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'Giant of modern dentistry,' ADA pioneer honored in Indiana hometown

June 27, 2018

By Michelle Manchir

Photo of Hoosier representatives at marker unveiling ceremony
Hoosiers represent: A campaign to memorialize Dr. Otto King culminated June 20 with the unveiling of a Huntington, Ind., historical marker. On site are, from left, Dr. Jack Drone, Indiana Dental Association Journal editor; Doug Bush, Indiana Dental Association executive director; Dr. John Regan, Huntington dentist who led the campaign; Dr. Daniel Fridh, IDA president; and Dr. John Williams, dean of the Indiana University School of Dentistry.
Huntington, Ind. — Surrounded by countryside, this city of about 18,000 boasts a charming downtown, curated sunken gardens, and finds its place in history as the hometown of former vice president Dan Quayle.

Until recently, not many knew that that Huntington was also home to a giant of modern dentistry and one of ADA's most influential founders: Dr. Otto Ulysses King.

Photo of Dr. King
Dr. King
Dr. King, who died in 1951, served as the Association's first general secretary — what would be known today as its executive director — and journal editor from 1913 to 1927. He oversaw the first publication of what's now The Journal of the American Dental Association.

On June 20, about 50 Indiana historical and dental officials, and some members of Dr. King's extended family, came together to unveil a cast aluminum sign outside the building where Dr. King last practiced dentistry in Huntington.

It represents the first historical marker in Indiana that recognizes the contributions of a dentist, said Casey Pfeiffer, marker program director at the Indiana Historical Bureau, which sponsored the marker along with The Huntington County Historical Society.

"He set the bar pretty high," said Dr. Dan Fridh, president of the Indiana Dental Association, at a luncheon honoring Dr. King's life following the unveiling.  

To be sure, Dr. King's life was full of notable achievements, many of which were mentioned at the luncheon thanks to the research and organizing efforts of Huntington dentist Dr. John Regan, who led the effort to get the state to recognize Dr. King.

Photo of Dr. King's historical marker
ADA history: The Indiana Historical Bureau marker honoring Dr. Otto King, JADA's first editor, was unveiled June 20 in Huntington, Indiana, where Dr. King practiced dentistry. His final office in the city is now a furniture store.
Dr. King was the president of his Northwestern University dental school class, graduating in 1897 before entering private practice in Huntington. In 1913, he was made the general secretary of the American Dental Association — which was then called the National Dental Association — and soon after launched the Official Bulletin, a quarterly publication that would become JADA. The first issue was 32 pages long with no advertising, and it was mailed from Huntington by the Whitelock Press, in a building still standing that until recently published the city's local newspaper, said Dr. Regan.

In 1917, The Bulletin went from a quarterly to a monthly, and Dr. King resigned his private practice to devote more time to his work with the Association, according to an archived ADA News article.

The ADA Board of Trustees in 1925 recognized that Dr. King's combined duties of secretary and editor had become burdensome. The Board appointed a new editor, retaining Dr. King as secretary and business manager until his retirement in December 1927.

He is credited with helping grow the membership of the Association and is remembered for his advocacy work. The historical marker notes that he advocated for better dental education, preventive dentistry and free dental care for children.

In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson appointed him to the sixth international dental conference in London. As a member of the national Committee on Dentistry, Council of National Defense, he mobilized dentists for World War I service to treat oral trauma inflicted by trench warfare. In 1920, he co-founded the American College of Dentists.

Photo of Dr. Regan
Dr. Regan
Dr. King and his wife, Mayme Beaver King, had two children, Walter and Helen. While they are deceased, some extended members of Dr. King's family were present June 20 to honor their relative, including his great-niece from Indianapolis, Pamela Sue Beem Durkin; her son, Jeffrey; and Jean Evans Brewer, Dr. King's great-granddaughter.

Ms. Evans Brewer and her husband, Glynn, live in Texas and visited Huntington for the first time for the event.

"I didn't know him, but I've known of him my whole life," she told the ADA News. "I'm just really proud of him and what he's contributed to dentistry."

At the luncheon, Ms. Evans Brewer read a quote from a speech made by Dr. King at an early annual session of the ADA as he accepted his reelection to secretary. Ms. Evans Brewer said she believes the quote represents her great-grandfather's belief in community and helping others succeed.

Photo of Dr. King's great granddaughter speaking at luncheon
Proud moment: Jean Evans Brewer, great-granddaughter of Dr. Otto King, shares stories about her great grandfather at luncheon following the historical marker unveiling honoring Dr. King on June 20 in Huntington, Indiana.
"I do not receive this great honor in the sort of spirit that it is just coming to me, but I like to believe it comes to me as a divine call," Dr. King reportedly said, "and I expect to do all I can, not only to raise the standard of dentistry, but to help my Maker to make each one the ideal man we ought to be."

Those wishing to view the Dr. Otto U. King historical marker can visit it at 322 N. Jefferson St. in Huntington. To read Dr. Regan's thorough biography about Dr. Otto that ran in the Indiana Dental Journal, click here. The Indiana Historical Bureau included a feature on its blog about Dr. King here.