Since 1959, Gene Hedrick has been making the drive from his home on Main Street to his office on Harrison Street almost every day. It is a route he could drive with his eyes closed.
But on Friday, Nov. 3, he made that drive for the last time. At least the last time as owner of his own dentist office. He announced to his staff and patients last week that Friday would be his last day; he was retiring.
Hedrick’s office was covered in family photos and memories of the past 58 years of business. In the middle of the office sat the original desk he bought when the office was built in the 1960s. He said it still looks new because he never had time to actually sit down and use it.
In 1956, Hedrick got his Bachelor’s of Science degree from Indiana University and staying at the school, he graduated four years later with a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree. That same year, he returned to his hometown of Salem to begin his career.
He said he didn’t always know he would be a dentist. In fact, after graduating from Salem High School in 1952 he went to Purdue University for one year with his twin brother, Jack.
“I thought I was going to be a chemical engineer,” he said. But after that first year, he changed direction and schools.
“My brother, Jack, and I transferred to Indiana University. I like to joke that after one year at Purdue, we decided to go to IU and really get an education.”
When he got to IU, Gene talked to his roommate who was pre-dental and that led to his decision to become a dentist. His brother chose the optometry field and became an optometrist.
Dr. Ed DeJean was a dentist in Salem when Hedrick returned home. DeJean wanted to go back to school to study oral surgery and Hedrick took over as dentist. At the time, they shared a building with Dr. Eddie Apple on Harrison Street.
In 1963, when DeJean completed his schooling, the two built the building that Hedrick is in today, with him practicing on one side and DeJean on the other.
Looking back, Hedrick said the people he has met and the friendships he has made have been the best parts of his job over the years.
“It’s a good feeling when you know you are helping a person with their health and creating a friendship as well,” he said. “That is what I’m going to miss most.”
He laughed saying the last few years he has been practicing it seems most of his appointments are spent half on dental work and half on talking.
One neat aspect of the longevity of the business is that Hedrick has five generations of patients from one family and several that are third or fourth generation.
“I have patients who have been with me since I started practicing 50 years ago!” he laughed. “We have very loyal patients. That means a lot to me.”
Ten years ago Dr. Tricia Wheeler joined his office and the two began seeing patients together. Wheeler has now officially bought the practice.
“It’s important to know your leaving your practice in good hands,” said Hedrick. “After nearly 59 years in business, you want that degree of work to carry on.”
Wheeler credits Hedrick for teaching her how to continue a good practice.
“Over these last 17 years working alongside Dr. Hedrick, I have been able to closely watch how he interacts with patients, people and employees,” she said. “He has taught me not only the value of great patient care, but has strengthened my personal belief of following the Golden Rule. He has enhanced my knowledge of general dentistry and has taught me the importance of treating each patient as a family friend. He has heightened my love of dentistry and this community.”
Wheeler said Hedrick has been a wonderful mentor, teacher and associate.
“I am proud to have had the privilege to practice dentistry with him these past 17 years,” she said.
Although the doctors who he started with are now gone, Hedrick said he learned a lot from DeJean, Dr. Don Crouch and Dr. Martin Kennedy.
“I was fortunate to practice with the other fine dentists in this community,” he said. “We were always compatible with each other. They were all great people and dentists.”
He said they never competed with each other and did not take offense when a patient would leave one for the other. They all wanted what was best for the patients. He said they would often share stories and advice.
“We had great respect for each other,” he said.
Hedrick said Dr. John Tacket moved in next door when DeJean retired. They have been working together for 23 years.
“I will miss his counsel and friendship,” he said.
When asked what he plans to do with his extra time in retirement, Hedrick didn’t hesitate with an answer.
“I have a lot of things I can do!” he said. “I want to play more golf and I plan to continue my involvement with Indiana University.”
Hedrick was on the founding board for the Varsity Club at IU in 1978 and has been a member ever since.
“I’m looking forward to the sense of freedom to do whatever, whenever,” he said. “I plan to keep very busy and get involved in more volunteer work in the community.”
The doctor said Washington County has been great to him and his family.
“This is a great place to live and raise your kids!” he said, adding that all four of his children received a tremendous education from Salem Community Schools.
Hedrick is grateful to the community for supporting the business and to his employees who have helped along the way.
“All the work we have done here wouldn’t have been possible without our wonderful and loyal staff,” he said.
He has three employees who have worked with him for more than 40 years. Cindy Alexander has been with him the longest at 49 years, Carolyn Doty for 44 years and Val Kelly for 43 years.
“They work hard every day to make me look good!” he laughed.
He said Gloria Courtney, Kim Hoke and Barbara Elliott have also been with him for many years and Rachel Bowling and Linda Walls have also been great employees.
Hedrick said the longevity of the business comes from trying to do his best every day for each patient.
“You are on your honor every day,” he sad. “You want to do your best. That’s important to me - be honest and do the right thing.”