NCtrend: Hip transplant

 In 2015-06
by Dorothy Foltz-Gray

William Anspach could live anywhere — like an island in the Bahamas, where he and his wife, Kenna, lived for 16 years. But as the Anspachs aged, island life became less attractive. So, the couple bought 400 acres near Burnsville in 2001 and, since 2004, have split their time between North Carolina and Florida. “We have an island in a forest,” says Anspach, 79, who has deeded the land as a permanent wildlife refuge. His relocation proved fortuitous for nearby Mayland Community College, where he has become a generous backer. He’s the major donor for the $2.6 million, 13,000-square-foot Anspach Advanced Manufacturing School, which opened at Mayland’s Burnsville campus in April. Half of its first 30 students (future sessions will have 60) come from local manufacturers such as outboard-engine maker Bombardier Recreational Products and industrial-products maker Altec Industries. Courses include robotics and training on computer-controlled lathes and other machines, and the college owns a 3-D metal printer, a rarity among two-year schools.

Anspach concluded that Mayland, with an enrollment of 1,160 students, needed his money more than his alma mater, Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., which has a $21 billion endowment. In Spruce Pine, where Mayland’s main campus is located, a quarter of the 2,400 residents live in households with income lower than the federal poverty level. “Mayland is one of the top 10 community colleges in America,” says Anspach, referring to a 2010 Washington Monthly ranking based on graduation rates and five other criteria. “Its graduates really perform. But kids here want to go to a university, not a community college. So we created a very sophisticated school for advanced manufacturing.”

Anspach knows manufacturing. As an orthopedic surgeon in 1977, he had a patient who needed a broken hip implant removed. “The hospital agreed to buy a $10,000 surgical tool to help do the job. But I was racing cars at the time and knew how to weld and run a lathe. So, a machinist friend and I built a better tool for about $150 that could cut cobalt-chrome. I saved the hospital a lot of money.”

Anspach’s colleagues at the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgery liked what they saw. “Surgeons at Harvard, Mayo Clinic and Brigham and Women’s Hospital asked me to build them one. I gave them away. I didn’t do it for the money but because it was the right thing to do.” Demand grew, and in 1978, Ans­pach started The Ans­-pach Effort Inc. in his garage, aided by his first wife and three children. The Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.-based company became one of the world’s largest high-speed neurological tool companies. In 2010, Anspach sold it for an undisclosed price to Switzerland-based Synthes Inc., which Johnson & Johnson bought for $19.7 billion in 2012.

“When my brother and I were kids, my dad always had projects in the basement for us,” says Anspach. (His father was a radiologist in Chicago.) “The object was to keep us away from drugs, booze and girls.” The ploy wasn’t entirely successful: Anspach was suspended by three high schools and sent to a Quaker boarding school before getting his academic act together.

“I’ve never forgotten the difficulties I had with academia,” he says. “That’s why we created this school. I want Appalachian kids to have a bright future. To do that, they have to get their hands dirty and work, but they also must have skills. That’s what we’re offering.”

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