All in a Day’s Work

Dr. Byron Vreeland doesn’t waste a minute in making the most of life.

BY SHARI ROAN / PHOTOGRAPHED BY MATTHEW SMITH

On a typical day, retired dentist Byron Vreeland, DDS, can be found somewhere on his sprawling compound in the Beverly Glen Canyon, clearing brush, chopping wood or shoring up hillsides. At 85, he hasn’t slowed down a bit, preferring to walk his beloved land or aim his bulldozer up a dirt road. In quieter moments at home, however, he has begun to prepare his estate for the end of his life, noting that it’s the responsible thing to do at his age. His careful estate planning includes his recent decision to earmark a gift to the Saint John’s Health Center Foundation. Dr. Vreeland has specified in his estate plans that the gift should benefit the emergency department at Providence Saint John’s Health Center. “I’ve been taken to that emergency department a couple of times,” Dr. Vreeland says with a chuckle. “Saint John’s is a great hospital. I was never married and didn’t have children. I want to leave what I have to where it will make the most difference. There is nothing more important than a community’s hospital.” Dr. Vreeland’s gift to the emergency department will benefit patients for many years to come, says Russ Kino, MD, medical director of emergency services and chief medical informatics officer at Saint John’s. “We in the emergency department are so grateful to this remarkable man,” Dr. Kino says. “It’s a fitting and wonderful legacy that matches his exceptional life story, which I have been so privileged to know through a friendship that I have been blessed to share with him. His humble, understated, principled and humorous approach to life belies his adventurous and fearless spirit that has culminated in exceptional personal and professional achievements.” Such philanthropy, Dr. Kino adds, “allows us to go above and beyond to deliver exceptional care so that we don’t just meet the goals for safety, quality and patient satisfaction but surpass them for our patients’ benefit.” Dr. Vreeland’s rich and full life has given him a unique perspective on the joy of helping others. He was born at the old Santa Monica Hospital and grew up on the Westside. When he was 14, he learned blacksmithing in his uncle’s shop. Two years later, his father, who was studio chief at Hal Roach Studios, gave him a job building set construction. Dr. Vreeland worked at the studio for 12 years while attending UCLA followed by the University of Southern California School of Dentistry. He established a dental practice in Beverly Hills—closing his practice for a few years after he was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War. “My dad got me into a studio to work in carpentry,” he says. “I loved working with my hands. Dentistry is a version of that. I always enjoyed helping people out. They were so grateful when I did something to change their life.” After completing military service, he returned to dentistry part-time and also entered the home construction business. His love of unique architecture led to interests in stained glass windows, leaded glass lamps and, later, bohemian pottery.

“They’re just terrific people at Saint John’s. It’s a big family.”

“The first Tiffany lamp I bought was very expensive, and I wondered if I really could afford it. This was way back in the ’60s,” he recalls. “But the seller told me that these lamps are a constant source of pleasure. That is the truth of the matter.” Dr. Vreeland, who also is a concert-level pianist who learned the instrument from his mother beginning at age 4, ultimately became an art collector and an associate at United Arts and Antiques in Beverly Hills, owned by Don O’Neill. The gallery was a major importer of art nouveau objects. Dr. Vreeland eventually joined another Beverly Hills gallery. Today, he is in the process of liquidating his personal collection to organize and plan his estate. It’s a labor of love. Philanthropy brings him great satisfaction, Dr. Vreeland says. “I’m so happy to do it,” he says. “I’ve met with Dr. Kino a couple of times, and they are so grateful for the gift. They’re just terrific people at Saint John’s. It’s a big family.”

The emergency room family at Saint John’s will use the gift thoughtfully and with patient care and comfort foremost in mind, says Andy Trilling, vice president of legacy and principal gifts at Saint John’s Health Center Foundation. “The gift is a powerful testament to the great care Dr. Kino and the entire Saint John’s team give their patients,” he says. “We are truly grateful to Dr. Vreeland for his visionary philanthropy and for sharing his future estate plans with us. We appreciate knowing of Dr. Vreeland’s wishes to support the incredible work of the emergency department in advance, which enables Saint John’s to plan strategically for the future and to recognize his generosity during his lifetime.”

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