As If It Were Yesterday

As If It Were Yesterday

Walter Warpeha, Jr., D.D.S.:

Karlind Moller, D.D.S.

I lost a respected mentor, colleague, and friend on August 5, 2008, and the School of Dentistry and dentistry lost an esteemed local, state, and nationally recognized clinician and leader. He was just weeks shy of his 96th birthday.

I was privileged to experience a more than 40 year association with Dr. Walter Warpeha Sr. As a graduate student in speech pathology at the U in 1965, I had the opportunity to observe and participate in a newly formed interdisciplinary cleft palate team which met in the School of Dentistry. I had heard that Dr. Warpeha was instrumental in convincing Dean Erwin Schaffer to move a cleft palate team to the School from the Sister Kenny Institute where Wally had been a team member since 1957. It would be a unique opportunity to better serve the dental needs of children with cleft palate and offer education and training to students in multidisciplinary medical, dental, and speech and hearing programs.

That marked the beginning. My initial observation and impression of the team was that here was an unlikely group of diverse specialists all working together on an optimal treatment plan for each patient consistent with his or her physical and behavioral growth and development and, importantly, their unique and special needs. Little did I know that I would be strongly influenced, especially by Dr. Warpeha's passionate approach to multidisciplinary treatment planning empowering me to aspire to become director. I observed that Wally was, in addition to being large in stature and voice, a very creative thinker in putting forth ideas for treatment that could not be corrected surgically. He was absolutely committed and dedicated to help patients with cleft palate and speech difficulty and was an advocate for consideration of prosthodontic speech appliances for selected patients. In addition, he often talked about the importance of speech production in fabricating partial and complete dentures for adults. He was always curious about the relationship between tooth position, vertical dimension, and tongue function on speech articulation, and challenged mainstream thinking of the time and writing in prosthodontic texts. He provided insights and encouraged further investigations to answer important clinical questions. His bottom line interest was the best possible service to each patient, setting a high standard for all team members. I had the distinct privilege of working with him chairside with many patients with and without cleft palate at the School of Dentistry until his retirement in 1977. His interest, dedication, and devotion to the School, the interdisciplinary approach, and the cleft palate and maxillofacial programs continued to the present. I am personally grateful for his inspiration and impact he had on my career and development and journey.


Walter S. Warpeha, Sr.

By Candlelight
Edgar Lechner, D.D.S.

In talking with Wally Warpeha Jr., he tells me of a favorite quote repeated by his Dad: "If you have knowledge, let others light their candles by it." That sums up my view of my friend and mentor, Dr. Walter Warpeha Sr. Those who knew him would agree that what he unselfishly gave to his colleagues was even greater than his physical stature.

To really understand what drove Wally Sr. involves a long forgotten event that took place in Minneapolis on August 23, 1928! Thirteen prominent dentists, seven from the upper Midwest, met to found an organization they called the American Full Denture Society. This society was later to become the still functioning American Prosthodontic Society, where Dr.Warpeha would eventually serve as president.

This legacy surfaced years later. This young Navy lieutenant from Northeast Minneapolis was given a prestigious assignment to the Prosthetic Department of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii because he was from Minnesota, "where the best full and partial dentures are made in the country." His 18 months in Hawaii were like a prosthetic residency, so he returned to Minnesota as the only practicing prosthdontist over the next 21 years.

It was at that point where I first had the good fortune to meet Wally. He, along with founder Dr. Arnie Larson, started a study club named the Minnesota Academy of Restorative Dentistry. Their thought was that Minnesota had such a great tradition in dentistry and there were so many fine dentists locally, why not to provide a forum whereby members can present, study, and discuss current topics in restorative dentistry? I remember Wally always being willing to help many of the younger dentists returning from military service or those newly graduated with help from the GI Bill. His encouragement was so welcomed after discussing an especially challenging case. I was merely one of many who owe him a debt of gratitude for mentoring them.

He once told me, "Ed, I think you would benefit from being more active in professional organizations."With his guidance I became a member of the board of the Minnesota Prosthodontic Society, yet another group that Wally founded to advance prosthetic education. And when he became active in the American Prosthodontic Society, he influenced many Minnesota dentists to show our local expertise to a national audience. Drs. Glenn Anderson, Ralph Boos, Bill Braasch, Art Bululian, Don O. Erickson, Dick Goodkind, Carlin Hayes, Bill Laney, Ted Morstad, Severen Olsen, Tim Peterson, Erwin Schaffer, Jim Schorn, Wally Warpeha Jr., and myself all presented at the APS while Wally Sr. served on its executive council.

His professional accomplishments started with first making himself a leader in the specialty of prosthodontics. Then he used his talents to help his colleagues, his patients, and his community. He was called a giant in his field not only because he had an imposing physical presence but because he provided broad shoulders for so many of us to stand on to reach higher that they ever thought they could.


The Warpeha Family

Close to a Century
Dennis Johnson, D.D.S.
After Erwin Schaffer became dean of the dental school, enrollment sharply increased. He soon recognized that University funding and grant monies would not be enough to maintain the School's high standing in the country. He considered private donations as a possible source for extra funds. Walter Warpeha Sr., a long-time friend of the dean who had served on the Dean Search committee, now became active in the Alumni Society. Dean Schaffer asked Wally, Bill Braasch, and myself to advise on formation of a gift society named The Century Club, where contributors would give either $1,000 or $100 per year for 12 years in exchange for some special benefits.

Few know that Dr. Warpeha had founded his local bank and continued to serve as a director. I think his financial sense greatly helped our efforts. Wally had great input to get this idea off the ground with organizing class captains aided by "many capable lieutenants". Help came with major donations by William Getz Dental Corporation and local philanthropist Jay Phillips.

The effort was wildly successful, with nearly $600,000 (1970s dollars!) contributed during the Schaffer deanship, and membership reaching 1,062 in 1983. At that time it was the largest gift club of any University of Minnesota college.

During the inception, Dr. Warpeha was the Alumni president, and later that same year became chair of the Century Club. He initiated the first Century Club Professor of the Year Award, given to Dr. A.B. Hall. The following year Dr. Hall received the first Alumni Service Award, subsequently named the Ambert B.Hall Award. It was fitting that Wally Sr. received this same award in 1995.

Along with being a fund raiser, Dr. Warpeha was a benefactor for the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, especially contributing to the Prosthdontic and Cleft Palate programs. He was a member of the President's Club and Trustee Society.

I'm convinced Walter Warpeha Sr. believed that his dental education was a gift that he strived to pay back. He held his profession in high esteem, and his example reminds us all of the responsibility of the title of D.D.S..

A Gentle, Indelible Touch
Joe Lapinski, D.D.S.
I would have never considered dentistry if not for two dentists, Wally Warpeha Sr. and his youngest brother Ray. I was a disillusioned math and science teacher when fortuitously these two told me, "If you are good in science and like people, you have two traits of successful dentists."

Ray moved to Chicago, but Wally maintained a presence in my professional life. The best dental continuing education group I every experienced was started, nurtured, and maintained on a shoestring by Dr. Warpeha. Over the Minnesota Prosthodontic Society's 30-plus year run, Wally was its secretary/treasurer, only turning the job over to his son for the final decade. Dues were never more than $25 a year, but that didn't mean the programs were not topnotch. Wally and board members like Ralph Werner, Robert E. Lee, Bill Braasch, Dick Goodkind, and Bill Laney worked hard on their connections outside of Minnesota to bring in some of the finest lecturers on crown and bridge, full and partial denture, and even early implant prosthodontics. We were treated to notable dentists like Drs. Lloyd Miller, Walter Turbeyfill, Howard Payne, Peter K. Thomas, Ken Rudd, Earl Pound, Arnie Lauritzen, Vic Lucia, and many others. We heard the inventor of the porcelain laminate, Beverly Hills celebrity dentist Dr. Charles Pinkus. Other meetings would feature local dentists talking in depth about a single topic.

Dr. Warpeha's organization was unique because it was open to any dentist who was interested in increasing his or her skill in prosthodontics. It was the only dental society that invited laboratory technicians to their meetings. The good will with the dental labs was immeasurable.

I personally learned more from those lectures than I did from my dental school days. Dr. Warpeha improved the quality of the prosthodontics in Minnesota by making Minnesota dentists better. He was a dentist's dentist.

In case you think that his influence will fade, each year the dental student showing an exceptional interest and skill in prosthodontic dentistry receives the Warpeha Award privately funded by the Warpeha family. Nice touch, Wally!

Teach a Man to Fish ...
Richard E. Goodkind, D.M.D., M.S.
Walter S. Warpeha Sr. was foremost a teacher who shared his love of prosthodontics with his students. As the first boarded prosthodontist in the state of Minnesota, he devoted his life to the practice and teaching of this specialty.

My friendship with this stately man began in 1966, when I was given the opportunity to become a full-time faculty member in prosthodontics at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry. At the time Dr. Warpeha was teaching in the Department of Prosthetic Dentistry chaired by Dr. A.J. Morstad. Wally was a man of principle, and I can remember as if it were yesterday, his stressing to his students the importance of establishing the correct vertical dimension and centric relation when they were fabricating their complete dentures.

Later on in our association, we taught together in graduate prosthodontics. Dr. Warpeha was responsible for conducting the cleft palate portion of the vigorous training program. His creativity in making obturators and palatal lift appliances for his cleft palate patients held him high esteem with his colleagues throughout the state of Minnesota.

Having known Wally over 42 years, one remembrance that stands out in my mind was the day Wally invited me to his Minnesota farm. Just another aspect of this remarkable dentist was that he owned and operated several farms and ran an agribusiness too! He knew that I was an avid trout fisherman, and it didn't take much convincing on his part to get me to fish his recently stocked pond. What I didn't know was that Wally had an ulterior motive in mind. After catching a large number of his distinctly colored brook trout, I was asked to help cook this delicacy for the Prosthodontic Department gathering at Wally's home on the Mississippi River later that afternoon. The brook trout were wrapped in tin foil with a butter sauce and grilled. Wally and his wife Florence loved to entertain, and this social event was such a success that it is still remembered and talked about by the pros staff.

Wally was a charter member and a fellow in the American College of Prosthodontists, a charter member of the Midwest Prosthodontic Society, a 50-year member of the American College of Dentists, and lectured in eight forgien countries for the International College of Dentists. In 1977 he was honored by the School of Dentistry with the apt title of Clinical Professor Emeritus. Dr. Warpeha's passionate enthusiasm for the teaching and practice of dentistry as well as the foresight and leadership he provided in the many professional organizations with which he was affiliated is the impressive legacy he left to Minnesota prosthodontics.