Arvidson to retire after 36.5 years in dentistry

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Later this month, Dr. Jim Arvidson will retire from a career that, over 36.5 years, brought him laughter, learning experiences and a resounding connection with the community he served. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

Later this month, Dr. Jim Arvidson will retire from a career that, over 36.5 years, brought him laughter, learning experiences and a resounding connection with the community he served.

“Dentistry has given me what I wanted and needed it to,” he said. 

Spurred on by a good relationship with his dentist as well as an interest in science sparked by his scientist father, Arvidson, who grew up in Des Moines, became attracted to the profession in junior high. 

“I was also drawn to health care,” he noted. “I liked that dentistry could provide a necessary service for individuals but that there’s also an artistic side to it. And I liked the idea that I could be my own boss.”

After graduating from the University of Iowa College of Dentistry, one of the top dental schools in the country, Arvidson was drawn to McGregor by the Mississippi River and the beauty of the Driftless Area. He also appreciated that a bridge to Wisconsin was nearby, opening his practice to a larger clientele base.

“I liked the town,” he said. “Having never been here before, it was a good feeling for me, especially after I met Dr. [Clifford] Smith.”

Upon his arrival in McGregor, Arvidson anticipated moving into an office housed in Smith’s new building, where he hoped to begin practicing right away. However, construction was behind schedule, so Arvidson took advantage of an opportunity to practice for a few months in Oelwein, for Dr. James Rolling, who had recently suffered a heart attack and needed help.

Soon, he was back in McGregor, on his own. Arvidson admitted having his own practice was scary at first, but that he soon learned his schooling had prepared him well for anything he would face. 

“My education was second-to-none,” he said, “and I’ve appreciated that over the years, how well prepared I was.”

Arvidson said a number of his patients have been with him throughout his entire career. He finds it interesting that the young kids who came in with their parents when he first began are now bringing in their own kids.

Although admitting that the dentist’s office isn’t one of the best places to form relationships, Arvidson said he’s forged many great connections, simply by trying to relate to his patients.

“That’s one thing I learned from Dr. Smith, that it pays to relate on a human-to-human basis,” he said. “That’s one of the greatest gifts I could have ever received from that great man.”

Sometimes developing those relationships meant running behind schedule, but since that happened to Dr. Smith, Arvidson said he felt it wasn’t so bad.

“I felt it was worth waiting for, if I got to spend that time with them and take care of them,” he said of his patients. 

As news of his impending retirement spread this year, Arvidson said patients have expressed their regrets. Those sentiments of appreciation have been meaningful to him.

“It’s gratifying to know that you’ve made a difference in people’s lives,” he said. “I think, for the most part, I was able to allay the fears and trepidations of getting dental care, especially for kids.”

Arvidson said those interactions with patients will be one thing he’ll miss most in his retirement. He’ll also miss his staff—Marguerite Clinton, Jane Kleinow and Cindy Light. Together, they’ve all had many great laughs and fun times at the office, which makes for an upbeat environment for patients, Arvidson added.

One story, in particular, has stuck in his mind throughout the years, Arvidson said. It all began with the office’s panoramic x-ray machine, which he said required patients to remove any metallic objects, like jewelry, from around their heads.

“There was this wonderful lady, in her 70s, who’s now passed away. She always carried herself with dignity and class and took care in her appearance,” he recounted. “One day, we needed to take an x-ray, and she proceeded to take her wig off because hair pins were holding it in place. Nobody knew she wore one; we were caught off guard. We laughed about that one several times.”

Over the years, Arvidson said he’d heard that when the time came to retire, he’d know it. He had self-proclaimed idealistic expectations to retire at 40, then 50, then eventually 62.

“All of them came and went,” he said, “but when I got to 60, I got the feeling it was drawing to a close, as I longed for other directions.”

In the last few years, he’s readied the practice for someone else to take over. Finding the right fit was difficult, however, Arvidson said, as dentists shied away from practicing in a rural area. 

This summer, he finally found a taker, in the husband and wife team of Robert Biehl and Catherine Okano. The two have practiced in Prairie du Chien for four years after spending 21 years in Fairbanks, Alaska. Biehl is originally from Maquoketa and Okano from Hawaii. The two met at dental school in Oregon. Arvidson said they were looking to grow their practice, so it was a perfect fit. As they finish obtaining licensure, Arvidson said he’ll be in the office until around Thanksgiving to help ease the transition.

“It was a long wait, but my hope was realized,” he said. “My patients will have the option to continue here and my staff can continue here.”

Arvidson said McGregor has been a supportive community for him. He’s appreciated learning about the area’s history, taking advantage of his close proximity to the river and getting the opportunity to play music. 

He’s also given back to the community that’s supported him, helping form the Chamber of Commerce and serving on the city council for 10 years, as well as on the McGregor Historical Museum board and with other community organizations.

Retirement will be a different focus, but Arvidson said he has no regrets, and that he’s looking forward to it. He hopes to spend more time with his wife, traveling and working around their house and grounds. In addition, he anticipates extra time spent on the river and getting back into music more.

A retirement reception will be held in Arvidson’s honor on Thursday, Nov. 12, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., at the McGregor-Marquette Center for the Arts.

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