The AWDA legacy: 65 years of service
The Auxiliary/Alliance of the Wisconsin Dental Association’s legacy spans 65 years of loyalty and service to Badger State dentists and their profession.
They started Legislative Day and the Smile Contest, raised more than $40,000 for the Wisconsin Dental Foundation and played key roles in Wisconsin legislation.
The AWDA, a tripartite organization, disbanded Dec. 31, 2001, but some former members continue to affect Wisconsin dentistry on their own initiatives.
“We made great strides at the state and local levels and also as individuals,” said Mrs. Ginger Stanek, spouse of Neenah dentist Dr. Roger Stanek and former AWDA president and Legislative Committee chair.
One of these great strides took place at the state Capitol where the AWDA held its first Legislative Day conference in 1985, designed to raise legislators’ awareness of dental issues.
“The legislators know we’re coming and respect and listen to us,” Mrs. Stanek, who continues to be involved politically, said. “If a dentist’s spouse isn’t heard, legislators will make decisions that can change your life forever. Once laws are passed, you can’t change them back.”
Former Wisconsin Dental Association executive director Dennis McGuire said Legislative Day, which continues today, is the AWDA’s greatest achievement, because they recognized the need and had the foresight for such an event.
“The Alliance members outnumbered the dentists at that first meeting,” he said. “It was their way of showing their spouses the significance and importance of being active at the legislative level.”
The women also raised money for the WDF. Ms. Mary Casey, who was a Milwaukee-area resident and patient of WDA member dentist Dr. Paul Oberbreckling, wrote a book titled “Sparkly the Tooth Fairy”. The book sold nation wide and the proceeds, which numbered in the thousands, went to the WDF. The Alliance of the American Dental Association still sells the book.
The AWDA played an integral role in the livelihoods of Wisconsin dentists and, in some ways, that role continues even in the organization’s “retirement”.
Since the majority of dentists have their own practices which are small businesses, Alliance members educated themselves on the ins and outs of running a business. Mrs. Stanek encourages today’s younger spouses to know how to operate a business.
“If something happens to their spouse, they have to know how an office operates,” she said.
“They have a unique understanding as a dentist’s spouse and the knowledge, demands and rewards that are an everyday part of the dental profession,” Mr. McGuire said.
The AWDA didn’t stop at the Capitol or their spouse’s offices. They also wanted to do something fun for kids. On Aug. 12, 1988, the AWDA, with help from the WDA, held the first Smile Contest at the Wisconsin State Fair.
The state fair staff told the AWDA they should only expect between 30 and 50 kids; everyone was thoroughly surprised when almost 200 kids showed up to flash their pearly whites before a panel of judges.
Mrs. Kasey Bruch-Nenn, former AWDA president and spouse of WDA member Dr. Conrad Nenn of Wild Rose, headed up the first-time event. “We received incredible publicity and it was all unplanned,” she said. There were radio interviews, as well as television and newspaper coverage.”
Some youngsters who have participated in recent years are the children of previous years’ contestants and some families plan their State Fair visit around the Smile Contest.
The AWDA also reached out to the public statewide. “Countless individuals were reached through AWDA members going to schools, senior citizen centers and nursing homes hosting tooth brushing and smokeless tobacco presentations, bookmark and poster contests and tooth fairy telephone hotlines,” Mrs. Bruch-Nenn said. The tooth fairy hotline was created by Mrs. Beth Clemence, former AWDA member and spouse of Hales Corners dentist Dr. Keith Clemence.
“The amount of publicity and goodwill generated across the state was invaluable,” added Mrs. Bruch-Nenn.
Besides providing valuable services to dentistry in Wisconsin, many spouses continue to benefit from personal relationships they’ve developed with other spouses through the AWDA.
“Hands down, the best thing about the AWDA was meeting other spouses who were in the same position as me; they understood what it’s like to be married to a dentist,” Mrs. Bruch-Nenn said.
Mrs. Stanek values the camaraderie among the spouses who understand the unique traits of the dental profession.
“Some of my best friends are women I’ve met here; they’re other Alliance women,” she said.
While the AWDA may have formally been disbanded, retirement means little to many of these women. Their service to Wisconsin dentistry continues through local and national efforts.
“Their ongoing support of WDA programs and services, as well as contributing the group’s remaining funds after it disbanded in 2001 to the WDF for a dental student scholarship fund, demonstrates the integral role they continue to play for the WDA,” Mr. McGuire said.