a crossroad," Tharp told the graduates. "If you can find a purpose or a passion in your life, you'll be able to fly. There will be no end to what you can accomplish."
Worland residents Terry and Steve Trombley stated in their nomination letter, "One of the things we would want to say about Steve is he is a man of undisputed character. He is completely honest, has an incredible work ethic, and is the first to look for the good in others."
Tharp says he hasn't gotten into the "political foray" yet, but, if he ever does, he will bring one important quality with him.
"I'd like to say that life has taught me to be a person of integrity," he says. "I've learned that your word is your bond, that if you say it, you gotta mean it and you gotta do it."
And, talking of words, some of the nominators stated life has taught Tharp to be a pretty good poet. To see his writings, go to http://tharpveterinaryclinic.com.
"You have to temper life with humor, and this is reflected in the stories," Tharp says. "Otherwise, you just take yourself too seriously."
The Tharp's have two children - Mandy works at the senior center in Worland, and Talon is a master's candidate in counseling at UW.