(EDITOR’S NOTE: Personal Care Dentistry celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, so we’re providing our readers in the coming months with a series of articles spanning those four decades.)
When Dr. Walter Hunt graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry in the Spring of 1977, his journey to getting licensed as a dentist had been equal parts hard work and laser-like focus. But the most challenging part of the journey wasn’t necessarily getting his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Minnesota.
In many ways, going to the UofM was the easy part, recalls Dr. Hunt with a smile. The hard part was juggling everything else. The last two years of undergrad, I worked at the post office from 6 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. sorting mail. When I was in dental school, I worked weekends and evenings as a security guard at Apache Plaza, which was down the street from my house. During summers when I was in dental school, I changed tires at Firestone. Plus, I was married the entire time during dental school.
While in dental school, Dr. Hunt had bought a piece of land in Blaine with plans to build on the land and then open his own dental practice when he graduated. He even worked as a laborer for the contractor whom he had hired to build the new dental office. But he also looked for a job as an associate in a dental office to earn a paycheck while he worked to get his own office built. He found an associate position in Roseville at 2233 North Hamline Avenue. The dental clinic was located on the third floor in the southwest corner sound familiar?
Dr. Stende had three associates working for him, so I only worked there two days a week. But by September, the other associates had left and I was full time at that point. Dr. Stende had sold the practice over the summer to a dentist from Wyoming, and my last day was a Friday in early September. But when I looked over my contract, I realized that I had the first right to purchase the practice. The guy from Wyoming wasn’t very happy about that, but on October 1, 1977, I wrote a check to buy the practice. I was 25 years old.
Dr. Hunt sold his Blaine property, and started in practice with 700 square feet that included three treatment rooms and three employees. It was so crowded that when he needed to take an X-ray of a patient, he had to move whatever patient was in the hygiene room to a different room since the X-ray machine was in the hygiene room.
It was both a great time and a scary time and a challenging time, recalls Dr. Hunt. But I am very competitive and I love challenges, so I knew I could make it work. Every night I would read the charts and histories for the next day’s patients just so I could be prepared.
Dr. Stende rejoined the practice 15 years after Dr. Hunt purchased the clinic and worked for the practice for another 10 years until he finally retired. After he retired, he stayed on as a patient until he passed away.
Dr. Hunt always felt confident that he would be successful. When I purchased this dental practice in 1977, I was determined to build a different kind of dental practice, one that focused on what I call the Golden Rule of Dentistry which means caring for all of my patients the way I would care for my own family. We treated people the right way and we started getting referrals almost immediately.
That philosophy has worked for the last 40 years. The practice has expanded twice and now includes more than 8,000 square feet, four dentists and several dozen staff. And those referrals have kept coming the practice now has more than 7,000 active patients.