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Memories from 59 years of annual meetings

November 06, 2017

By Michelle Manchir

Photo of members
Family tradition: Dr. Ralph Merkel attends ADA 2017 – America’s Dental Meeting with his grandson, dentist Dr. Jeff Valliere. This year marked Dr. Merkel’s 59th consecutive attendance at the annual meeting, he said. Photo by EZ Event Photography
Atlanta — Perhaps nobody wandering the Exhibit Hall floor during ADA 2017 – America's Dental meeting could discuss the virtues and benefits of organized dentistry better than Dr. Ralph Merkel.

The Fort Wayne, Indiana, dentist said ADA 2017 accounts for his 59th consecutive ADA annual meeting, which he started attending after his 1958 graduation from the Indiana University School of Dentistry.

Dr. Merkel, 87, said he and his family, including his late first wife who was active with the Alliance of the ADA, used to plan vacations around the ADA session locations.

"We're going to have a vacation each year. How can I best use that vacation?" he said he remembers thinking. "Haven't missed a one," he told the ADA News Oct. 21, standing on the Exhibit Hall floor, donning a red Indiana University lanyard.

Dr. Merkel said he has especially fond memories from previous gatherings in New Orleans, San Francisco and Honolulu.

These days, Dr. Merkel is joined at the meetings by his grandson, Dr. Jeff Valliere, who graduated in May from his grandfather's alma matter.

The duo practice in the same office in Fort Wayne along with Dr. Valliere's mom and dad (Dr. Merkel's daughter and son-in-law, who are also dentists), though Dr. Merkel limits his schedule to three days a week.

It's neat to see the second and third generation of patients who saw his grandfather as a dentist decades ago, Dr. Valliere said.

"It's pretty amazing when you're sitting in the other room, and you overhear him say 'I put that restoration in for you back in 1964,'" Dr. Valliere said. "It's like, did I hear that right?"

Dr. Merkel said he is thankful for the family involvement in the practice. They've played a big part in helping him keep with the latest science and technology in the profession, he said.

Dr. Merkel said his involvement in organized dentistry has also been a part of his success. He used to be president of and is still active with his local dental society component, the Isaac Knapp District Dental Society, and hopes to see it grow in membership, along with the ADA, he said.

For his part, Dr. Valliere said the ADA annual meetings were a part of his childhood; he remembers visiting Exhibit Hall vendors as a kid to see which ones had candy. Now, as a practicing dentist, he recognizes the important benefits staying involved bring.

"To my generation, No. 1 is networking and connections," he said. "The world is a smaller place in that you can be anywhere and go anywhere and do anything. A lot of times it's about who you know and the connections you make. And it may be because you bumped shoulders with somebody at the ADA meeting."

If you didn't catch him at ADA 2017, Dr. Merkel said he already has plans to attend ADA 2018 in Honolulu.

When asked if he would attend, he said, "You aren't kidding, buddy."