Odie Langsjoen is dead, and here I am once again contemplating the life of another mentor whose kindness and mercy have launched an armada of dentists well prepared not only clinically but most importantly humanely prepared to treat their patients with understanding and compassion.
A veteran of World War II, Odie received the Purple Heart for wounds suffered in the battle of Okinawa.
I had to find that out by way of Mel Holland’s ponderous tome and magnum opus A Hundred Year History of the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry. Not one to brag, Odie would never have told us.
Odie went to dental school as a family man, with his dear wife Mavis and two kids, Linnea and Eric, through the aid of an Army ROTC stipend which required him to join the Army after graduation and serve at Fort Leonard Wood during the Korean War. Upon release from his second career in the armed services, Odie and his family settled in St. Cloud, where he practiced dentistry for 17 years. Odie served the profession well as president of both the Minnesota Dental Association and the American College of Dentists. Odie also had a passion for academic life, and started teaching at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry in 1961.
For many years, a dentist by the name of Ambert Hall tyrannically held sway over the incoming freshmen dental classes at the U. Somehow, as I understand, he fancifully pictured himself as a Marine drill instructor, vitriolicly spewing his invective-laced rants, evidently trying to winnow the ranks of the weak and unsure and hopeless dental candidates. Many old graduates look back with pride that they were tried in the crucible of
A.B. Hall and found worthy. Personally, I found his teaching methods misguided to say the least, but heck, that’s just me!
Praise the Lord, I was accepted into dental school the year Odie Langsjoen replaced A.B. Hall. Having heard the horror stories of the past, we were all pleasantly surprised as we sat in the amphitheater of 12 Owre Hall to be greeted by the tall, handsome, Scandinavian visage of Odie Langsjoen. His first name was Odin, named for the fearsome chief Norse god, ruler of Valhalla, yet here he was, the kind and gentle, artistic and fair dentist from Fergus Falls.
That was the 1970s, of course, and many “rebels” of all stripes tried to attack this good man. Odie stood firm in his belief in the discipline it took to become a great dentist. Good just wasn’t good enough for Odie: we had to be the best. But he effortlessly made us want to be the best.
After graduation I was blessed to find myself in the “Duluth District” (now the Northeastern), home of so many great dentists: the Amundson brothers, Tony Romano, Bob Anderson, Bill Hudelson, Willis Irons, and of course, Odie Langsjoen.
Odie left the dental school to teach dental hygiene at UMD, but his real passion was mummies. Just like “Indiana Jones”, Odie and his sidekick, world famed pathologist Dr. Art Aufderheide, traveled around the globe researching ancient mummies. Their travels took them from Egypt to the Canary Islands to Chile and Peru. It was on one of these great adventures that Odie sustained a head injury that may have ultimately contributed to his demise. Odie had many hilarious stories about his adventures, but out of respect for his partner and most of all the ancient dead, these stories will remain untold.
Thirty-two years ago, Terry and I had the great privilege of touring the Caribbean Island of Tobago by taxi in the company of Odie and his lovely wife, Mavis. Our driver, Calvin, regaled us with the history and traditions of this exotic paradise. We traveled narrow, winding mountain roads, visited a cocoa bean plantation, shared a rum and Coke at a tin-roofed roadside bar, and watched the sun set over the turquoise sea. What a wonderful day, what perfect company, what a preview of heaven. Rest in peace, dear Odie!
*Dr. Stein is Executive Editor of Northwest Dentistry. He is a general dentist in private practice in Aitkin, Minn., AitkinDent@AOL.com.