Aug. 1, 2012



"Quando m'en vo,'" an aria from Puccini's opera La Boheme, doesn't seem like the sort of background music one would hear in a hygiene operatory. But if you're in Nancy Williams Shuffle's operatory, you just might. Nancy, who works for Jill Miller, DDS, and Steven Jones, DDS, in Jackson Center and Elida, Ohio, is also a professional singer.

"Serving the public in a practical way is really gratifying," she says of her hygiene career. "Pleasing the public in a creative way as a singer is also gratifying."

Though she'd been singing her whole life, and though her father, grandfather, and uncle were all dentists, Nancy didn't start out wanting either a musical or a dental career.

"Singing has always been easy for me," she explains. "My mother says I was matching pitch when I was a toddler, and my grandmother taught me songs. I wanted to sing for people all the time. But in some ways I was taking it for granted. I began playing the violin in fifth grade. I always loved playing because it was more of a challenge than singing, which came easily." By the end of her high school years, Nancy had started to sing more formally in church and school choirs.

Still, she didn't think of music as a career choice. "I went to the University of Michigan and got a liberal arts degree in psychology. I did audition for the U of M Choral Union and Festival Chorus, though. During that audition the director actually handpicked me for his church choir. All of a sudden I thought, 'I must have a really good singing voice.' I started doing solo work in other churches, at sorority events, and at weddings."

Marriage and family followed college, and Nancy became a stay-at-home mom for her daughters Molly, now 27 and a special events coordinator at the Ohio State University, and Sydney, 23 and an intern stage manager with Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. Nancy also became involved in musical theater, and sang more than 70 leading roles throughout Ohio.

When Nancy and her husband divorced after 17 years, something her mother used to say came back to her - "You should be a dental hygienist so you'll have a career to fall back on."

"So I went to Rhodes State College for dental hygiene," Nancy said. "It was a really good fit for me. I worked part-time at a local newspaper and did substitute teaching, and my parents helped. I graduated in 2005, and was named Outstanding Dental Hygiene Student in my class. I was honored because all the women in my class were amazing."

As a Christian, Nancy believes hygiene is her ministry. "I really think it is my calling to serve others. I love working one-on-one with patients, and I know that I'm improving their lives. I try to incorporate a lot of information and education into appointments with my patients, but most importantly, I've learned that people won't listen to a word you say if they don't know that I really care about them. That's where a dedication to service is so important."

About 10 years ago, Nancy was cast at the University of Findlay in the world premiere revival of Rex, a musical based on the life of Henry VIII. She played Catherine of Aragon opposite John Shuffle as Henry.

"We got to be good friends," she says of John, a bookseller, professional singer, and violist. "We had a lot of mutual interests in music ministry and theater." Of their relationship, Nancy says happily, "It developed." The two have been married for eight years. John has three children - Henry, 32, who works in admissions at Wheaton College and is a father himself; Laura, 30, a nanny; and Louise, 27, who just finished a master's degree in cello performance.

At this point in her life, Nancy says, "I really love my two careers. They're a break from each other, and they complement the two sides of my personality. I'm very creative, and I'm very productive."

Nancy and John sing as often as they can, wherever they can, in ministry, classically, and in musical theater. They have released CDs, and have sung in the U.S. and internationally. One of their favorite venues is Israel. They travel there once a year to volunteer with the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (icej.org) as part of an international team of musicians, leading celebrations for audiences from more than 100 countries at the International Convention Center Jerusalem.

Information about Nancy and John Shuffle and their CDs and concert dates can be found at their website at johnandnancyshuffle.com.

CATHY HESTER SECKMAN, RDH, has written on dental topics for 26 years. She speaks on pediatric issues, and works clinically in a pediatric practice. She is also an indexer and a novelist.