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Retiring Oak Harbor dentist reflects on years in industry

Above: Gail and Harry Turner said they are excited to travel and be more spontaneous, while still keeping their home in Oak Harbor.  - Sara Hansen/Whidbey News-Times
Above: Gail and Harry Turner said they are excited to travel and be more spontaneous, while still keeping their home in Oak Harbor.
— image credit: Sara Hansen/Whidbey News-Times

After more than 35 years in dentistry, with 23 years in private practice, Dr. Harry Turner is officially retiring.

“We want to do some traveling,” Turner said. “See the USA in my Chevrolet.”

Turner sold his practice, Acorn Dental Clinic, to Dr. Joseph Keyes. Turner plans to help Keyes with the transition and slowly phase out of the practice. It will take about three months, working four then three days a week, to eventually be retired.

Some of his patients have been coming to him for 25 years, and that’s the hardest part about leaving, Turner said. One even brought him a note.

“It said, ‘Your application for retirement has been rejected. Please reapply in 20 years,’” Tuner said.

All the patients have been so generous and thoughtful, said Gail Turner, his wife.

“It’s going to be a big change,” Gail Turner said.

“They’ve become friends,” Harry Turner added.

One of his philosophies that has made him popular with patients is making sure he’s not creating “dentalphobes.”

To make this happen, he said he liked to have humor in the office. It keeps the staff happy and helps put the patients at ease.

“If people see you having fun, they’ll recognize it as a friendly atmosphere,” he said. “Any business working as a team is what makes the office.”

Over the years, he’s had people so full of nerves they’re rattling in the chair.

“I don’t want to create dentalphobics,” he said. “I want to take them through the process.”

And for children that can be challenging. Sometimes he’s stopped procedures to find a better option, such as referring them to a children’s dentist.

“We’ve come a long way making the experience more comfortable for patients,” he said.

He didn’t plan on becoming a dentist at first. At 8 years old, Harry Turner wanted to be a naval officer aboard a battleship.

He joined the Navy and ended up on a research submarine. He decided to take a different path when there wasn’t an opportunity for advancement.

He decided to go into dentistry because he thought he would be good at it.

“For one, I was good with my hands; two, I liked people; and three, I just had to worry about the mouth,” Turner said. “I thought, two out of three ain’t bad.”

He spent more than a decade as a Navy dentist. During that time on active duty, he studied business management to plan for his future.

The class basically consisted of a one-hour study hall that officers utilized, he said.

In 1990 he retired from the Navy and opened up Acorn Dental Clinic, next to Dr. Larry Hartman’s Pediatric Clinic. Hartman had been a year ahead of him in dental school. He moved the practice to his current location on 230 S.E. Cabot Drive in 1996.

He was able to design a portion of the building for his office, Turner said.

Turner isn’t the only one excited about his retirement.

Gail is too. They will have been married 45 years this June.

They first met on a blind date. It turned out they had lived five blocks away from each other growing up and she graduated a year ahead of him from the same high school.

“I’m sure I must’ve run over her in the hallways,” he said.

They grew up in New Mexico, so when the Navy stationed him in Oak Harbor in 1986, the Turners liked all the greenery that surrounded them.

“We got up here and we liked the green,” he said.

Right away, they both felt like Oak Harbor was home.

“It was important to raise our kids in a small town,” Gail Turner said.

The couple raised three daughters, all who graduated from Oak Harbor High School.

Even though he’s retiring, he is going to keep his license and try his hand at being a “rent-a-dentist” — offering his services to relieve other dentists from their practice if they’d like a vacation.

Both Gail and Harry Turner are excited to have his schedule freed up.

“Now we can do spur-of-the-moment things,” Gail Turner said.

Before they’d have to plan everything months in advance because of his practice, but now he can go visit his grandchildren on a whim.

“I’ve never had the opportunity to be spontaneous,” he said.

And with the Seattle Mariners spring training just around the corner, he said he might enjoy taking a trip for that.

“I want to travel while I’m healthy enough to enjoy it,” he said.

Or even take a welding class at the community college, he said. There are many possibilities.

With all their travel plans, the Turners plan keep Oak Harbor as their homebase.

“It’s so nice to be able to run into to people when you go to the store,” he said.

“This is home.”

 

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