Hygiene graduate spawns family legacy

June 24th, 2013

legacy-titleJean Riddle Moore, member of the Caruth School of Dental Hygiene’s first graduating class, is a woman with stories even more remarkable than her distinctive moniker.

The 1957 graduate, now 80 years old, is revered by the Mount Pleasant, Texas, dental patients whose teeth she’s cleaned for decades — and still does. Others happen to know of Riddle Moore’s legendary high school baton-twirling feats, still astounding all these years later.

“One baton, two batons, fire batons, marching in parades and throwing her baton over the electrical wires above the streets, doing backbends and picking up her baton with her teeth; she was outstanding,” says daughter Dr. Candy Ward, at whose dental practice Riddle Moore has worked since its opening 22 years ago in Mount Pleasant.

All four of Riddle Moore’s daughters eventually followed in their mother’s footsteps — baton twirling, dentistry and all — creating what many would call a unique family tradition.

“She did what any good mother would do. She taught us everything she knew and then pushed us and encouraged us to do more,” says Ward. “Mother wholeheartedly believes that dentistry is the best career field ever. We heard this, all our lives. It just seemed natural to go in this direction when life decisions were being made.”

Two of Riddle Moore’s daughters, Juli McNutt and Vicki Nickerson, work alongside their mother as dental hygienists at their sister’s general dentistry office, Ward Dental Center. The fourth daughter, Dr. Keely Hunsaker, practices general dentistry in Corpus Christi, Texas.

“I didn’t know anything else to teach them,” says Riddle Moore, whose hygiene career includes 31 years at the Hughes Springs, Texas, practice of Dr. O.C. Bradley ’53 prior to joining her daughter’s office.

“I’m really proud of my four girls but also of my son — Clay Riddle, recently elected Montague county attorney. We like to call him the black sheep of the family since he decided to forgo the ‘family business’ and became a lawyer instead!”

How it all began

legacy-1In those early days at A&M Baylor College of Dentistry, when the dental hygiene class was nicknamed the “Lavender Hill Mob,” an ode to their lilac-colored lab coats, and patients’ teeth were cleaned on what The Dallas Morning News described as “dazzling” pink dental chairs, the 26 students in Riddle Moore’s class enjoyed an equally unique classroom setting.

“We were kind of the guinea pig class,” says Riddle Moore. “They didn’t really know where to put us. We ended up having class in an old boiler room!

“They had taken panels and covered up all of the boilers, and set up a few desks in the middle, and that’s where we had to learn. But we studied hard and learned a lot in spite of our makeshift classroom.”

A lasting impression

For Riddle Moore’s daughters, the dental profession was more intriguing than the career alternative offered by their dad.

“It was either ‘teeth or pumping gas’ as Daddy said,” McNutt says. “I didn’t like pumping gas at my dad’s service station back in those days … it was either work with your back and do manual labor or get an education and use your brain to do something you like.”

McNutt’s own affinity for the profession may have been sparked back in junior high, the Sunday afternoon she stepped on a piece of glass. She was left with a deep gash in her foot and not an open doctor’s office in town to call. Her mother, always on her toes, had a solution.

After a quick phone call to the family dentist, Riddle Moore whisked her daughter off to his office.

“They put me in the dental chair, laid me back, propped up my foot, slapped the nitrous gas on my face, gave me a shot in my foot and sewed it up,” McNutt says.

Daughter Nickerson was another beneficiary of Riddle Moore’s quick thinking during childhood emergencies, this one of the dental variety.

“I fell when I was a little kid and knocked out my front teeth,” says Nickerson. “Because my mother knew how and what to do, she saved my upper central incisors.”

The togetherness doesn’t seem to put the family under any relationship strain, not even when you factor in the 17 grandchildren, all with great smiles, no less.

“I’m so glad that my daughters have chosen to pursue such a rewarding career and that we all share some of the same experiences,” says Riddle Moore. “I just love my profession, and I feel so honored to share it with my kids.”

— Jennifer Fuentes