Dr. Wentz & The History of Sanoviv
AN URGENT SENSE OF MISSION
by Steve Osborne
It began near the end of high school with a mother’s plaintive statement of confidence.
“I wish you had been born earlier,” said Bertha Wentz to her son Myron, who had just announced his intention to go into medical science. “You could have done something to allow your father to live longer.”
All great contributions to humanity are born of powerful, motivating desires. For young Myron Wentz, the driving force of a lifetime was defined at that moment.
“My father died when I was 17,” recalls Dr. Wentz, founder and president of USANA. “It was one of the most traumatic events in my life. I so much wanted his approval and I may, in a sense, be compensating for his loss even today. And yet, like other teenagers, I felt I hadn’t taken enough time for him. When he died, of course, it was too late. I think that put a mark on me-that I was denied a father at a young age.”
That mark, difficult though it was to bear, was the catalyst for a lifetime of work and innovations in the field of human health and nutrition-ongoing advances are benefiting growing numbers of men, women, and children throughout the world.
The Roots of a Productive Life
Although his father was taken from him while still in high school, Dr. Wentz enjoyed an upbringing that many would consider ideal.
“I benefited from a very loving home,” he says, pointing out that his parents purposely spaced the births of their three boys years apart in order to give each of them their full attention during the crucial formative years. “Marvin is 14 years older than I am, and Charles was seven or eight years older. It was like having three ‘only children.’ I got a lot of attention as a child. My parents were very devoted to each other and to us.”
Born in 1940, Dr. Wentz grew up in Napoleon, North Dakota, a small rural town of about 1,000 people. His father, Adam, and his mother, Bertha, were of German descent. They had been raised in the environs of Napoleon and both came from families of 12 brothers and sisters. Each of their families had left Germany to settle in southern Russia several generations earlier when the Czars were encouraging German farmers to move into that part of their empire. The family stayed there until the rising threat of Russian nationalism convinced them to pack up and leave. They arrived in America and settled in North Dakota just before the turn of the century.
“These people preserved all their German culture, their food, and even their language throughout their sojourn in Russia and even after they arrived here,” says Dr. Wentz. “I remember well the German dialect my grandparents spoke when I was a child.”
While his industrious ancestors brought very little Russian influence to America, Dr. Wentz confesses to having a strong feeling for the Russian people-a feeling that has motivated him to fund medical research in Moscow and to engage Russian scientists to further his nutritional work at USANA.
Like almost everyone else in that area of North Dakota in those days, Dr. Wentz’s father was a farmer. But unlike most of his contemporaries, Adam Wentz was also a businessman. “He wasn’t content to just farm,” explains his son, “so he and one of his younger brothers created some businesses. They started a hardware store and a furniture store, and they bought a John Deere implement shop and a Ford dealership.”
Because of these businesses, the Wentz family moved from their outlying farm to a home in town about six years before Myron was born. They were considered “sidewalk farmers” because they lived in Napoleon and farmed outside of town. The home was modest, and like many others in the community at that time, did not have running water or indoor plumbing.
The life of young Myron Wentz was happy, though not exceptional. “He was a serious boy,” says his older brother, Marvin, “but he knew how to have a good time. He wasn’t a star athlete, but he loved to play sports and lettered in all the high school sports. He was always into music, played in the band and sang in the choir. He has a wonderful voice.”
The restless energy and high activity level that would be characteristic of later years was already evident. In addition to music and sports, he served as a class officer every year and was an editor of the yearbook.
Marvin Wentz: “He wasn’t an outstanding student in early grade school, but excelled in high school and when he graduated from college he got serious about doing something great.” In recent years Dr. Wentz has been honored by his high school as Alumnus of the Year and by the University of North Dakota with their highest honor.
Bertha Wentz was a very religious person, and she made sure that her sons went to church every Sunday and to other special meetings. In fact, she wanted Myron to become a minister. The family attended an evangelical church in the area. As a boy, Myron was sent to church camps every summer and was active as a Boy Scout leader.
It was a comfortable life in a loving home with good examples to follow. “My father was highly regarded as a man of generosity and compassion,” states Dr. Wentz. “I remember, even years, later when I would go home from college to go duck hunting or whatever. When I would stop by a farm or a store, all I had to do was say I was Adam Wentz’s son and they would roll out the red carpet for me. It seemed that everybody in that area had been the recipient of my father’s help or generosity, or they simply had a great deal of admiration and respect for him.”
“I think that made it even harder to lose him at such a young age. He died at 57 from heart disease. But as far back as I can remember he suffered from heart disease, having to go to hospitals and long-term care facilities.”
Dr. Wentz saw degenerative diseases claim other members of his family. With only a few exceptions, he watched cancer and heart disease claim his many aunts and uncles on both sides of his family. Even his mother had her challenges. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in her 60′s and went through surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. “She was a fighter, though-a real survivor,” says Dr. Wentz, “She wasn’t about to let cancer and its therapies kill her early.” Cancer took a further toll on the family when it claimed his older brother Charles, at age 66. “Degenerative disease is definitely a problem in my family,” he states.
Meeting the Challenge Head-On
Different people handle problems in different ways. Some surrender to them. Others deny or hide from them. And then there are those who make a personal commitment to fight their problems and to beat them. Dr. Myron Wentz is one of the latter. He made it his life’s work to meet degenerative diseases head-on and do everything in his power to conquer them.
He attended North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and pre-med in 1963.
“It seems that most of my fellow students went into pre-med programs and then on to medical school,” he recalls. “It was the thing to do. But I am not a me-too person. I decided that I was going to do something that was, in my opinion, better. Rather than going the route of medical school and being a front-office practitioner, I wanted to create scientific solutions-to provide the tools for medicine, rather than just use them.”
Having decided not to go to medical school, he took a year off to map out the best path to reach his goal. During that time he worked as a microbiologist and decided that he wanted to pursue the study of infectious diseases. “So I enrolled in the graduate school at the University of North Dakota, got a part-time job as a bacteriologist, and earned a master’s degree in microbiology.”
“Back at the turn of the 20th century, the five leading causes of death were all infectious diseases,” says Dr. Wentz.” The epidemic of degenerative diseases has developed throughout this century.”
From there, the aspiring student-now married to his college sweetheart, Jackie-went on to pursue a Ph.D. in microbiology at the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City. He chose this school because he was interested in immunology, and it boasted one of the strongest immunology departments in the country. Also, he was accepted to study under a renowned professor in his field.
After earning his Ph.D. in microbiology, with a specialty in immunology (his dissertation was on tumor immunology), Dr. Wentz joined a pathology group in Peoria, Illinois. “Although my curriculum had included all the medical courses, it was unusual at that time for a Ph.D. in the medical sciences to be a partner in an M.D. group,” he recounts. He served as the infectious disease expert for the group, directing all the microbiology and immunology lab work for three hospital laboratories in the Peoria area.
A Necessary Turn in the Journey
After three years with the group, Dr. Wentz saw an opportunity to make a deeper contribution to medical science. There were only two viral diseases at that time -hepatitis and rubella-whose diagnoses could be confirmed in the laboratory, so he decided to try his hand at developing diagnostic tests for the many other viral infections. He hoped that such tests could be completed and reported to clinicians before their patients left the hospitals-much more rapidly than was then the standard practice.
He left the pathology group in Peoria and returned to Salt Lake City, Utah, where a fully-equipped laboratory with cell culture facilities stood vacant. “I sold everything I owned,” he says, “got a $40,000 SBA loan, and bought the equipment needed to develop viral diagnostics. I knew that the large pharmaceutical firms had been attempting for years to do the same thing that I was trying to do, but for some reason they had fumbled the ball. I decided that I would grow all the viruses of diagnostic importance to man and prepare test systems for those viral diseases. And that’s what I did.”
Dr. Wentz launched Gull Laboratories in September 1974 as a one-man operation. By June 1977, just over two and a half years later, several of his viral diagnostic assays were FDA-approved and ready for sale.
He decided to focus on the herpes viruses first, and developed assays for several of them. “Those were the first such products on the market,” he explains. “But the one that stole the show was the assay for the Epstein-Barr virus. The world-especially Europe-was waiting for that assay, and it made the company a tremendous success. Even though I had developed over 30 diagnostic tests, the Epstein-Barr virus assay was the one that I became known for in medical diagnostics. It was a test that nobody could duplicate, and to this day it remains the gold standard for diagnosing the virus.”
USANA Is Born
Some years later Dr. Wentz felt strongly that it was now time for him to throw himself completely into the fight against degenerative diseases. The fact that his own health seemed to be deteriorating under the stress and pressure of his work cemented his resolve. He sold the controlling interest in Gull Laboratories to a large German medical products firm for $21.7 million.
In 1992, armed with a unique depth of cell culture expertise, as well as a strong belief in the importance of cellular nutrition, Dr. Wentz created USANA and its now-famous family of nutritional products.
In a world of pharmaceutical and surgical “solutions” to cancer, heart problems, and other degenerative diseases, why did he choose nutrition as the weapon with which to confront the giant? “I became convinced that the single most effective thing we could do to prevent and even reverse degenerative disease was to give our bodies proper nutrition,” he explains. “To resolve the essential nutrient deficiencies of our modern diet and counteract the free radical damage from our toxic environment that is overwhelming our antioxidant defense systems.”
That same realization has come to many people based on many different levels of understanding. But Dr. Wentz’s insights into nutrition came from the most basic level of all: the individual human cell.
“In order to develop the best viral assays for Gull, I had to develop the best viral antigens,” he states. “But viruses need host cells to reproduce. You can’t grow good viruses unless you can grow healthy, fully functioning cells. I found that by giving human cells proper nutrition, I could keep cells healthy indefinitely, with no evidence of degeneration or disease. Through nutrition, I could even restore health to damaged or degenerated cells.”
Dr. Wentz’s work in developing a refined nutritional system to keep laboratory cells healthy led him to a firm conviction: “The principles of good nutrition are universal. If we can “nutrient” the human body in a comprehensive way-on a daily basis-with the full spectrum of essential nutrients in the right forms, amounts, and in the proper balance, we can sustain long-term health and effectively avoid degenerative disease. Health, after all, must begin at the cellular level.”
Never has optimal nutrition been more critically important than in today’s society. “In fact,” he states, “the skyrocketing amounts of free radicals that are being generated from the toxins that we have created in this century-the synthetic chemicals, drugs, pollutants, stress, and so on-are overpowering our dietary sources and innate production of antioxidants. The body’s antioxidant systems cannot stop the chain-reaction of excessive free radical activity that barrages it day in and day out.
“That’s why we need better nutrition than our grandparents and our parents had. We need doses of natural, dietary antioxidants that are far larger than what the government has established as recommended daily amounts. We need supplements because our bodies require more of these nutrients than we could possibly get in our foods. When I introduced the USANA nutritionals, other medical and nutritional scientists told me I was extremist-they thought the megadose amounts in the formulas would be toxic. After just a few years, and seeing the results, those scientists now agree I was right.”
The phenomenal growth of USANA-not to mention the rapidly growing family of people who claim that its products have changed their lives-stand as witnesses to the verity of Dr. Wentz’s ideas and to the effectiveness of the nutritional tools he has brought to the world.
Sanoviv: A Bold New Step Forward
In his quest to improve the health of as many people as possible, Dr. Wentz realized that he needed to continue advancing the field of nutrition and to accelerate the world’s understanding and acceptance of the importance of nutrition. He experimented in integrative medicine that brings conventional and alternative medical practitioners together into an intelligent, effective continuum of care that acknowledges the vital role of good nutrition.
Taking this concept one giant step further, Dr. Wentz created Sanoviv, his crown jewel. This sparkling new total wellness center perches like a white dove above one of the world’s most inviting ocean bays. Located just south of Rosarito Beach, Mexico, Sanoviv is built on the site of the former Levi Strauss mansion.
From top to bottom, Sanoviv is Dr. Wentz’s financial and spiritual creation. “Sanoviv is a model research, education, and clinical facility, where selected people with different disease entities can be studied and helped in a very controlled environment,” he states. The government of Mexico agrees, seeing Sanoviv as an example of the forward-looking medicine they want to encourage in their country.
“I believe this place will enable us to uncover many of the answers that we need to prevent and reverse degenerative disease in the world today” says Dr. Wentz. “Nutrition is our primary foundation. But we are also learning how to properly detoxify our bodies from all the toxic substances we’ve accumulated throughout our lifetimes.”
“I’m confident that Sanoviv will become a place for health and healing like no other. I’m engaging the best scientists and practitioners to help me unlock the mysteries, help me to find the answers that we need to combat all forms of degenerative diseases, using cancer as our most challenging objective.”
Excellence Is in the Details
Dr. Wentz is a detail man. Nowhere is this more apparent than at Sanoviv. Because he insisted on creating a non-toxic environment, he did something that many people who know him consider to be very “Wentz-like:” He demanded nothing but the best to accomplish his objective. He insisted on non-toxic technologies and building materials for this special retreat- carpeting, paints, fabrics, electrical insulation, water purification . . . everything needed to build the facility, right down to the adhesives used to glue the laminates. He even engaged two furniture manufacturing companies to custom-build the furniture and woodwork that would meet his uncompromising standards.
“He has an eye for details,” says Dr. John McDonald, USANA’s Senior Scientist, whose association with Dr. Wentz dates back to graduate school. “He used to sign all purchase orders. He did that until USANA was at least a year old and it got too big to do that anymore. You might think of that as being quirky, but he created Gull Laboratories from the ground up. He was careful and exacting.”
Peter Van Duser, a senior technical writer at USANA, has written for Dr. Wentz for years. “He’s a very hands-on guy,” he agrees. “When I get involved helping him write speeches or articles, he is concerned about virtually every word. He wants everything to be accurate. But he also wants it to reflect how he really feels about the topic. He’s very interested in being authentic in that way.”
At least some of Dr. Wentz’ penchant for details springs from his sense of order. Says Dr. McDonald: “He will pick up a little piece of paper that someone has left on the floor when he walks through the building. I’ll never forget one day I was in a meeting with a CEO Dr. Wentz wanted me to meet. The CEO and I were sitting on the other side of his desk. It was hot so while we talked I took off my suit coat and draped it over the chair next to me. About five minutes later Dr. Wentz got up, came over, picked up my coat, put it on a hanger, and hung it on a coat tree. At the time I was kind of flabbergasted, and then as I thought about it, I realized it was typical Dr. Wentz. Later, the CEO pulled me aside and said, ‘By the way, when I first met Dr. Wentz, he did the same thing. I laid my coat over something, and the guy didn’t miss a beat. He kept right on talking, came around his desk, picked my coat up, hung it up, and went back to his desk.”
“He likes everything to be clean,” concurs Dr. Wentz’ brother, Marvin. “He’s meticulous-a real perfectionist.”
The Purpose of Wealth “I’ve never had an interest in money other than having enough to fund my research,” says Dr. Wentz. “I was never interested in going into the academic field where I would have to rely on the government to decide whether I was going to do research in a certain area or not. I wanted to have all the dollars that I needed to do what I felt had to be done. And that’s what has happened: I’ve sponsored and funded all the research that I’ve ever done over the years.”
“Either I’ve been fortunate, or maybe it’s just a natural law-that if you create something that’s of value, that is a benefit to mankind, something that other scientists have not been able to do-and if you apply a little bit of good business sense, then the money will come.”
Dr. Wentz doesn’t think of himself as a businessman. He considers himself a scientist with a little business sense. Van Duser, who has seen him in action for many years, agrees that he is not a typical president/CEO: “I don’t think he’s really a businessman at heart,” he says. “He’s much more a scientist and an entrepreneur, which, to my mind, is not the same as a businessman. He’s not a CEO type. He’s more hands-on. He’s less interested in hierarchy and stratification of business and more interested in just getting things done.
Typical executive or not, Dr. Wentz the scientist has a golden touch for business. This touch earned him (among other honors and accolades) a Presidential appointment to the Small Business Administration’s advisory group several years ago. “I have been perceived as a good businessman, but I haven’t had a single course in business,” he admits. “The only business education that I’ve had was as a teenager. One of the many things I remember my father telling me was that it is much harder being a farmer than a businessman because you can’t tell the sun to shine and the clouds to release rain. ‘But in business,’ he told me, ‘all you have to do is take in more money than you pay out.’ That’s the only rule that I’ve gone by and it works. At least it has worked for me,” he laughs.
Kaye Gillen has known Dr. Wentz since 1975. She is a close friend, as was her now-deceased husband. “Myron Wentz is the kindest person I have ever known,” she states. “He really wants to help people. Everything he has ever done in business has been motivated by his intense desire to help people be well and healthy.”
“This might embarrass him, but I have never known him to refuse to help anyone, regardless of how that person may have treated him in the past. He never holds a grudge. He has always said that if you can’t say anything good about someone, don’t say anything. No one knows the things that he does to help people because he keeps them to himself. One day I told him that I was so proud of him for what he does. He was embarrassed and just shrugged it off. He has the biggest, kindest heart in the world.”
Brother Marvin Wentz echoes that sentiment. “Myron is very generous with his time and money. Even before he began making a lot of money, he always helped our mother. He even provided her with a car for as long as she could drive it. I rented land from him, and I would send him rent checks. But even though he could have used the money back then, he would never cash them. To this day he still has never accepted any rent from me.
“Dr. Wentz’s kindness is broadly based. According to Marvin, “Myron has no prejudices. He judges everyone as an individual. If I ever say something that seems prejudiced, he gives me a lecture.”
Though he allows himself very little time to enjoy them, Dr. Wentz has his share of interests and passions outside his work.
“Music has been a lifelong passion for me,” he says. “I especially love choral music. Music has even influenced my involvement in organized religion. I would sing in every church choir that I could fit into my schedule, regardless of which church it was. When I travel- for example, when I’m in Europe on a Sunday-you’ll find me in the cathedral that has the best choir in the area.”
“Another passion of mine,” says Dr. Wentz, “is studying historical figures who have made real contributions to mankind. I haven’t read a novel since high school, and I don’t intend to. There is too much scientific literature to read. I don’t go to movies; I feel guilty sitting there. So I tend to deny myself a lot of pleasures.
While he does not actively participate in organized religion, Dr. Wentz is a deeply spiritual person. This spiritual connection constitutes an important passion in his life. He is not the kind of minister his mother once wanted him to be, but in his own words, “I’m ministering to the needs of people through medicine.” He believes that this ministry is not arbitrary, but that it is exactly what he is supposed to do with his life.
Family: the Greatest Passion of All
Of all the passions in Dr. Wentz’ life, the greatest is his family. Although he and Jackie were divorced many years ago, he has always been a devoted father to his two children-David and Julie, now in their late 20s-and has been very involved in their lives. When he speaks of his children, his expression changes. The determined, thoughtful look that typically molds his expression melts into softness and sheer enjoyment when he speaks of his son and daughter.
“I love my children very much,” he states simply. “David has been an important figure in USANA’s success. He’s a wonderful young man, exceptionally considerate and caring. He has helped me through troubled times.”
“Julie is off on her own. She’s very independent, as I am-a free spirit. Her college training was in hotel and restaurant management, but now she’s more into being an artist and has gone a different direction. She’s very content with life.”
Kaye Gillen offers the perspective of a close, long-time friend: “I know a Myron most people don’t know,” she says. “The greatest joys of his life are his children. He absolutely adores them. And they are wonderful children. He used to love to watch his son play soccer and volleyball. We’d say that David was on a volleyball scholarship that was given to him by his father. You cannot spoil a child with love, and these children were loved, and still are.”
“I remember when Julie was a baby and we’d go places as couples, Myron would want to get up in the night to take care of her. I would hear him caring for and changing her, and then softly talking to her. Very few people have seen that side of this man.”
Driving Hard to the Finish Line
In the final analysis, it is his dream to help people live longer, healthier lives that drives Dr. Wentz so relentlessly. The Sanoviv project has required uncounted hours, even while he has continued to lead USANA. “He works all the time,” says B.J. Snedaker, his personal assistant at USANA. “If his eyes are open, he is working.”
Such a pace could be attributed to an unusually high level of energy. But Dr. Wentz attributes it to something else: an urgent sense of mission. “I have always felt that the time is too short for me-that life is too short for what I feel I need to get done,” he says. “I was too late to help my father. I was too late to help my mother. But I think I am making contributions that are now allowing people to live the way they were intended to live: in health. I think I am helping people live their lives to the fullest without having them cut short by premature death or illness.”
When the sun sets each day, Dr. Wentz interrupts whatever he is doing, walks outside, and stands facing the sun in silence. It is a personal ritual. “I’ve never really thought much about it,” he says. “I take that time to meditate and reflect. I assess what I have been able to accomplish that day and determine whether I am pleased with it. I ask myself whether I have done all that I could. I think about what still remains ahead for me.”