Envisioning the future: Cherri Kading celebrates retirement

January 28th, 2024

Cherri Kading has always had a vision for her career.

As a young dental assistant, wife and mother, it led her to pursue a dental hygiene degree. It then pushed her to secure a bachelor’s degree, took her across the country for a master’s and eventually brought her to Texas A&M School of Dentistry. Now that vision is leading her to retirement.

After 14 years at the dental school, Kading is retiring this month as director of clinical operations in the Office of Clinical Affairs.

“It has just been my most favorite job ever, and it’s the best job I could have ever had to end my career,” she said. “When you’re on the right path, it’s easy. Each point had its own challenges, and I had to work really hard, but when you’re on a path meant for you, doors open up along the way.”

Kading was first hired in 2010 as clinic coordinator in the dental hygiene program.

“I was there five years, and I had a vision there, too,” she said. “I developed a close relationship with the office of clinical affairs during that time as I sought answers and advice on various issues. And after a couple of years, I thought: ‘That’s where I want to be.’”

Although Kading had enjoyed decades chairside, she was ready to move into a position where she could help the entire school and contribute on a higher level.

Professor Lisa Mallonee, associate dean for faculty affairs and tenured professor in the dental hygiene department, said when Kading left the dental hygiene department to join the clinical affairs team, she gave Kading a special gift – a photo of them in a frame that said “Dance like no one is watching.”

“On occasion, when we were working intently on something and I wanted to bounce an idea off her, I would just barge in her office so we could talk through the situation together,” Mallonee said. “Ultimately, we would always use humor to bring levity to the moment and maybe also throw out a few dance moves.

“We’d then compose ourselves, put our professional hats back on and move forward with the day.”

Cherri Kading talks with a patient in the clinic.

Kading was named director of clinical operations in the Office of Clinical Affairs in September 2015, and when she first took on the role, she was “always bummed on Friday” leaving campus and “excited on Sunday” to start a new week. As the stress of the position weighed on her over time, she grew to value the weekends as a chance to recharge, returning every week with steadfast attention and a renewed energy to help people.

“That’s what our office is all about – helping people,” she said. “Leadership has always made it very clear: We are here to provide answers.

“And I love being able to do that,” she said. “I don’t think there’s one person in our office who will ever turn anyone away. They’ll make sure you get the answer you need.”

Kading said the most difficult part of her job was sometimes sharing information that people weren’t necessarily happy to hear, but her colleagues provided a strong support system.

“Everybody always had my back,” she said. “If you’re a compliance officer of any kind, you know people are not going to be happy with you. I would leave the office to do my thing, and I would either come back upset or I would upset other people … but this was a safe, supportive space.

“I never felt that I was alone in making any decision.”

Through the years, Kading has witnessed and navigated significant changes, from moving the dental hygiene department to helping develop and execute COVID-19 protocols in the clinic.

“The biggest change came when COVID happened,” she said. “We had just devised a plan to reduce waste in the clinic, evaluating what could be wiped down and disinfected to eliminate the use of so much plastic. We really had it fine-tuned and had reduced the amount of trash we were producing when COVID hit.

“Then we had to cover everything, and that plan went out the window,” she recalled. “I think plastic is here to stay.”

Kading noted that some private practices may have reverted to pre-COVID protocol, but she doesn’t anticipate it changing at the university level anytime soon.

“When you’re in a dental school, you’re always working at the highest level,” she said, a mantra she called upon daily.

Dr. Jennifer Barrington, associate dean for clinical affairs, said Kading’s insightful approach to her responsibilities and endless dedication to the safety of the clinics is evidence of her exemplary work ethic and commitment to the dental profession.

“However, her inner strength, generosity and love for her friends and family, which also extends to her work family, is what guides her,” Barrington said. “Cherri is a valued coworker, teammate and friend.”

Kading considered everyone on campus family, and she said that’s what she’ll miss most – the people.

“We’re small enough that we’re like a family, and I just love coming to work … and talking to people,” she said. “It’s just perfect.”

Kading is retiring to the countryside in Oklahoma, and although her vision for retirement isn’t yet nailed down, she said her first priority is scrubbing the floors at her house.

“We have a new puppy, it’s been raining a lot and those floors are a mess. That’s just really been weighing on me,” she said with a laugh.

Otherwise, she plans to make frequent trips back to Texas to see her kids and grandkids, spend time with her husband and pursue artistic endeavors.

— Kristen Tribe