A headline last spring in the Grand Rapids newspaper announcing Dr. Lee Jess as the 2011 Citizen of the Year probably said it best: “A ball of energy with a willingness to go above and beyond.” At the time, Dr. Jess was being recognized in Itasca County for the great amount of time and equal amount of dedication he has given to various community events, projects, and clubs throughout the years since he and his wife, Mary Jo, moved to Grand Rapids to start a dental practice. But the headline could easily be used to describe the life and career of this remarkable man with boundless energy.
Lee Jess has been actively engaged in leading the dental profession and important causes for more than 40 years, from mentoring students interested in careers in dentistry to serving in national leadership roles. Lee graduated from Loyola School of Dentistry in Chicago, and then moved to Grand Rapids, where he built a successful dental practice and an active family and civic life. He has served in leadership and fundraising positions for scores of civic, fine arts, conservation, and sporting associations, including serving as president of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and as a board member for the Itasca County YMCA, the Grand Rapids Library Foundation, and the Itasca Recreation Association, to name but a few on that roster.
Lee has also been involved in organized dentistry at the district, state, and national levels. He has been a member of the Northeastern District Dental Society for 48 years, serving as chair of numerous committees and as a delegate to the MDA House. He was a trustee to the MDA Board for six years, and served as MDA president in 2008-2009. Over the years, Lee has been involved with many emerging issues in the field of dentistry locally and throughout the nation. Twenty years ago, he helped to create a program in Itasca County to assure access to dental care for low income populations which is still successfully operating today. He continues to work tirelessly for causes in support of underserved populations, including participating every year in the MDA’s annual Give Kids a Smile program and currently serving on the Minnesota Mission of Mercy task force. He has also taken a leadership role in fundraising activities and serves on the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Dental Foundation, where he has helped spearhead new efforts to increase donations.
At the ceremonies honoring Dr. Jess as Citizen of the Year last year, Dr. Michael Zakula, current MDA president, congratulated him on a well derserved honor, and said, “Dr. Jess has earned the respect of all dental professionals in Minnesota.” The Minnesota Dental Association is proud to honor Dr. Lee Jess as the 2012 Guest of Honor.