Vet Steve Tharp the James Herriot of WyomingWritten by University of Wyoming
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,” states 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.”
UW Department of Veterinary Sciences Professor Donal O’Toole adds, “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 opens: “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 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 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 with honors 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.”
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.
Some of the nominators say 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 Tharps have two children – Mandy works at the senior center in Worland and Talon is a master’s candidate in counseling at UW.
Article courtesy of the University of Wyoming College of Agriculture.