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Dr. William Calnon recipient of 2018 Distinguished Service Award

May 24, 2018

By David Burger

Photo of Dr. Calnon
Dr. Calnon
Rochester, N.Y. — Landscape architecture's loss is dentistry's gain.

The ADA Board of Trustees named Dr. William R. Calnon, of Spencerport, New York, a former landscape architecture student, as the 2018 Distinguished Service Award recipient. He will accept the award at ADA 2018 – America's Dental Meeting in October in Honolulu.

"Dr. Calnon has had a long and celebrated dental career, having served as president of the ADA and now as president of the ADA Foundation," said Dr. Joseph P. Crowley, ADA president. "This award is the highest honor conferred by the ADA Board of Trustees, and I am proud that he is being recognized for his countless contributions to dentistry in this way."

Dr. Calnon was modest when asked about being awarded the honor. "I hope it's because I have made a difference," he said. "As a leader you never look for accolades, but just hope that your leadership style is effective."

According to the Board, the dentist has made a difference since graduating magna cum laude from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry at Syracuse University and receiving his dental degree from the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine. Still a practicing dentist, he opened his Rochester, New York-based practice in 1981 after a general practice residency at Strong Memorial Hospital at the University of Rochester and two years of being an associate.

Photo of Dr. Calnon presiding over ADA Foundation board meeting
Leadership: Dr. William Calnon presides over an ADA Foundation board meeting as president.
Dr. Calnon, president of the ADA from 2011-12, is currently the president and interim executive director of the ADA Foundation. He also is the president of the Eastman Dental Center Foundation, an executive committee member of the National Dental Practice-Based Research Network (a consortium of participating practices and dental organizations committed to advancing knowledge of dental practice and ways to improve it) and a professor of dentistry at the University of Rochester. He is the past president of the New York State Dental Association, Seventh District Dental Society and Monroe County Dental Society. In addition, he is a fellow of the American College of Dentists, the International College of Dentists and the Pierre Fauchard Academy.

Among his many awards are the Directors Award from the Eastman Institute for Oral Health at the University of Rochester; Paragon Award from the American Student Dental Association; Distinguished Service Award from the Pierre Fauchard Academy and the Greenwood Award from the Seventh District Dental Society, New York.

So much has been accomplished by someone who never considered dentistry as a profession until midway through his college career. Part of being able to do so much he attributes to sleeping only three to four hours a night — but being adaptable proved even more important.

"Entering college, I had absolutely no thoughts of a dental career," Dr. Calnon said. "Following high school, I was accepted into a landscape architecture program and aspired to be a golf course designer. My brother, Tom, was in dental school at the time and I would occasionally visit on weekends. I had the chance to watch him and his friends as they went through their program. It became apparent to me that they loved dentistry. I liked what I was doing, but needed a profession I too could love. I immediately changed direction."

Photo of Dr. Calnon conferring with dental assistant
Teamwork: Dr. Calnon confers with dental assistant Cheryl Ennis at his practice in Rochester, N.Y.
Becoming involved in organized dentistry was an inevitability. "After graduation from dental school, I entered a general practice residency," Dr. Calnon said. "I was fortunate to have both hospital and attending staff who understood the importance of organized dentistry. Quite frankly, I was never given a choice. Attendings included a New York State Dental Association president, council members and delegates as well as involved members of both the county and component dental societies. I was told that there was going to be a meeting and that my wife and I should be present. There were even offers to pick us up and drive us to the meetings. We loudly got the idea of the importance of the involvement early on."

Dr. Calnon said that even though he ascended to the upper echelons of the ADA that he never thought about being president. "I honestly can say that when I became a member of the ADA Board of Trustees representing the 2nd District, I had absolutely no plans of becoming an officer," he said.

"As issues occurred, I knew I had the ability to make a difference for the Association and the profession and decided to become a candidate for the position."

Dr. Calnon's first act as ADA president was to travel on a red-eye flight to a NASCAR race that was hosting a Give Kids A Smile event, forecasting his journey to eventually become the ADA Foundation president. "I firmly believe that our Association needs a charitable arm," he said. "The Foundation positively impacts the ADA and the profession in general in so many ways, ranging from access to care to world-class scientific research. When I was asked to become involved with the Foundation, my commitment was based on the value of the good works accomplished through the various programs. I also feel that the Foundation has so much potential to grow and truly make a difference to so many."

Dr. Calnon's influence extends to his family. Both of his sons are dentists, and his sons are both married to dentists.

Photo of Dr. Calnon with his family at centennial celebration
Family matters: Dr. William Calnon is surrounded by his wife, sons and daughters-in-law during the centennial celebration for the Eastman Institute for Oral Health. From left to right: Dr. Tim Calnon, Dr. Lauren Vitkus, Dr. William Calnon, Mary Kay Calnon, Dr. Jennifer Calnon and Dr. Chris Calnon.
"I can think of no one who deserves the Distinguished Service Award more than Bill Calnon," said Dr. Gary Roberts, immediate past president of the ADA. "Bill has been a shining beacon of what it means to be a leader because he leads through example. He undertakes every task with his whole heart, which inevitably leads to success. His leadership abilities are only exceeded by his humility and good humor. There is no better choice for this award."

Dr. Colleen Greene, a pediatric dentist in Milwaukee and a member of the ADA New Dentist Committee, is a former national president of the American Student Dental Association, where she met Dr. Calnon and his family. "Dr. Calnon has achieved success in so many areas of dentistry, from clinical practice to educational leadership and beyond," she said. "His family is a testament to the enduring connections that dentistry brings to those who get involved and seek to give back. I am grateful to have leaders like Dr. Calnon who take on great responsibilities to ensure that our profession continues to make a strong impact on our communities."

"I cannot think of a more deserving individual than Bill Calnon to be honored with the 2018 ADA Distinguished Service Award," said Dr. Richard F. Andolina, past chair of the American Dental Political Action Committee and immediate past president of the New York State Dental Association. "Bill has always been totally and unselfishly dedicated to his profession, patients, family and friends.  Even when issues become controversial or heated, he always remains the voice of reason. It's his integrity, common sense, honesty and calming demeanor that influence others to act sensibly. His recommendations are always based on logic rather than on emotions, passions, wants or perceived needs.  Whenever there's a difficult task at hand, everyone looks to Bill for advice and guidance.  Often it results in him being put in charge."

Photo of Dr. Calnon with his family at home
Going green: Dr. William Calnon and his wife Mary Kay Calnon are joined by their grandchildren Ryan (5) and Erin (7) on St. Patrick's Day earlier this year.
Dr. Michael Glick, professor and William M. Feagans chair at the School of Dental Medicine of the University at Buffalo State University of New York, and editor of The Journal of the American Dental Association, said that Dr. Calnon "is very wise, thoughtful and he connects very well with people. He's someone that people want to emulate, and his impact on our profession is immense. He's just a great guy."

Dr. Calnon said he sees opportunities and tests for both the ADA and the Foundation as he looks to the future. As for the ADA, "I see continued challenges on many fronts," he said. "Membership will be based more and more on perceived value. Value will look different to various generations so the Association will have to be very nimble and appealing. Advocacy will remain a valuable tool for us and will need involvement from the national to local levels. New technologies will drive new models of practice, but some basic interpersonal skills will remain ultimately important as health care providers."

As for the Foundation, "I see the need to demonstrate impact. The Foundation will need to broaden its base of donors to include non-traditional sources. The ultimate goal will be a hugely self-sustaining model."

"My future will be about giving back to a profession which has been so good to me," Dr. Calnon said. "I want to increase my role as a mentor so I can have others in the future feel like I did when I first entered this profession."