In 1975, freshly graduated Indiana University alumnus Steven Junken set up shop in Nashville as its only dentist.
Forty years later, he still is.
“I could have practiced anywhere,” Junken said. “I have no regrets in moving here. You’d have to drag me away.”
Junken was first attracted to Brown County when he was a student at IU and visited Nashville’s shops.
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“Initially, it was the natural beauty that drew me,” Junken said. “The ultimate stimulus was that I was searching to find a place that I wanted to live (first) and then see if I could set up a practice.”
He almost moved to Greenwood upon graduation to begin a practice there, but the plans fell through when the second partner pulled out of the deal. Junken said he considers himself lucky that events turned out that way.
“It was a providential door turned into a window,” he said.
Through it, he also met his wife Cathy, and they married after the practice had been running for 10 years.
Cathy had been working for the dentist that owned the practice before Junken took it over, so she’s worked with Junken since the beginning.
“We were thrilled when we got an electric typewriter,” Cathy said.
In addition to working with his wife, Junken also employs Margaret Henry, her best friend, and another employee is also Cathy’s sister.
“He broke all the all rules,” Henry said.
“Somehow it works,” Cathy said. “It’s like a small family here. We don’t have any of that ‘stuff.’”
Henry has been with the practice so long, she is now treating the grandchildren of some of her former patients.
They bring her prom pictures, pictures of their children, their dogs or their kids’ new cars.
Henry said both she and Cathy have stopped to check teeth for people they know when they’re in the IGA.
“I keep telling them I need to set up a booth,” Henry said.
The practice has not come without its challenges.
“I met resistance when I told people they should go to Columbus to see a specialist who could do something better than I could,” Junken said.
People were confused. Why did they have to drive an extra 30 to 45 minutes to see another dentist when he was in town? But as the years progressed, Junken watched more and more people understand why a specialist was necessary.
On occasion, people would visit him in poor dental health despite having seen him before and knowing what they needed to do to improve it.
“They have what we call in the profession a ‘low dental IQ,’” Junken said. “I’ve asked people point-blank: ‘Why should I care more about your health than you?’”
To help educate Brown County on dental health, Junken and his staff ran a weekly column in the paper, and one of his former nurses created a program for Brown County second-graders to receive a free dental consultation.
“We saw about every second-grader in the county,” he said.
In addition to his practice, Junken participates in the community he loves.
He has been a member of the American Cancer Society, dabbled in local party politics, served at his church and is active in professional circles.
“The hardest word for me is ‘no,’” Junken said.
Junken is keeping an eye out for a suitable replacement. “I’ve interviewed a couple of people,” he said.
But neither of them really fit. If Junken has his way, his replacement will be someone from the community who knows the people.
“As long as I still enjoy what I’m doing and am able to do it competently, I intend to practice for several more years, ‘good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.’ I have always thought that 50 years is a good, round number; it has a nice ring to it,” he said.
Although he loves the work he does, he is still looking forward to the benefits of taking extended time off — a luxury he can’t afford as the only dentist in town.
“Because of the demand, people have problems with dental emergencies, and it’s not good for me to be gone that long,” Junken said. “I’m looking forward to taking time off to travel now.”
He hopes to return to Europe with his wife, travel to Scandinavia and go fishing in Canada. In the community, he hopes to jump back into a high level of involvement, perhaps even with the Brown County Board of Health, which was one his favorite volunteer positions in years past.
“I’m lucky that Greenwood didn’t work out,” Junken said. “I would have missed out on all of this.”