Palmer Proud Magazine

Dr. Dave’s Daring Decisions

Dr. David Palmer at Homecoming in 1969

Dr. David Palmer speaking at Homecoming in 1969.

David Daniel Palmer, D.C. sat at the desk he assumed after the passing of his father, B.J. Palmer, D.C., in 1961.

He leaned back in his chair, deep in thought, considering solutions.

The mantle of Palmer College —and the profession— rested on his shoulders. Dr. Dave knew that the months and years ahead would require leadership, professionalism and integrity, values that would forever leave an indelible imprint on the profession started by his grandfather more than six decades earlier.

The school he now led needed a vision for the future. And it was up to Dr. Dave to create it.

Known today as “The Educator” of chiropractic, Dr. Dave was also an adept businessman—skills he gained as a student at the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton School of Finance and Commerce. Making the leap from the Quad Cities to the East Coast was a risk Dr. Dave took years earlier that paid dividends for decades to come.

At the time, Palmer was a school for chiropractic that also ran a printing press, a sanitorium for mentally disturbed patients, and a variety of expanded business interests. All were enterprises originally started to serve the interests of the college; however, over time each of these enterprises had expanded to community interests well beyond the chiropractic mission of education and patient care that the school was founded on.

As he contemplated what the future of the school would look like, just down the hall of the administrative building, Fred Edwards was hard at work in the Palmer School of Chiropractic Printery. Dr. Dave’s father B.J. had often boasted it was “the prettiest printing plant in America.” And it sure was pretty, decorated with plaster busts of the world’s greatest philosophers and writers—from Mark Twain to William Shakespeare. There were beautiful plants and ferns hanging from the ceiling, and canaries sang over the noise of the presses.

That printing press—operated by the school—was not only stunning, but also operating at a net loss of approximately $50,000 every year (equivalent to $430,000 today). Edwards didn’t have the authority to screen who received printing and who didn’t, and how the request supported student learning, so orders were taken with no attention to quantities or overruns. Paper costs continued to rise. The pressmen were unionized—and their contracts showed the cost of labor increasing with every press job.

“I had to determine in my own mind a philosophical point—was the printing plant worth keeping… or should I close it down, and realize some cash by selling the presses?” Dr. Dave recalled. “It was money that could be used for our real purpose—chiropractic education.”

He leaned back in his chair some more. He contemplated Palmer’s needs. He pictured the future.

And he made a daring decision: to use the needs of Palmer chiropractic students and their learning as the lens for all college decisions moving forward.

Soon the printing press, as well as other non-chiropractic initiatives that were operated at the school, were closed down. His decision was made for the sake of a quality education.

“I can’t say I was the most popular person at this time, but every employee and those in the community saw a new force at work in the school,” Dr. Dave said.

A new force, and a new focus: to become The Trusted Leader in Chiropractic Education.

Dr. Dave contemplated other ideas to propel the school forward, even considering issuing Gold Bond notes to alumni of the school that would pay the bearer the original sum—plus interest—10 years later. The idea had originated years earlier, when loyal graduates purchased similar notes solely on the basis of their trust in B.J. Palmer, and their loyalty to the school and the chiropractic principles it taught. When the notes came due, however, it was a threat to the school’s survival, Dr. Dave recalled. At the time, the school wasn’t in a place to pay back the notes.

Alumni were asked to donate the notes to the school. Many of them did, becoming the first donors on record at Palmer. It turned out to be one of the first of many shared initiatives between Dr. Dave and  the alumni of Palmer College.

It was Dr. Dave’s vision to serve the students— and his relentless pursuit to champion chiropractic— that eventually contributed to the school’s growth. It also drove a landmark change, from a for-profit institution to a nonprofit college. The change would alter the trajectory of chiropractic education forever.

“This was a rather formidable task,” Dr. Dave wrote, made possible by “the most eminent tax attorney in the country, Richard Braunstein.”

“That overstates my contribution,” Braunstein says from his home in the Washington, D.C. area. He was first introduced to Dr. Dave when he joined the law firm of Dow, Lohnes & Albertson in 1960. One of his first responsibilities was to travel to Davenport, Iowa, to meet with Dr. Dave and the school’s local attorney, R. Richard Bittner. The visit and subsequent work, Braunstein recalls, was one of his proudest moments early in his career.

“I got there and was shown to Dr. Dave’s office, a beautiful suite” that was located in the new broadcasting building that had been built next to the chiropractic school. He waited and waited for Dr. Dave, and finally asked where he was.

“He doesn’t really come here,” a receptionist said. “He’s across the street at the College—that’s his apparent love and that’s where you’ll find him.”

Braunstein eventually did find Dr. Dave, who was very gracious and welcoming to the young lawyer. Dr. Dave spoke with passion— the love he had for the school was quickly evident to Braunstein. It was also clear that there were difficulties to address, and a way forward for this institution. Dr. Dave knew something had to be done, Braunstein recalled, but wasn’t quite sure how to go about it.
“I recognized it was a private institution started by Dr. Dave’s family, and was solely being supported by them,” he says.

“You know,” he said to Dr. Dave at the time, “it doesn’t make sense for you to be the sole supporter of this institution. If it’s going to grow, I suggest we convert it into a nonprofit.”

The work of Braunstein, fellow attorney Bernie Long, and Bittner to convert the school to a nonprofit also played an important role in garnering the school’s accreditation—the first chiropractic school in the world to earn the distinction. (The moment, coincidentally, in the College’s history was one Dr. Dave long chased throughout his tenure as president— but one that alluded him when he passed away in 1978. His dream came to fruition just one year later, when Palmer College was accredited by the Council on Chiropractic Education in 1979 and by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools in 1984.)

Both Braunstein and Long, to this day, have the highest regard for the daring decisions Dr. Dave made at this critical point in Palmer’s history. He saved the school, and perhaps even the profession.

“He was one of the most decent human beings I have ever met,” Long says. “He was smart, and he knew right away that if he was going to grow the College and the profession to what it inevitably has become today, it would need to become a nonprofit.”

He paused for a moment. “Dr. Dave wanted to make the College permanent. I’m not sure he ever could have imagined it would have exploded into the place it is today.”

“You know, Dr. Dave was a visionary,” Long adds. “And his vision was correct. He was able to turn the school around and legitimize chiropractic as part of health care. He truly created chiropractic as a profession.”

Together, Dr. Dave, Bittner, Braunstein, and Long not only preserved the tradition and identity of Palmer, but also ushered in a new chapter for the first chiropractic school in the world. Soon, a championship rugby team was gaining notoriety nationally, a marketing plan was rallying chiropractors and patients alike, donations were being made by alumni, and grants were being awarded by large foundations like Ford and Kellogg. Today, more than 21,406 individuals and foundations have made a financial gift to Palmer College since its inception as a nonprofit. The College’s endowment has grown to $60,047,130*, among the largest of any chiropractic college in the world.

“I’m reminded of the statement made by the astronaut who took the first step on the moon,” Dr. Dave wrote in his memoir. “‘A giant step for mankind.’ I felt, in my humble way, this was a giant step for Palmer College and our nonprofit growth potential. Whatever the project at any given time, I poured my
heart and strength into each and every one.


Purchase your copy of the The Palmers from the college Bookstore.

This story was developed from the first-person accounts of David Daniel Palmer, D.C., as well as interviews with Richard Braunstein and Bernie Long conducted by Roger Hynes, D.C., Palmer College’s resident historian, in 2019. Special thanks to Vickie Anne Palmer for her guidance and stories about her father, Dr. Dave.

*As of April 10, 2020

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