Bond still strong after 66 years

Commonalities of war, dental school, brought this class together — and kept them close through the decades
September 28th, 2017

Class of 51

The experience of going into combat has the potential to unify members of a group, bringing them together in a way few other life circumstances can. If you ask the Class of 1951, they might say the same is true of dental school. When members of this class enrolled in the dental program, most of them were fresh from World War II and earning their educations by utilizing the GI Bill. Their experiences during the war as well as the ups and downs of dental school cemented their friendships, which have lasted more than 66 years.

Texas A&M College of Dentistry’s Sept. 15 homecoming festivities provided the perfect backdrop for this gathering of friends. Seven class members, most in their mid-90s, traveled from across Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi for a weekend of fun and reminiscing.

“There were 12 class members still living out of a class of 60, but one passed away just last week,” said Dr. Blair Jones ’83, who drove from Mansfield to Sweetwater, Texas, to bring his father, Dr. Zane Jones, to the reunion. “Their class is unusually close.”

They were the first to graduate from the dental school after it relocated to its current building in 1950. Many had not returned to campus since they graduated, so part of their weekend events included a tour.

After a morning reception and welcome from Dean Lawrence Wolinsky, the alums walked through clinics, labs and classes. To their delight, they were greeted with “welcome back” from faculty members and students.

They were equally amazed with the technology updates that have occurred since they graduated dental school, such as lecture capturing software, Camtasia, which allows students to view faculty lectures at their leisure.

“We needed that Camtasia back when our daughter was born,” said Eleanor Baldridge, the wife of Dr. Doyle Baldridge. Their daughter was born on the first day of dental school. It was a month before Baldridge got a break from classes to return to Conway, Arkansas, to see his new baby.

They were shocked to see the students now have a practical lab to finish their cases. According to class members, the presence of makeshift labs in the kitchens and hallways of their homes was not uncommon.

“Can you imagine having company over with all that going on?” Mrs. Baldridge recalled.

Wolinsky talked with the group about the new state-of-the art clinic and education building scheduled to open in 2019.

“I don’t know if the new building will be able to top this current building when it comes to being state of the art,” said Dr. Tom King. “This place is pretty awesome.”

There was at least one familiar face at the college’s alumni reception that evening at the Omni Dallas Hotel. Alumni Association president Dr. Joe Simmons ’98, ’99 recognized the group — Simmons’ father, Dr. Joe Simmons Jr., was a member of the Class of 1951. His mother, Elaine Simmons, who’s considered an honorary member of the class, coordinated the reunion.

“She’s just part of our class,” Doyle Baldridge said.

 

 

 

— Ladawn Brock