Amazing Alumni: Dr. Jay K. Childress

man in cowboy hat with a mountain in the background
Dr. Jay Childress in the San Luis Valley. (Provided by Jay Childress)

Dr. Jay Childress graduated from veterinary school over half a century ago. The G.I. Bill from the Korean War funded his education. He spent his career in Monte Vista, Colo., building a family and a practice that are still strong today. His mentorship influenced countless students and young veterinarians.

We tell his story in two voices. One is Dr. Ken Sullins, once a young associate veterinarian in Childress’s practice. Veterinary student Claire Tucker spoke to Sullins from his office at Midwestern University in Glendale, Ariz. (see sidebar, right). The other is Childress himself (below), now 95 years young and still living in Monte Vista. She spoke to Childress from his home there.

“The outside of the horse is good for the inside of the man.”

-Winston Churchill (one of Childress’s favorite quotes)


Early days

“I was born in Butler County, Kentucky in 1922. My grandfather was wealthy, but much of the money was spent on vices instead of investing. Eventually, my family had enough, so we all piled in an open truck and headed west. Ten days later we were in Grand Junction, Colo.

“I met Maudie when I was about 16. I was living in Grand Junction and running the streets with a tough crowd. My father sent me to Meeker to a friend’s ranch – the Ruckman Ranch – telling Mr. Ruckman to work me hard and never let me go into town. They gave me all the milk I could drink, a horse to ride, and shovel to dig ditches. Maudie was Mr. Ruckman’s daughter. After the third year on the ranch, I married her. We were married for 68 years. She passed away recently from Alzheimer’s. There wasn’t a better person in the world than Maudie Childress.”

Black and white aerial photo of CSU campus, circa 1948
Students lived in Quonset huts on campus in the late 1940s. (Provided by Jay Childress)

The road to D.V.M.

“I was in the U.S. Army for about two years during the end of the Korean War, working as a human medical technician. After the war, I got a job at Armour and Company, a meat-packing plant in Denver. The owners of the shop were friends with a veterinarian named Dr. Leonard Peavy. Eventually I went to work for Dr. Peavy, going out on calls with him. Because I quit the job that the Army had set up for me, I suddenly became eligible again for the draft. So I did not have to go back to the Army, Dr. Peavy suggested I go to veterinary school. With my experience as a veterinary technician, in the meat-packing plant, and back home on the Ruckman cattle ranch, I thought this would be a good fit. And I was accepted.”

Being a Ram in 1950

woman in a green coat and man in a leather Western suit in front of a cabin
Dr. Jay Childress and his wife Maudie at their San Luis Valley ranch. (Provided by Jay Childress)

“Maudie and I spent spent the six years in Fort Collins in a Quonset hut on the CSU campus. The huts were like what you would see on a military base and were just across from the veterinary hospital. We were all living on about $150 a month, raising two daughters and supporting my veterinary education. During the summers of my junior and senior year of veterinary school, I worked for Dr. A.G. Wadleigh in Monte Vista, Colo. He offered me a full-time position after I graduated, so I moved my whole family – my wife and both girls – down to the San Luis Valley in 1952.”

Life in the Valley

“I made $250 a month working with Dr. Wadleigh, eventually scraping enough together to get a Plymouth coup. The practice started out in an old brick barn that was as cold as anything. We would be doing C-sections at twenty below zero. But I quickly learned to love the work in Monte Vista and people seemed to like me too. There were sheep and goats and cattle on every property in the county. Now it’s just a lot of potatoes and beer barley.

“We also had a good small animal practice. We did a lot of spay and neuter, a lot of vaccinations, a lot of porcupine quill removal. I also helped out the stray animal populations in Monte Vista. We had a pen out back where we would care for them. When I retired, the city officials came to me and lamented that no one was doing stray animal control. So I decided to build an animal shelter for Monte Vista. Since then, the shelter (now owned by the city in Monte Vista) has been in operation and I am proud of that.”

Changes over 50 years

“Veterinary medicine has really changed as a profession since I started practicing. Everything is computerized. I remember our practice getting an x-ray machine, a sterilizer, really the cornerstones of modern medicine today. It was exciting to see our standard of care evolve with those purchases. The technique, surgical and medical, has improved so much. Veterinarians today are so much better trained. I talk to these young vets who are so far ahead of me. I like to see the profession grow like that. I don’t keep up with it any more. I just tend to my cows and enjoy my ranch.”

man in hip waders holding a pole in some water
Dr. Jay Childress at his San Luis Valley ranch. (Provided by Jay Childress)

A mentor to many

“I helped many veterinarians come up through the ranks. Each summer I would hire a student veterinarian and trained many small animal veterinarians. Dr. Ken Sullins came on as a large animal associate in the 1970’s. Dr. Sullins is a very intelligent person. He’s a good person and a good vet. Anything he says is probably alright.”

Beyond veterinary medicine

“After I sold the practice, I built my own house right on the river. I love living in the San Luis Valley. I live on 160 acres on the river. I’ve lived here for a long time and I’ll live here until I die. I had 16 head of horses once, including a good pack horse and good saddle horse. We would go up in the hills on them, sometimes four or five days in a row, fishing and camping in this beautiful country. I have two beautiful daughters. One has a master’s in education and one is a nurse. They are my joy and I love them. Maudie would be proud.”

Dr. Ken Sullins, ’76, speaks about his mentor

“I met the Childress family the summer after my first year of engineering school at Colorado School of Mines. We became close, and have remained so. Dr. Childress truly changed my life. His passion for family and veterinary medicine and my respect for the man drove me through veterinary school. Knowing I had his support meant everything.

“After veterinary school, I went to work with him. I remember  that he would work on anything. The sheep chewed up by dogs would be in the back of the hospital and the dogs that had been shot for doing the chewing would be in the front. Dr. Childress would make sure that those clients did not meet in the parking lot!

“We did a lot of cattle work – dystocia, calf scours, C-sections in barns when it was twenty degrees below zero. Things that should make us all appreciate what we have now. During my first days in his practice (ink on diploma still wet) he left the practice with me and went out of town. I cringed with every ring of the phone hoping it wasn’t a bunch of dead cattle. Leaving to eventually go into equine surgery was difficult. Being close after all this time is among the most important things in my life.

“Dr. Childress is a veterinarian from two generations ago. Things were done differently back then. They were self-sufficient. There was no place to refer anything, and if there was, the clients probably could not afford it. Just making that schedule and lifestyle work, you have to have a lot of respect for that. I use what I learned then every day. We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.”