Passing the torch

Photo by Kim NowatzkeJ. David Weber, DDS, FAGD, Douglas W. Weber, DDS, and Michael D. Kirk, DDS, stand in front of Coolspring Dental Clinic where Weber Family Dentistry is located. Douglas W. Weber retired on Aug. 8, a day shy of 40 years after he began the business on his birthday. 

MICHIGAN CITY — On his 26th birthday, Douglas William Weber, DDS, began a tradition that spanned four decades.

It wasn’t quite planned that way. When Doug graduated from Elston High School in 1971, he first chose mathematics as a major at Purdue University. But, two semesters in, he knew the path to become a dentist was a better choice for him instead.

“I like science and math. I knew that part would be a good fit for me,” he said.

Doug was also familiar with the career as his father, the late Douglas Marshall Weber, DDS, practiced dentistry for 34 years in Michigan City. He retired soon after Doug opened his practice; the elder Weber passed away in 2013.

“Dad seemed to enjoy dentistry, and I liked the idea of a profession,” Doug said.

It was on his 26th birthday as he was preparing to open his dental office on 9th Street, that he discovered his first patient would be seen sooner than expected.

On the “Weber Family Dentistry” Facebook page, he recalled the scenario: “It feels like yesterday that I saw my first patient. I remember thinking how in awe I was that people would be putting their confidence in me. That day was my birthday, Aug. 9, 1979. In a panic, I ran down the hall shutting my file cabinet doors because they were empty, and then called Darlene (Baker) to see if she could come down and sit at the desk so that this patient would believe we had an operating dental practice.”

Baker, who is Doug’s sister-in-law, filled many roles over the years and retired in Dec. 31, 2018, as the insurance coordinator. Doug moved his practice to the Coolspring Dental Clinic building, 1213 East Coolspring Avenue, in October 1984.

She wasn’t the only family member to join Doug in his practice. His wife of 43 years, Sharon Weber, worked the front desk for more than 25 years, and is retiring with her husband.

Their son, J. David Weber, DDS, FAGD, joined his father in June 2014 and is carrying on the family legacy at the practice. Last year he completed requirements for Fellowship in the Academy of General Dentistry. Dr. Michael Kirk, DDS, also came on board July 10, 2019; he has returned to his home state of Indiana after practicing dentistry in the Navy.

Doug’s sense of family has extended far beyond those related to him.

“I’m really going to miss the people that have been a part of my life for so many years,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of stuff together … I was privileged to work with an exceptional group of people.”

When David received his fellowship last summer, several staff members joined the Weber family on their trip to New Orleans to show their support and congratulations for this achievement.

“It was a special moment to celebrate that together. It’s remarkable at his age,” said Sue Peckat, RDH, who joined Weber Family Practice in 1984 and is a dental hygienist and the practice manager.

“For that time that we were there, we all stayed in one house and everyone was a part of all that we did,” Doug said.

The Weber Family Dentistry staff has also taken three trips to Hawaii together.

And, several members of the dental office’s staff have a long history of employment. Dental Hygienist Julie Cuma, RDH, just celebrated 25 years at Weber Family Dentistry, and Dental Assistant Dawn Fox had worked at the business since 1991 before she retired in June.

Doug will also miss the art as well as the nuts and bolts of practicing dentistry.

“It constantly changed. I like change so it was fun for me,” he said.

“It’s a fun profession. Today, it’s much more predictable because of technology,” he explained. “Everything now is done on a digital platform and we pretty much create anything ourselves.”

“The convenience and development of technology that’s occurred in the past 10 years has been really exciting,” Peckat said. “With the advancement of technology, it’s given us the ability to do whole mouth reconstruction. Implants have changed and how we treat patients has changed. It’s been exciting for us to give back what patients have lost and to be able to come up with options for them that weren’t available 10 years ago.”

“It’s safer and faster and ultimately better,” Doug said.

Doug carried his knowledge and skills to serve others far beyond the local community. While on a plane to a Bible conference in Los Angeles, he met someone serving in a ministry to Haiti. Not knowing Doug was a dentist, he made a comment about how dental care was a dire need in that country. In 1991, through the former Countryside Christian Church, Doug embarked on his first mission trip to Haiti with 30 teens and adults. Eventually, he began working with Haitian Support Ministries and estimated he participated in about 10 trips. His son, David, accompanied him to also provide dental care on some of those.

From 1995 to 2015, Doug also taught weekly Bible classes through the Prison Fellowship ministry at Westville Correctional Facility.

“I interacted with the prisoners and made some really good friends. I’d like to get back involved in it,” he said.

Another aspect that brought Doug much joy in his life was piloting his Bonanza F33A plane. In Spring 2009 his son, Randy Weber, was a flight instructor and, “thinking it would be fun,” Doug signed up for lessons.

“What I enjoy the most is that it never ceases to keep me in awe of how young flight is relative to the history of humanity,” said Doug. “The first time I saw it (from the cockpit), it brought tears to my eyes. How brilliant the early innovators were – they created it very well. It works.”

After four decades, Doug is also going to miss the multitude of patients he’s served.

“We have families that have came in for four generations,” Peckat said.

Yet, Doug knew the timing was right to retire and decided to do so on Aug. 8, the day before his 66th birthday. He’s looking forward to visiting Florida and more time with his five grandchildren.

“No one is going to applaud me for working another five years,” he said.

“I want to take classes in history, but in a classroom – not online,” he said about his retirement plans. “I would consider getting an undergraduate degree in history. It would be fun.”

Looking back over his life, Doug said, “The only thing remarkable about me is that I said yes a lot. The right place at the right time – that’s been my life. As you get older, you realize how fortunate you are to run into the right people and to be available.”

He also plans to continue playing golf, running four to five times a week and competing in 5Ks. Running is another hobby he picked up from a friend who patiently helped train him in the beginning.

But, “that last day (at Weber Family Dentistry) was an emotional day,” he said. “I’m really thankful for the opportunity to be part of someone else’s family and they be a part of mine. There’s not too many professions where you get to do that.”

“There aren’t a lot of family businesses that go on for years anymore. That’s what struck me about this story,” said Peckat.

For more information about Weber Family Dentistry, go to www.drweberdds.com, “Weber Family Dentistry” on Facebook, or call 219-879-4210. The business’ hours of operation are 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. It is closed on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

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