Dr. John F. Allenburg’s Legacy
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We are saddened to share that on November 23, Dr. John F. Allenburg passed away. His impact on the NWHSU community is immeasurable. He led Northwestern Chiropractic College through challenging times, growing us into the Health Sciences University we are today. He was a valued leader, mentor, and advocate for whole-person care.
Throughout his life, Dr. Allenburg maintained a strong belief that the future of healthcare would be collaborative and focused on the patient. He knew that our graduates—specifically chiropractors, acupuncturists, and massage therapists—would be integral leaders in that future, bringing health and wellness to healthcare.
His Early Career
Dr. Allenburg attended Logan College of Chiropractic at the age of 18 in 1948. He was born and raised in Minneapolis, later moving to Mound, but was unimpressed by Northwestern when he visited, noting a leaky skylight. While at Logan, he also took classes in physiotherapy and diversified technique at Missouri Chiropractic Institute.
He graduated in 1951 with plans to start a practice in Montana, returning home first to marry the only woman he had ever dated: Laurel. They arrived in Billings with $300 in wedding gifts, and he was soon seeing 200 patients a week. Eventually they moved back to Minnesota to be closer to family, and where he ran a successful practice in Minneapolis. He was involved in the local chiropractic association, which is how he connected with Northwestern.
His relationship with Dr. John Wolfe Sr. and Northwestern began in 1964, when Dr. Wolfe called and asked him to teach the practice management class. It didn’t take Dr. Allenburg long to accept. Though he felt he should be satisfied with his busy practice, he wanted to do more.
About a year later Dr. Wolfe asked him to be Clinic Director, first for no pay. He became the third full-time employee of Northwestern. Reminiscing in an oral history interview, Dr. Allenburg laughed, “And I guess that’s how you become president of Northwestern about 35 years later.”
He worked closely with his mentor and friend Dr. Wolfe, serving as Chief Academic Officer until Dr. Wolfe retired in 1984. He then returned to private practice and served as a consultant to other chiropractic institutions.
Dr. Allenburg credits Dr. Wolfe’s mentorship for his ability to become president in 1992.
A Future Facing President
As president, Dr. Allenburg’s approach was future-facing from day one. One of his first actions was to form the Year 2000 Committee, led by Dr. Joseph Sweere. The Committee, which included Dr. Chuck Sawyer, met weekly to discuss what the needs of graduates would be in a decade, and how chiropractors could be a more integral part of the healthcare system.
One of Dr. Allenburg’s greatest legacies is the Community Based Internship program, which is not only still thriving at NWHSU today, but was adopted by nearly every other chiropractic institution in the United States. He also established the first master’s degree in integrative care, and first integrative clinic in a hospital system in partnership with Woodwinds Hospital.
The 1990s were an important time of transition for both the college and the profession, and Dr. Allenburg led strongly with a focus on his vision for the future. He saw that there was a gap in healthcare: no profession was the established leader in health and wellness. He knew chiropractors could fill that gap.
He also saw that universities were the future of education, and that chiropractors weren’t the only providers thinking about care from a whole-person perspective. Under his leadership, Northwestern College of Chiropractic joined with the Minnesota Institute of Acupuncture and Herbal Studies (MIAHS) to become Northwestern Health Sciences University in 1999. In 2000 NWHSU established our School of Massage Therapy, offering certificate and associate degree options.
That same year, NWHSU secured its first federal grants for research in low back and neck pain.
Focusing on his family and the students
Dr. Allenburg retired in 2001 to spend time with his wife Laurel and nine children. Three of those children, and multiple other family members became chiropractors.
Dr. Allenburg remained involved with the university until the end of his life, most recently attending the 80th anniversary celebration where he was honored by Dr. John Wolfe Jr.
Perhaps more than for his accomplishments, Dr. Allenburg will be remembered at NWHSU for the incredible person that he was: mentoring and supporting countless young chiropractors over his years and advancing the field in vital ways.
Never one to be the center of attention, he would want us to focus now on the next generation of practitioners, who will go on to make his vision of healthcare a reality. All of us at NWHSU were honored to be part of Dr. Allenburg’s second family, and his legacy will live on for decades to come.