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Caruth Class ‘68

Jan. 1, 2009
Still in touch in great places after 40 years.
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Still in touch in great places after 40 years.

by Lana Crawford, RDH, BS

On graduation day, May 20, 1968, freshly minted alumnae of the Caruth School of Dental Hygiene at Texas A&M Health Science Center Baylor College of Dentistry said goodbye, promising to keep in touch with each other.

Dr. Seuss's book, Oh, the Places You'll Go! captured the essence of that day. “Congratulations! Today is your day,” he wrote. “You're off to Great Places! You're off and away!”

This class was composed of 35 women who were eager to establish themselves in their chosen profession. They could only dream of the future and the places they'd go. The profession of dental hygiene was relatively young; our class was only the 11th class to graduate from Caruth. Our professional attire was a white dress, white hose, “nurse's shoes,” and our cap, on which the lavender velvet stripe was proudly displayed.

Signs of the Time

In 1968, the first U.S. astronauts orbited the moon, and we were at war with North Vietnam. Some of our boyfriends and husbands would be shipped off in the days to come.

“Sitting on the Dock of the Bay,” “Hey Jude,” and “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” were some of our favorite tunes on the radio. Oliver! won the Academy Award that year for best picture. ABC News' Primetime began and is still ticking today. Gasoline was 34 cents a gallon, and a stamp cost six cents. The fee for a professional prophylaxis at the periodontist was $15, and starting salary was $25 a day with limited benefits.

“Up, Up and Away” was the song of the year, and that is what this class was doing — finding our place in the profession and in the world.

Shortly after graduation we took the clinical board exams and went through the licensure process. In those days, state boards administered their own exams. Regional boards were not available, and Texas did not join the Western Regional Board of Dental Examiners until 1994. One of our classmates took boards in six states and was granted licenses in all six.

By the time we graduated, four of us were married and 12 were engaged. Eleven married dentists; some of the spouses met through the dental programs at Baylor, others later in life. Several married patients they treated as students.

Before too long, most of us became part of the Sesame Street crowd and were happily reading Dr. Seuss on a nightly basis. Our children had the cleanest teeth of all, and we taught dental education classes for young children whenever we had the opportunity. Five of our offspring grew up to be dental professionals. One classmate has a daughter who is a dental hygienist, and three other classmates have sons who became dentists, with one proud classmate producing two sons/dentists.

Diverging Career Paths

As Dr. Seuss says, “You have brains in your heads. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” That pretty much sums up our class.

A bachelor of science degree was awarded to 17 of our classmates. Four went on to earn master's degrees; three went on to teach in Texas dental hygiene schools. Two are still teaching in Texas. Other areas of experience in practice: general dentistry, pediatric dentistry, periodontics, public health, and clinical board examiner.

One adventurer in our class worked for several years as a clinical dental hygienist in Basel, Switzerland, before establishing a permanent residence in the United States and practicing on the West Coast for eight years. She then ventured into another highly successful career in real estate. She enjoyed her first career choice and those years in school; her second career was just one of those things that happened along the way.

Several members of the 1968 class celebrated during a beachfront retreat in Florida.
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After 20 years of dental hygiene practice, another classmate found interest in real estate and associated enterprises and now owns a home-staging business in Texas.

There are others who have applied their creativity and good hand skills to jewelry making and award-winning cooking, placing in blue-ribbon culinary events. One of our classmates is a counselor with a private practice. Another entrepreneur, who loves horses, rides and sells imported horses, has taught English riding classes, and has owned a boarding stable. Our class includes a wedding planner and a diagnostic medical sonographer.

Decades to Remember

Our first official reunion was the 10th year after graduation, held concurrently with the Dallas MidWinter Clinic, now known as the Southwest Dental Conference. The French Room of the Adolphus Hotel, a well known Dallas landmark and HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry's original site, was the location of our luncheon. There all 22 attendees renewed our commitment to keep connected.

The 20-year reunion was a great success, with 30 of our 35 classmates in attendance. Five traveled from California, one from Alaska, and others traveled from Colorado, Arizona, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Our beloved director, Dr. Ruth Swords, and a favorite instructor, Linda Olmstead Crossett, were honored guests at the dinner, which was held at the Anatole Hotel, the site of the Dallas MidWinter Clinic. The Baylor Alumni office supported our efforts and has continued to help all these years.

Counting by Fives

In no time, five more years flew by, during which we lost a classmate, our first and only to date. We decided that celebrating the 25th reunion was more important than ever. So during the 1993 annual dental meeting, we had another well-attended reunion at the Anatole. By this time, continuing education courses were being required for license renewal, and meeting during the conference for CE credits was another reason for our high participation. A video featuring old pictures from dental hygiene school was a big hit when it made its debut at our 25-year reunion.

During the year of the 30-year reunion, remarkably, 23 out of 34 were still practicing dental hygiene. Twenty-two classmates attended the 30th reunion, held in the Lalique Room of the Anatole. This time the reunion planning committee offered other reunion-related events for us to attend during the three-day dental meeting. Of course, some of our husbands took courses, and by this time the word had gotten out about the grand events associated with our reunions, so other spouses started coming along to enjoy the additional festivities. That year, a video was recorded at the brunch, the final 30-year reunion event.

The 1968 class portrait
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The 35-year reunion was celebrated in January 2004 in conjunction with the new Southwest Dental Conference at Dallas. The dinner, with 22 in attendance was a roll call for Caruth's 50th anniversary celebration, which would occur the next year.

Caruth's 50th Birthday

The Centennial Celebration for HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry and the 50th anniversary for the Caruth School of Dental Hygiene began in January 2005 with an elegant luncheon honoring the dental hygiene program, its directors and alumni.

It was wonderful for the Class of 1968 alumnae to see each other as well as those before us and after us. Present were Caruth graduates from most of the 48 classes; past directors, including Dr. Ruth Swords and Patricia Clendenin Wessendorff; Dr. James S. Cole, the dean of the dental school; faculty; and other important guests. There were 27 from our class in attendance; many more were there in spirit.

A few months after the anniversary celebrations, we were stunned by the death of Dr. John Bower, the husband of classmate Susie, and an ardent supporter of our class. He had perfect attendance at our class reunions and knew everyone by name. This loss prompted those who could to travel to Oklahoma to comfort our classmate. As of 2008, four of us are widowed.

The Big 4-0

When 2008 rang in, there were plans for the 40-year reunion in January to be held during the Southwest Dental Conference in Dallas. We headed back to the Adolphus, the same hotel where we had celebrated our 10th. Nineteen from our class attended, bringing husbands, boyfriends, and even a daughter. Our class photographer, who had taken our reunion group shots since 1978, captured the occasion.

In honor of this monumental year, for the first time there was an additional reunion scheduled: a destination trip to the beaches near Seaside, Florida. There, a classmate hosted us at her beach home. In May 2008, exactly 40 years after the events of our 1968 graduation, 10 of us had the time of our lives, laughing over the old videos and annuals.

At one point during the reunion, all 10 of us sat around the beach house writing notes to each classmate who was unable to be there. Together, we mailed those 24 cards from the Seaside post office; we wanted to be sure they knew we were thinking of them and that they were truly missed.

Dr. Seuss ends his book, Oh, the Places You'll Go! with these words, “And will you succeed? Yes! You will, Indeed!” Each of us has succeeded in our own way, personally and professionally. And we've done something few college graduates can claim: we've kept in touch with our graduating class for more than 40 years. Finally, we have technology on our side, with e-mail and cell phones making communication so much quicker and easier. Even with a classmate in Australia and another in Alaska, we are 100 percent accounted for and up-to-date on the days of our lives.

We are committed to one another and to our school. One of our classmates even established a scholarship fund that is endowed and offers a scholarship each year to a deserving senior. We are pleased to give back to Caruth and BCD, where we met and were influenced to become the women we are today.

Stay tuned; there's more to come! The next reunion will be here before we know it!

The 34 suriving members of the class of 1968 answered a questionnaire. Several interesting statistics catch your eye:
  • 29 (85 percent) said that they made the “correct choice” for a career more than four decades ago. Twenty-three said they would choose dental hygiene again, if their career started in 2009.
  • 16 of the classmates still practice today. Five were married during dental hygiene school. One reared four daughters (the largest group of kids), and another has the most grandchildren with 10.
  • Three retired from dental hygiene for medical reasons and five retired due to musculoskeletal problems.
  • The dental hygiene program is in Dallas. Nineteen members of the class said they were still Dallas Cowboys fans.