Northern Indiana community wakes up today without longtime dentist Doc Musselman at work
“I want to be a small-town, small-time person. I don’t want to be anything other than a regular dude.”
DENVER – Less than an hour into his retirement following 49 years of serving patients from as close as next door and as far away as Europe and Asia, Dr. Don George Musselman was unknowingly admitting to having been an epic failure at something.
Without question, the Miami County dentist is a “small-town person” but he definitely is not “small time” and the notion that he is a “regular dude” depends entirely on your perspective.
Yes, “Doc” Musselman works in jeans, an unbuttoned (at the top) dress shirt and his infamous ponytail dangling down his neck, and absolutely he is capable of interacting comfortably with people from all walks of life, so in those regards, he is very much a “regular dude.” However, in a multitude of manners, the (essentially) lifelong Denver resident is truly as unique of a human being as the Lord above ever dreamt of creating.
“I’m going to miss our daily, nerdy talks,” longtime dental assistant Jane Mannies told News-Sentinel.com Wednesday, which was Dr. Musselman’s final day of employment. “He has taught me so much.”
Mannies isn’t alone, for Dr. Musselman has “taught” the entire Miami County community “so much” through decades of appearances at functions, fairs, and festivals in which he shed light on his endless areas of expertise.
A CURIOUS FELLOW
When you have an insatiable appetite for learning as Dr. Musselman does, it is difficult to fit all of that education into a 24-hour span but “Doc” does his best.
He wakes at 3:45 a.m. “without an alarm clock” and begins the process of attacking the day in search of family, fun, and funds.
Like most of us, he has to earn a living (or at least had to) and so he tends to “20 to 30 patients a day” but that work follows his breakfast time with his North Miami Junior High seventh grade granddaughter, Aria Soleil Smith Musselman, who lives next door to Dr. Musselman’s practice, which once served as the home and office of his grandfather, Dr. G.W. Musselman (more on that in a minute).
Following his dentistry duties, Dr. Musselman dives into his hobbies, which could veer off into any number of directions.
If you need a lesson on the birds and the bees – the flying kind – Dr. Musselman can talk all day about those things.
“I have a Magnolia Warbler in my freezer right now,” Dr. Musselman explained.
It turns out that the beautiful bird flew into a window of Dr. Musselman’s house (more on his residence in a minute) and broke its neck but Dr. Musselman wants to preserve it to show to his birding friends.
He spent time in his younger days tending to bees and when a nephew became interested in the hobby, Dr. Musselman got back into it as a way to spend time with him.
His 60-acre property, which has been in the Musselman family for three generations, covers fields, woods, and rests along the serene Eel River which allows him and his wife, Jeanne, to spend hours floating through some of the most pristine wilderness in the Midwest.
When he isn’t on the water studying nature, Dr. Musselman is on foot doing so.
He is a master gardener and an expert on foliage throughout Indiana, which can pay dividends.
A patient stopped by his office Wednesday to offer congratulations and laughed about the time that “Doc” rolled into her driveway on his tractor with an urgent message.
“You have to get that weed down there pulled,” Dr. Musselman said to her. “It’s Garlic Mustard. It’s one of the most invasive plants in Indiana.”
Her response was in exchange for a beer, Dr. Musselman could do it himself and he gladly took her up on the offer.
“I haven’t seen any since,” she said.
That brings us to another hobby of Dr. Musselman’s: brewing his own beer.
The office staff (more on that in a minute) celebrated after his final patient (more on that in a minute) with a variety of craft beers, which is a favored pastime of Dr. Musselman.
“I used to brew my own beer,” Dr. Musselman said.
So why did he stop?
“My daughter (Sara Musselman) bought two liquor stores,” he laughed, “so it’s easier to just to go there and buy it.”
Dr. Musselman didn’t have any significant plans scheduled for his retirement, but he did have something on the docket for Wednesday night.
“I’d like to stay up later,” Dr. Musselman said. “I’ve got a telescope that I haven’t used because Hell, it doesn’t get dark until nine o’clock and I’m in bed by then.”
As it turns out, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, and Mercury (“if it is a nice sunset”) are all prime for viewing and Dr. Musselman is not only tired of working for a living, but also of missing such celestial happenings.
Dr. Musselman and Jeanne once served as the “crew” on a 35-foot sailboat of a friend and they sailed 400 miles off the coast of Virginia before turning south for the Caribbean and he was mesmerized by the clarity of the skies.
“When we were 400 miles out into the ocean,” Dr. Musselman explained, “there was no light pollution out there. You couldn’t believe the Milky Way. It was awesome.”
THE MUSIC MAN
Like a number of young people of that era, Dr. Musselman came of age in the 1960s and taught himself how to play the guitar. Though he never took part in the North Miami High School band (he graduated from the school in 1963), he has to be the most accomplished musician of his graduating class.
He was in a band in the 1970s and learned how to play the flute so the group could perform some songs by the band Chicago, and that led to a fairly seamless transition to saxophone, which he is currently playing in the Peru Amateur Circus Band with his granddaughter. However, she is the more accomplished player on that instrument and he is learning from her this time.
He never learned to read music really well, but he “can play just about anything that I can hum,” so he does the best that he can.
Through the years, he has taught himself to perform on the violin (or Fiddle, depending on the music style), guitar, saxophone, flute, harmonica (which he learned while lifeguarding as a teen), and mandolin and he performs with bands throughout the area at summertime festivals each year.
Though he grew up in an era of musicians using their talents to spread a message, Dr. Musselman doesn’t take to that style.
“I usually pick songs that are not confrontational,” Dr. Musselman explained. “I like soothing songs that have good lyrics.”
FRUGALITY IS A RELIGION
Dr. Musselman is leaving a practice which currently has over 2,000 active patients and he said that he has been busy since starting his career by working on Mentone resident Carolyn Fivecoate on an August day in 1969 (more on Carolyn in a minute).
His is a business success story but that has as much to do with his fiscal conservatism as its steady flow of revenue.
Dr. Musselman and his family lived in a 450-square-foot trailer for 27 years before Sara woke up one night with a possum on her and he decided “it was time to build a house.”
But instead of taking out a six-figure loan and paying a contractor to construct his first house, Dr. Musselman bought “five loads of lumber off of a guy in Southern Indiana” and built his own house out of native Poplar and Oak.
As much as he enjoys his home, there is a tinge of regret about spending the money to build it.
“The trailer was fine,” Dr. Musselman (not Sara) said.
The furniture in the waiting room of his office has been recovered through the years but not replaced and Dr. Musselman is driving the same truck that he purchased new in 1996.
“We don’t get rid of anything around here,” office receptionist Carla See said.
A LEADER WITH A HEART AND AN EAR
Dr. Musselman has been a fixture in this area for the entire lives of many of his patients but interestingly so has his staff.
Dental assistant Mannies and office manager Beth Golliher are going on 40 years of working for “Doc,” while hygienist Kandy Hattery (30 years), See and dental assistant Jaci France (20 years) have found a professional home there, as well.
“I’ve worked here longer than I’ve been married,” Golliher said.
The same holds true for France, who began working for “Doc” while she was a high school intern.
“We’ve all been like family,” France said.
“We bicker at times,” Golliher continued, “but like family, we work it out, say our peace, and move on.”
Golliher said “Doc” allows input from all on how to improve and grow the business, which gives everyone a sense of ownership.
A unique perk that Dr. Musselman offers to his staff is a special trip if certain goals are attained.
The office staff has been to the Caribbean countless times, taken cruises, and vacationed in San Francisco and Chicago.
“Never snow,” See said.
Dr. Musselman actually sold his practice a couple of years ago to Rochester dentist Dr. Michael Laszynski, who partners with Dr. James J. Fritts.
The business will continue to operate through a period of transition and the staff is planning on having a full-time dentist in place in Denver at some point this summer.
NO PLACE LIKE HOME
As the sun rises this morning over the burg of Chili and spills down Indiana 16 and into the heart of Denver, it truly is a new era for the community.
Aside from a couple of years following the passing of his father (Dr. Don Albert Musselman), this idyllic community has been served by a Dr. Musselman of some sort for 104 years.
Samuel Musselman and his brother, Abraham, arrived in Denver during the Civil War years from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania via the Wabash and Erie Canal and Samuel was regarded as one of the best “horse doctors” of his time.
“He said that he could see deeper into a horse than any man anywhere,” the latest Dr. Musselman laughed.
Though Samuel was a self-proclaimed “horse whisperer,” Dr. G.W. Musselman was an actual licensed veterinarian that set up shop in a two-room structure at 57 Chandler Street in 1914 that his grandson walked out of for the final time Wednesday.
Dr. Don A. Musselman began his dentistry practice in Indianapolis before returning home in 1945 and practicing until his death in 1967 and Dr. Don G. Musselman set up shop two years later following his graduation (both undergrad and dentistry school) from Indiana University and it couldn’t have come soon enough.
“I couldn’t wait to get out of Indianapolis,” Dr. Musselman exclaimed. “I hated the city.”
How much angst did he possess? Well, remember that house trailer? “Doc” bought that off an airman at Grissom Air Force Base and moved it down to then-rural Hendricks County and commuted into the city for classes.
“I could hear the chicken’s crow in Hendricks County,” Dr. Musselman said.
He later had the trailer moved up to his grandparents’ farm (his current land) and the rest is history for “Doc.”
“The Musselman’s are the history of Miami County,” Dr. Musselman said. “It’s my heritage.”
Ms. Fivecoate, now 93 years of age and still residing in Mentone, was back in “Doc’s” office Wednesday getting some work done and closed out what she started nearly five decades ago. She was “Doc’s” first – and final – patient.
Miami County is indeed Dr. Musselman’s “heritage.” However, for many like Ms. Fivecoate and the thousands of others that have lied back and looked into the bespectacled face of “Doc” with their mouths wide open, he has been a revered chapter of our “heritage” as well.
For more on interesting stories throughout the state of Indiana, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010, Facebook at Thomas Davis and Instagram at tomdavis101010.