A Curious Mind and a Big Heart
Alum Kevin Wiltz brings his expertise to help both people and big cats
Story by Zach Read | Published November 7, 2023
Kevin Wiltz, PharmD ‘04, has always been curious and eager to learn, and as a boy growing up in Florida, his interests were varied.
As a Boy Scout (and eventual Eagle Scout), he loved the idea of turning nature into medicine. As a talented football player, he played competitively and at a high level, and he dreamed of playing in college and beyond. As an avid writer of science fiction, he regularly honed his craft; he wrote his first novel as an undergraduate student at Carolina, presciently drafting his book about terrorism before the September 11th attacks took place.
In middle and high school, Kevin pushed himself academically and developed a passion for science and research—and for service.
Growing up in a military family, his parents emphasized service to others as a core value. No matter what educational or professional interests Kevin decided to pursue, they had two simple requests: do the best you can do in whatever you’re pursuing and be the best person you can be.
“Especially because our family has always been involved in service, whether in the military, fire, as teachers, there’s always been an understanding that we provide value to society,” says Kevin, Vice President of Operations at Kroger Specialty Pharmacy, the largest independent specialty pharmacy in the country. “And that moral code essentially meant that we instinctively moved in that direction.”
Kevin points to one topic that gave him the unique platform he needed to serve others, pursue his passions, and shape his future. In the early 1990s, Kevin learned about a canine distemper outbreak taking place among lions in Kenya. The outbreak accelerated over several years, killing a large number of lions in the country.
“It was thought that it could conceivably be an extinction-level event because it was spreading so fast,” recalls Kevin. “So, I got really interested in disease and disease vectors.”
As the outbreak continued into the mid-1990s, Kevin, a high school student at the time, took any opportunity he could to research and write about lions and big cats.
“Trying to understand what was happening—that was my topic for all my independent writing in school,” Kevin explains. “The medical side of it was interesting. The sociological, the biological, what would eventually be called anthrozoology, that piece of it was always fascinating to me too. And, so, I dug in to learning that.”
Kevin’s hard work, curiosity, and interest in big cats eventually converged when he became a student at Carolina in 1998. A recipient of a Morehead Scholarship (known as Morehead-Cain today), the first merit scholarship in the United States, Kevin knew that he wanted to pursue pharmacy as a career.
“My love of chemistry, biology, and medicine, and my desire to do something to be able to contribute to the world pretty much made it clear what I was going to do,” Kevin says.
Kevin saw pharmacy school at UNC as a “four-year deployment” where he would have the opportunity be surrounded by the best minds of the profession.
“But it was a fleeting time,” he explains. “I only had a short period of time to be completely surrounded by these amazing people before moving on to the rest of my career.”
Although Kevin intended to play football as a running back throughout college—he joined the Tar Heel football program as a teammate of players like Julius Peppers and Dré Bly—he opted to focus on his studies.
“I always say I could get away from Julius the first time or the second time, but it was the third time, when he got me, that made me question things,” he says, laughing.
Kevin walked away from the sport he loved so that he could pursue academics and take advantage of being a Morehead Scholar, which afforded him the opportunity to explore an interest of his choosing for one year. He created a learning opportunity around big cats at the Central Florida Animal Reserve.
“I went to this rescue to learn about the domestic challenges of big cats,” Kevin says. “It was a full-contact world that reminded me more of playing football than anything else. Either you survived or got out. When cats accept you then you have a chance. I developed relationships with the cats and handlers.”
After completing his PharmD at UNC, Kevin moved back to Florida, where he worked in retail pharmacy before transitioning into specialty pharmacy, which he has helped grow and expand as an industry.
Being back in Florida also allowed him to volunteer at the rescue and hone critical animal husbandry skills. Eventually, he joined the Board of Directors of the rescue, helped save the organization, and bring it back to health and success.
Today, in addition to his leadership role at Kroger, Kevin is CEO of the Central Florida Animal Reserve, and his goals for each of his careers have begun to align.
“The worlds are very similar,” he says. “Both are worlds whereby you are often solving problems people don’t know exist in ways that people don’t understand or don’t have access to understand. I would like to be able to connect people to these worlds in such a way that they can understand their value, why they exist, and the importance of expertise in each.”