Francis -- Dental Career

[During the last years of his life, Francis worked with Dick to fill in the gaps of his biography. Dick's comments and additions are in brackets such as this.]

Dental Life

Francis started his practice in April, 1946, at 29627 Ford Road (still a dental office today), next to Caldwell Funeral Home, at the invitation of Dr. Hyman Vogel.  At the time, Garden City had about 9000 inhabitants.  Soon it grew to a peak of 55,000 (down to about 31,000 today).  This rapid growth created a demand for professional services and Dr. Vogel and Francis were soon joined by several other doctors including Dr. Fredrick Stiener (a great diagnostician and raconteur who became the Schmitt family physician) and an OB/Gyn team of Drs. Richard Jaynes and Joseph Rowe who would deliver Martha, Alice, and Philip as well as all four of Dick and Pietrina’s four children.

When the medical doctors moved a block away to a new medical center (around 1949), Francis asked to take over the lease at 29627 Ford Road.  When the lease expired around 1953, Francis bought the building for about $13,000 (including back taxes) from the estate of the owner, despite the fact that the lawyer administering the estate had other commercial ventures in mind.

The office eventually had three operating rooms. [The back had several unused offices although for a while they were used by Dick Hammer when he moved his law practice to Garden City and Dr. Zylinski, an orthodontist.)]

50 years in the profession

Even though Francis didn’t graduate from Dental school until he was 28 years old, he practiced dentistry for five years in the Army and 45 years on Ford Road in Garden City – 50 years in all.  In that time, he probably made no more than a dozen house calls (although his children remember patients coming to the house for emergency treatment). [We never remember Francis charging for these visits.  He would say, "Since you came to the house, it's on the house."]

Continuing Education

In 1948, Francis took his first continuing education course from the Detroit District Dental Society (DDDS) founded in 1914.  He was invited to join the society and is still [2003] an active member, honorary president and historian.  During his active dental years, he served as secretary and later president.  Much of what he learned about dentistry came from his participation in this group with other Dentists with whom he would share information.  

Today, continuing education for dentists is available from many other sources, threatening the continued existence of the DDDS.
Francis also served on a committee of the Michigan Dental Association (MDA) for twenty years.  This started as the Group Purchases Program Committee (to deal with the advent of widespread dental insurance).  Francis served as secretary and became chairperson, and then served as consultant for nearly 20 years.  This necessitated trips to Lansing monthly.

For many years, Francis would attend the mid-Winter meeting of the Chicago Dental Society which attracted Dentists throughout the Midwest every February.  Eileen would sometimes accompany to shop at Marshall Fields.  Francis and his Detroit cohorts would often give clinics at these sessions.

Many times Francis attended the annual meetings of the American Dental Association (ADA) which met around the country, including Hawaii. 


Back to Dental School

The practice kept growing along with the financial demands of a growing family.  Despite this, Francis took Thursdays off to attend Kiwanis.
Francis once gave a dental clinic in the Bahamas (Eileen joined him this time but in those days they traveled in separate airplanes).  There he was noticed by Dr. Singleton, the lead for operative dentistry at the University of Detroit Dental School.  As a result of that week, Dr. Singleton invited Francis to join the staff of the Dental School.

For eight years, beginning in 1968(?), Francis served as a clinical instructor on his Thursday “off days” at the University of Detroit Dental School.  His specialty was teaching rubber dam techniques.  He started with the freshman operative lab and soon moved up to the clinic.  There he met a good friend, Dr. Charles C. Tracey.  After eight years, Francis had burnt out and asked for a year off – never to return.

A Family Affair

Upkeep of 29627 Ford Road was somewhat of a family activity.  All of the 12 children had their first job at the office, typically vacuuming the floors and cleaning the sinks at the end of the work day.  Typically they’d walk to the office from Brown Street (about a mile away) and ride back with Francis.  Several of the boys learned how to shingle from labor day weekends on the steep office roof (or patching the flat areas with tar).

Mike and Greg
Greg and Michael learning the roofing trade at the office.  Francis never met a roof he didn't want to climb on.  When Dick visited home in the 1980s, Eileen told Dick, "I told Francis if he goes on the roof again, I'll divorce him."  Then she left for the store.  Within minutes, Francis had Dick on the roof to do some minor repair that he couldn't do.  When Dick turned around after reaching the chimney, he found Francis climbing off the ladder in hot pursuit.

A day in the life...

Although Francis rarely walked to work, the proximity of office and home allowed him to eat lunch at home most days (including a mini-nap).  Often the younger siblings would join him, too little for school. 

Francis’s assistant of 25 years, Clara Osclund (later Odett), lived a block away and walked to work until she moved to the country.  Her husband Herbert died of exertion from pushing his car and walking home during the same huge snowstorm when Philip was born in February of 1965.

Phyllis and Bea
Phyllis Thomas (left) and Bea Fleas (right)

Francis was blessed with assistants who served many years.  Phyllis Thomas served 34 years and Beatrice Fleas, 18 years.  These two continued on with Mark Barsamian, DDS, who took over the practice when Francis retired on February 8, 1991.  (Eileen was his last patient).
When Francis sold the practice to Mark Barsamian, he did so with a verbal agreement that Francis would stay on for six months to introduce Mark to his patients.  (Mark had grown up in Garden City and also attracted his own patients).  This agreement was renewed at least eight times.  Francis gradually shortened his work week to Wednesday’s only.  Mark’s practice had picked up in the meantime. 

Francis Dental Office on Ford Road
For forty-five years, Francis Schmitt practiced dentistry at 29627 Ford Road at this building (since replaced).  This drawing by C. Phelms is on loan to the Garden City Historical Museum.  This site is directly across the street from the world's first K-mart.

[Francis wanted one of his children to follow in his footsteps and take over his practice, but this was not to be the case.  With Tom in the seminary, Francis would frequently ask Dick (then the surrogate first-born) how his plans to be a dentist were progressing.  After serving as a Francis's chair assistant for three weeks once summer in high school so Phyllis Thomas could have an early vacation, Dick decided he would hate to be a dentist.  Later when he would come home from college, Francis would ask him how he was doing in Chemistry.  The answer would always be, "Not that well as I am not taking Chemistry."  Francis would respond, "Then how will you get into Dental School?"  This went on for several semesters until Paul entered college.  Somehow, I don't think he ever asked Mark about his chemistry plans.  And, of course, the real first-born that would be the priest, became the chemist.]

A fellow dentist profiled the then 82-year-old Francis for a 1995 issue of the Journal of the Michigan Dental Association as part of a series spotlighting interesting people in Michigan dentistry.  This reveals much more about Francis's career and the financial struggles of making it through dental school than what Francis's basic modesty tells on this page.  Read it by clicking here.

Return to Francis History Index by clicking here

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