Where are they Now?

  • Feature   Wed, Aug 11th, 2021   Nancy Silcox

The feature “Where are they Now?” profiles a number of Wilmot and Wellesley born and raised residents who have made their mark on the world far outside the Townships’ borders. The first features New Hamburg’s Dr. Stacey Ritz.
As far back as she can remember, Stacey Ritz wanted to be a family doctor. And folks who knew and admired the whip-smart, head-firmly- set-on-her-shoulders New Hamburg resident and Waterloo-Oxford graduate saw no earthly reason why Stacey wouldn’t, and couldn’t, achieve her lofty goal.
Neither did she! So initially being turned down for admission to medical school after her graduation from McMaster University hit her hard.
Picking up the pieces, she planned to try again in a year’s time. As a then backup plan, she turned her attention to medical research.
Working with respected McMaster immunologist Dr. Manel Jordana, Research Assistant Stacey Ritz filled her heady days digging deep into asthma—specifically how a certain virus could inhibit the development of the condition.
The research was fascinating and valuable, and she soon began to question whether practicing family medicine was really the route she was intended to go.
“Failing to get accepted into Medical School forced me to look for the first time outside what I’d thought I wanted since I was a kid,” she admitted.
In 1997, she traded in the stethoscope for the microscope and began Doctoral Studies in Immunology at McMaster University. A hard-slogging six years later, the “Dr.” prefix she could now add to her name was a Ph.D. in Immunology.
A year’s post-doctoral work at UCLA in California convinced her that she saw her future north of the border. In 2005, she accepted a faculty position at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine at Laurentian University (NOSM) in Sudbury.
The small town feel of Sudbury suited Stacey and her partner, Scott Neigh, just fine for raising their son Liam, born in 2003. Always an outdoor enthusiast, camper and canoeist, Dr. Stacey Ritz loved the wide open spaces of her new home. Her “indoor job” saw her helping to build Ontario’s northern medical facility from the ground up.
So the 2015 offer to take the position of Associate Dean of the Bachelor of Health Sciences program at McMaster University in Hamilton was done with considerable contemplation. “It wasn’t an easy choice to make,” she admitted.
Still, returning to southern Ontario meant keeping closer touch with her family and Scott’s, most still living in Wilmot and Wellesley. Of special joy was spending more time with her beloved grandfather Ernie Ritz.
“He is the absolute paradigm of what it is to be a self-directed learner,” Stacey says. The Ritz-Neigh family were delighted to be part of Grandpa Ernie’s recent 90th birthday celebrations.
Today, research remains an integral part of Dr. Stacey Ritz’ role at McMaster’s Faculty of Medicine. A self-avowed feminist since her Waterloo-Oxford days, her current work addresses sex/gender bias in biomedical research.
But a love of teaching medical students has recently led her to complete a Master of Education degree through the University of Western Ontario. In addition to her administrative duties as Associate Dean at McMaster’s Bachelor of Health Science program, she teaches an undergraduate Sex, Gender and Health Studies class.
But play along with hard work keeps the academic pressures at bay for Dr. Stacey Ritz. A member of Waterloo-Oxford’s trophy winning Reach for the Top team, Stacey proudly remains a “trivia-geek.”
Among her non-academic achievements, she names, high on the list, making the cut in an audition for TV’s Jeopardy. Like other W-O “Reachers,” she was also rooting for former W-O team member, Tavistock’s Scott Shewfelt who recently appeared on the show, winning over $50,000 US.
A resident of Hamilton now for seven years, Dr. Stacey Ritz is content with city life but needs to keep “country” close, too.
A recent Facebook post sees her celebrating the birth of several Swallowtail butterflies in the Ritz-Neigh garden, nurtured from caterpillar to pupa to flying free.
“I planted milkweed and bee balm and perennial sage in my garden to attract butterflies,” she crowed — tender care and nurturing paid off. Once a scientist, always a scientist!
And does Stacey Ritz keep in touch with her beloved Wilmot? Most certainly, she does — if not in person, then in print.
“I’m just loving The Wilmot Post,” she announced, “and I look forward to reading it every week.”