Dr. Gerald (Jerry) Edwin Bisgard passed away at the age of 85 at the University of
Jerry was born and grew up in Denver, Colorado, with a 3-year stint in Austin, Texas, where his
father served in the U.S. Army Dental Corps during WWII at Camp Swift Army Base. The oldest
boy of four children, he delighted in helping his grandfather on the farm and skiing and fishing in
the Rocky Mountains. He began his long love affair with cars when his Uncle Bic offered him a
1931 Chevrolet Coupe if he could get it running. He spent $3 on a spare part and had his first set
of wheels. During his lifetime, he owned 22 cars.
He received his Bachelor of Science degree in 1959 and his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in
1962 from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. In 1958, while sitting on the
veranda with two other Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity brothers, Shary Cummings walked by with
some friends. Jerry called out to them asking if they would all like to go downtown for a beer. Jerry
and Shary married in 1961.
Jerry joined the faculty of the School of Veterinary Medicine at Purdue University in West
Lafayette, Indiana, in 1962. He practiced small animal medicine at Purdue for six years while also
completing a master’s degree. Jerry received his PhD from the Department of Veterinary Science
at the University of Wisconsin in 1971 and joined the UW-Madison faculty as an assistant
professor that same year, becoming a professor in 1977.
As the inaugural chair of the Department of Comparative Biosciences in the School of Veterinary
Medicine when the school opened in 1983, Jerry was instrumental in building an exceptional and
supportive departmental culture, a culture that radiated to the entire School of Veterinary
Medicine. He and a small group of other senior faculty recruited young scientists, and established
a mentoring system literally decades ahead of its time. His role in fostering the careers of these
beginning faculty enabled each-and-every-one to achieve success in research, teaching, and
service to the University. To those fortunate enough to start as faculty members in “Jerry’s
Department,” his generosity and commitment live on, and this legacy remains one of the defining
and proudest features of “his department.”
As a researcher, Jerry made extensive contributions to science. His discoveries concerning how
animals adjust breathing to compensate for high altitude (known as ventilatory acclimatization),
are now textbook knowledge. By the end of his active research career, Jerry had published 150
papers in highly respected scientific journals, and the cumulation of his work had been recognized
by receipt of the American Veterinary Medical Association Lifetime Excellence in Research Award
in 2010 and a highly prestigious MERIT award from the National Institutes of Health from 1987-
1997. As a professor teaching physiology to veterinary medical students, he was well liked, even
though his exams were challenging.
Their first child, Jennifer Lynn, was born on Jerry’s 25th birthday in 1962. She was followed by
Kristine Marie in 1964 and Bradley Allen in 1967.
Jerry and his dear friend, Fred Arnold, became avid sailors, co-owning several sailboats and
enjoying sailing with their wives, Shary and Barb, all over the world. Jerry was always interested in photography and this became a passion after retirement. Wintering in Arizona, he spent much of his time photographing the natural landscape, winning several awards with his photographs taken there and in yearly trips to South Africa. Like most Wisconsinites, he was an avid fan of the Badgers, Packers, and Brewers.
Jerry is survived by his wife of 61 years, Shary; his children, Jennifer (Marc), Kristine (Dan), Bradley (Carrie); and their six grandchildren, Patrick, Leia, Erik, Jake, Dylan, and Thomas. He is also survived by his brothers, Robert (Sue) and Randy (Paula); his nieces, Carrie, Katie, Anna, and Jackie; and nephews, Chris and Jeff. He is predeceased by his parents, Harry and Lucile Bisgard and his sister, Kay.
The family very much appreciates the excellent care provided by UW hospital staff. A celebration of Jerry’s life will be held on Friday, October 21 at 12:00, both in person and online, at the Madison Club, 5 East Wilson Street. Condolences and registering for the service can be done at www.buzztech.com/rsvp. Memorials can be made online at www.supportuw.org/giveto/svmBisgard or via check made payable to “UW Foundation-Dr. Gerald E. Bisgard Veterinary Medical Research Fund 132840118” and mailed to: UW Foundation, U.S. Bank Lockbox, Box 78807, Milwaukee WI 53278.