Editorial: Rummaging Through the Attic of My Mind

Editorial: Rummaging Through the Attic of My Mind

William E. Stein, D.D.S.*:

Dr. Jim Jensen has died. The third wall of the equilateral triangle of Schaffer, Holland, and Jensen that supported the construction of the physical building and the philosophical foundation that transformed the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry into the finest example of dental education in the world, in my humble biased opinion, of course.

When I was informed that Dr. Jensen had died, I took time to sit and quietly contemplate my memories of him. That didn’t work. Dr. Jensen was just a good guy, “Hale fellow well met” as they say. My fondest memory of Dr. Jensen was on the day I accumulated enough credits to graduate a year ahead of schedule thanks to an experimental program that I and 11 of my buddies had the good fortune to volunteer for two years past. This was a program that Dr. Jensen had approved. I will always be grateful to him for that. But to accurately tell the tale of that day, I had to search my memory for the great John-Wayne-like man to whom I had to present my credentials, the proof of my accumulated clinical accomplishments that would free me from the bondage of academia and emancipate me as a Doctor of Dental Surgery, my heart’s desire. Do you think I could remember his name? Are you kidding? At this age I’m lucky to remember the “Krebs Cycle” or quadratic equations.

To be true to you, dear readers, this required research. At risk of acquiring an inguinal hernia, I hefted my copy of Mel Holland’s Magnum Opus A History of the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, stopping first to inquire about Jim Jensen, of whom Mel had indexed at least seven inches of references. Most impressive, but I couldn’t find my guy.

I had to resort to the three editions of the “Explorer”, the dental school yearbooks of the time. I hadn’t read these things in years, so I spent an evening reading and reminiscing. The snarky humor and inside jokes were delicious. I wish I had known then what I know now, so that I could have contributed. The most sad and humbling and elevating thing was to read the descriptions of the graduating seniors and their hopes and predictions for their future, and knowing how so many of them have turned out - many happy stories, many successful practices, and even changes of vocations, far from what they had predicted, but how many failures, tragedies, divorces, and even deaths.

Last month Terry and I had the honor to partake in a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. We were able to renew our wedding vows at the Chapel in Cana where Jesus turned water into wine at his Mother’s bequest, thus saving the wedding reception and assuring he and his mom would be invited to every wedding in Nazareth from then on. I was overcome with emotion when the priest asked us to pledge our fidelity “Through good times and bad and in sickness and in health.” When you are a young couple being first married these words sound nice, but when you have been married for 42 years, you have actually been through good times and bad, you have been through sickness and health. Thus it was frightening to see the pictures of my colleagues and know what they have been through these last 38 years.

At last I found the picture of the mentor I had to satisfy with proof of the successful seating of my last partial denture. His name was Dr. Richard Gordon. I will never forget how he picked up his phone (land line!), called Dr. Jensen, and said, “Dr. Jensen, Dr. Bill Stein is coming to see you.”

I was actually the only person in my graduating class, July of 1973. After one year of practice, I was invited to attend my graduation. I declined on the thought it would look bad in the Aitkin paper that after one year in practice, Dr. Stein received his diploma.

I thank Dr. Jensen for all his good work, for his excellent instincts to hire Dr. Tony Romano and Dr. Anna Hample, which made the Operative Dentistry Department the envy of the world. And I thank him most for his great and good humor. The man could tell a joke!

If you need a workout, do a few bench presses of Mel’s book and then just page through it and look at the pictures. When you see a bunch of dentists laughing, read the caption. I’ll bet you Mel will have written: “Dentists laughing at a humorous remark from Dr. Jensen.”

Who could aspire to more than that?

*Dr. Stein is Executive Editor of Northwest Dentistry. He is a general dentist in private practice in Aitkin, Minnesota, AitkinDent@AOL.com