Hall of Fame - An American Classic :: An Incisal Edge Magazine Success Article

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Published: 1/9/2012 9:56:51 AM EST

 

After a half-century, Dr. Amos Persing still runs his practice the old-fashioned way — and his patients wouldn’t change a thing.


Everything about Amos Persing is classic. As a boy in Watsontown, Pennsylvania (10 miles up the road and across the Susquehanna River from Lewisburg), he would tag along as his father, a country doctor, made house calls.Dr. Amos Persing appreciates a classic. He collects classic cars: a pair of Model T’s, a ’49 Ford Coupe and a ’56 Thunderbird. He lives and works in a classic college town: Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Finally, to round out the theme, one of Persing’s operatories still has a classic robin’s-egg-blue Weber Dental Manufacturing P-64 unit.

Larry Cohen, chief customer advocate of Benco Dental, sold him that unit back in 1964. Now Cohen wants it back, for the de facto dental museum he has curated at Benco’s CenterPoint headquarters in Pennsylvania. Dr. Persing says he’ll gladly donate it — when he’s ready. Subscribing thoroughly to the maxim “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Dr. Persing, 75, updates only when it’s truly necessary. Nearly a half-century after acquiring the P-64, he’s still using it.

To visit Dr. Persing’s practice is to travel back in time. An appointment with Dr. Persing means you see . . . Dr. Persing. A true generalist, he treats patients as young as 4 and as old as 92, and performs whatever procedures are necessary. He doesn’t have a hygienist; he never has. “That’s what keeps me interested,” he says.

The trappings may be classic, but he’s happy to incorporate new dental materials, technologies and techniques. The P-64 isn’t an aberration. While he has made some concessions to changing times — the office’s black rotary phone was updated to a cordless several years back, and there is a fax machine — Dr. Persing’s practice has no Web site or e-mail address. No computer at all, in fact. There’s just a typewriter, a manual. Many of his younger patients had never seen one. Dr. Persing’s longtime assistant, Janet Zimmerman, warned him: “If a computer comes in, I’m out.” When she retired in 2010, Dr. Persing found a new assistant who dutifully fell into line. “We only need it to write up the bills once a month anyway,” he says, shrugging.

Everything about Amos Persing is classic. As a boy in Watsontown, Pennsylvania (10 miles up the road and across the Susquehanna River from Lewisburg), he would tag along as his father, a country doctor, made house calls. While seeing his father summoned out of bed at all hours turned him off the M.D. routine, young Amos wanted to pursue a profession that would enable him to help people. Dentistry fit the bill. “It gives you a sense of satisfaction to be able to solve problems,” he says. He graduated from Temple University’s dental school in 1962, then completed two years of service in the Army as a dentist with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, before returning home to set up shop in the Keystone State.

Dr. Persing married his high-school sweetheart, Corinne, in 1958. Even after 53 years together, he calls her his “guiding light.” Their children still live in town. The oldest of their four grandchildren recently graduated from college and took a job in Washington, D.C. In a small town, that constitutes big news — especially at a practice that seems like an extended family to the locals, many of whom have been going to Dr. Persing for three generations.

Hanging in his office is a photograph of his father with other doctors and medics during World War II. They’re on the sand at the beach landing of the Battle of Anzio. Both before and after the war, the elder Dr. Persing delivered a number of babies who would later become his son’s patients. The family’s medical lineage goes back even further, though: Years ago, an older patient told Dr. Persing, “Your grandfather” — a physician in the early 1900s — “pulled a tooth for me.” Dr. Persing marvels at the memory. “At that time, doctors did a bit of tooth extraction on the side; there weren’t that many dentists around,” he says.

VINTAGE EQUIPMENT: Dr. Persing still uses the classic Weber Dental Manufacturing P-64 unit  sold to him in 1964 by Benco Chief Customer Advocate Larry CohenThe century-long family tradition of providing health care to the area continues; Dr. Persing has an internist brother, a daughter who is a nurse and a grandchild studying pre-med.

Dr. Persing counts himself lucky to have been able to raise children and grandchildren in a place like Lewisburg. Home to just 5,620 residents, it’s a quaint town. Highlights include the Bucknell University campus and buildings dating as far back as the 1780s. After considerable recent effort, downtown (which has a striking colonial-era layout) has been spruced up, with brightly painted brick-fronted shops and restaurants along Market Street as well as a refurbished hotel built in 1834 and a renovated Art Deco theater that shows both current and (naturally) classic movies.

Dr. Persing fits the place well. “He’s truly a perfect gentleman,” Larry Cohen says. “I expect everyone likes Amos.
I would bet he never cursed once in his life.” As Zimmerman, his former assistant, puts it, “He is a hometown dentist. Everybody knows his name. Everybody knows he has been here a long time.” She adds, “He is very fair. He would never tell a patient they needed something they didn’t, but he doesn’t mince words. He’ll say, ‘This is the way it is. Either you get this done or you get this done.’ He’s very conscientious.”

Next year will mark a half-century in practice, and while Dr. Persing has cut back to four days a week, he has no plans to call it quits. The trappings may be classic, but he’s happy to incorporate new dental materials, technologies and techniques. “That’s the challenge,” he says. “Otherwise you’re just slogging along.” Plus, he’s seen too many friends retire, get bored and go back to work part-time. “As long as I can get up every day, come in and feel good about it, I’m real content to keep working for a while yet.”


BY TED O’CALLAHAN
Photographs by Matthew Furman