Duke Pathology: Legacies of Learning

My Giving Story: James Junker, Ph.D.’80

It was a time in the Department of Pathology when esteemed faculty members such as Dr. Bernard Fetter and Dr. Donald Hackel walked the halls of the Davison Building, and Dr. Ed Bossen and Dr. John Shelburne were just starting out in their laudable careers. Following in the footsteps of such powerful mentors and scientists, Dr. Joe Sommer had just turned 50 when a young James Junker joined his lab with a freshly minted undergraduate degree from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. Inspired by coursework in microanatomy and cell biology, James came to Duke to pursue a PhD in Pathology. He specifically sought out a program where he could work with an electron microscope, and good fortune landed James in the lab of a worldwide leader in the field of cardiac muscle. 

Dr. Joachim Sommer worked in Pathology from 1958 to 2011.
Dr. Joachim Sommer worked in Pathology from 1958 to 2011.

With Dr. Sommer as his graduate advisor, James’ thesis aimed to biochemically isolate and anatomically localize a calcium binding protein in heart and skeletal muscle. He focused on calsequestrin, which helps internal organelles, junctional sarcoplasmic reticulum, store calcium for relaxation and release calcium for contraction. Looking back on his time with Dr. Sommer, James remembers that his mentor wanted his students to be self-motivated. He encouraged his students to find an inspiring topic of study and then enabled them to pursue their best work. Dr. Sommer also had a quirky sense of humor, James recalls with laugh.  

“A degree in pathology is very versatile and gives you a lot of flexibility,” James remarked. “The Duke Pathology Department gave me the opportunity to find what I wanted to do and pursue it. Dr. Sommer allowed his students such freedom that I was able to craft my own, broadly-based biomedical curriculum, anchored in pathology, that served me very well in my career.”  

Cropped Duke Pathology staff photo featuring Dr. William Johnston, Dr. Donald Hackel, Dr. Joachim Sommer, Dr. James Junker, Dr. John Shelburne, and others.
Crop from Duke Pathology staff photo in 1978: 1. Dr. William Johnston; 2. Dr. Donald Hackel; 3. Dr. Joachim Sommer; 4. Dr. James Junker; 5. Dr. John Shelburne. See the entire photo and list of names in the Duke Pathology Newsletter Archive.

Upon graduating with his doctoral degree from Duke in 1980, James pursued two research fellowships. First, a post-doctoral position at the University of Pennsylvania’s Muscle Institute, followed by four years as a staff fellow at the National Cancer Institute. James then went on to teach comparative animal physiology, among other things, for two years at Bayero University Kano in Nigeria. He credits his success in this particular course to a class on animal physiology taken at Duke’s Marine Lab. 

James joined the faculty of Campbell University’s Pharmacy School in 1989 as an assistant professor. Because Dr. Sommer had not yet retired from Duke, James had the opportunity to rejoin the lab and continue publishing important research papers. One such first-author paper propelled James’ career even further, helping him secure a promotion to associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences in 1994. In total, James spent 20 years teaching pharmacy students at Campbell, a joy he remembers fondly. “I had the 8:00 AM anatomy and physiology class for the first year pharmacy students, which meant I was able to launch around 2,000 pharmacists into their career. It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to know that I gave so many students their academic start.” In 2009, James moved to Maryland to help start a new pharmacy school at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Initially, James was the founding chair of the Pharmaceutical Sciences Department and later moved into academic affairs as an associate dean, retiring in 2016.

Dr. James Junker, Ph.D.’80

“I am indebted to Duke. Leaving an estate gift is one way I can express my appreciation for the excellent academic and research foundation that I received from the Duke University Department of Pathology.”

Dr. James Junker, Ph.D.’80


James’ notable career and legacy will live on at Duke through a generous bequest that will be split evenly between the Chapel music program — a location where he has joined with Drs. David Howell and Sara Miller in choral performances — and the Department of Pathology’s educational initiatives. When asked why he chose to include Duke Pathology as part of his estate planning, James said, “I am indebted to Duke. Leaving an estate gift is one way I can express my appreciation for the excellent academic and research foundation that I received from the Duke University Department of Pathology.”

The Department is grateful to James and the many individuals who choose to provide such thoughtful philanthropic support.  If you would like to learn more about leaving a legacy gift to the Department of Pathology, please reach out to Director of Development, Morgan Pope, at 919-451-5093 or morgan.pope@duke.edu.

Story by Morgan Pope, director of development for the Duke University School of Medicine. Originally published in The Pathology Report: 2020 Duke Pathology Annual Magazine.

TAGS: Giving and Impact Stories Duke Medicine

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For more information, please contact the Duke University Office of Gift Planning at 919-681-0464 or giftplanning@duke.edu.