Ingalls, Clinton’s favorite dental assistant, looks back on her amazing 50-year career

RETIRING — Alma Ingalls, dental assistant who is retiring after 50 years, and Dr. John Menard, dentist.
RETIRING — Alma Ingalls, dental assistant who is retiring after 50 years, and Dr. John Menard, dentist.
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Clinton is a town known for its timelessness and traditions. One of the town’s longest-running institutions is the dental office owned by Dr. John Menard that’s in the red building facing the village green.

“Clinton is like small towns used to be.” Dr. Menard says.

The office actually began in a tiny white building on Williams Street. It was founded in 1876 by Dr. John A. Beardsley who ran the office until 1910. Then it was taken over by his nephew, Dr. John Garlinghouse who served as the town’s dentist for 35 years until his death, at which time Dr. James Francis (my first dentist) took over and practiced for 50 years. Dr. John Menard joined the practice in 1979, a few years later the business moved to East Park Row where he has been practicing ever since. At the end of last week, Alma Ingalls retired after serving as their dental assistant for 50 years.

“There’s a lot of longevity in this office,” Dr. Menard says. “Alma is an unsung hero.”

She began working for Dr. Francis in 1968. The office was so small that there were only six chairs in the waiting room, and she remembers developing X-ray film in a darkroom that doubled as the restroom.

At first, she thought she’d be a receptionist, but the science of dental care and helping people proved to be so fascinating that she began assisting Dr. Francis.

“He was like a second dad,” she recalls. “And it was so interesting that I wanted to learn more.”

She began studying dental assisting at Mohawk Valley Community College, and after completing her courses, she taught others for twelve and a half years at Oneida County BOCES.

One of the perks of working for Dr. Francis was that he took the staff hiking.

“He knew all about nature,” Ingalls recalls.

“He was an expert birder who loved nature,” Dr. Menard added. “A very interesting genuine person. He was a good mentor. The epitome of honesty. He never led patients astray.”

Ten years after Ingalls began, Dr. Menard joined the practice and eventually bought the business.

“I’d been working for an older fellow,” Ingalls said to him. “Then you were younger than me.”

“We’ve always had good chemistry,” Dr. Menard laughed. “We’ve always had good people.”

“I was blessed to have nice bosses.” she insists.

Ingalls plans to stay very busy in retirement.

“I’m hoping to play more,” she says. “I’m outdoorsy.”

She hikes, kayaks, skis, and she is a member of the Mid-York Mycological Society, an organization for people with an interest in wild mushrooms. Ingalls is also an active member of the Clinton United Methodist Church, where she taught Sunday School for many years. She sings in the church choir and plans to continue working for Home Helpers as a companion to the elderly. Her interests also include piano, cello, watercolors, and she might volunteer at the library.

In addition to all this, she looks forward to spending time with her grandchildren and continuing to volunteer for the Philanthropic Educational Organization. The PEO is an international women’s organization of about 230,000 members, it provides educational opportunities for female students worldwide, particularly through Cottey College an independent, women’s liberal arts and sciences college in a town calledNevada, Missouri. The Clinton Chapter of PEO, which is based in the Clinton United Methodist Church raises money for scholarships for women attending Cottey College or pursuing other educational opportunities.

“They help a lot of women with potential,” Ingalls said.

The practice of dentistry has changed a great deal since Alma Ingalls began working for the dental office. When she started, the use of fluoride was only about a decade old. Until that time Dr. Francis advised patients not to even use toothpaste.

The practice began in the mid-1800s, 35 years before the invention of Novocain. The office has a tooth key on display. This grim tool was owned by Dr. Beardsley who used it to extract his patients’ teeth. There were far more extractions back then because X-rays hadn’t been invented and dentists had no way of seeing between teeth. The one drilling tool they used was manually operated with a foot pedal like a sewing machine.

“That’s how dentists got for their reputation for being sadists,” Dr. Menard jokes. “They did a lot of extractions.”

I asked her how she thinks dentistry might change in the next 50 years.

“We’ll probably just say, ‘Alexa fill that tooth’,” she laughed.

A lot has changed since then, and since Alma Ingalls began in the late ’60s but her advice is timeless.

“Brush, floss, and get regular cleanings,” she says. “Love God and love your neighbors. That’s the way to stay happy!”

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