By Jennifer Kotila
COKATO, MN When Dr. Andy Bohnsack was in Jerry Johnson’s eighth grade English class at Dassel-Cokato Middle School, he had to write a paper about what he wanted to be someday.
Before that assignment, he had never given a career choice much thought, Bohnsack said.
At first, he thought he would like to do something in the medical field, since he always enjoyed science and math.
“But dad (Dr. Bruce Bohnsack) gently nudged me towards dentistry and I’m glad he did,” Bohnsack said.
Bohnsack has recently returned from a residency in Idaho to join his father’s dental practice at the corner of Broadway Avenue and Third Street in Cokato.
Although Bohnsack grew up in town, he and his wife, Annette, have rented a small farm place south of Dassel for the time being.
Renting the farm allows the Bohnsacks to keep some of the animals Annette had on the hobby farm where she grew up in North Dakota. They now have two horses, Dash and Willy, and recently purchased two goats.
“Annette was supportive of and encouraging of me coming back home,” Bohnsack said, noting that is not always the case with some families.
She has also taken a job here as the DC School District’s school nurse.
Coming home to practice in Cokato
“It’s a nice way to develop relationships with people in the community,” Bohnsack said about being a dentist, noting he will be seeing many of his patients at least two or three times each year for 30 to 40 years before he retires.
“I thought about specializing (rather than being a general dentist), but then you lose those relationships,” he added.
Being a general dentist allows Bohnsack to live wherever he wants, but he always suspected he would end up back home in Cokato, he noted.
“It’s nice to be home to start my career,” Bohnsack said. “I feel like I have finally climbed to the top of the mountain.”
Credits growing up in Cokato, DC for success
Although Bohnsack knew from a young age that he wanted to be a dentist, one thing he didn’t realize was how much time and effort was required to reach that goal.
“Without question, one of the most important parts of my childhood that made it all possible was the strong foundation laid by the teachers and staff in the DC School system,” Bohnsack noted. “Everyone has people in their lives with whom they make a connection, and, for me, it was teachers, like Jon Ring, Ron Hungerford, and Mary Jensen, that made such an impact on my life.”
Although their courses were the most rigorous, and at times frustrating, they were also very rewarding to Bohnsack when he saw the results of challenging himself to reach a higher standard, he said.
“Those life skills have proven invaluable over the last 10 years of formal education, and now as I treat patients here in Cokato,” Bohnsack said.
Bohnsack started his college career at Concordia College in Moorhead, and attended dental school at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities (U of M).
While growing up in the DC School District, Bohnsack participated in a number of things and was able to take on leadership roles in different groups, he said.
“I was always active in student council, and enjoyed the opportunity to participate in both music and athletics while maintaining a strong focus on academics, “Bohnsack said.
He also volunteered with organizations like his church and Rotary Club, announced games for the DC Saints, and emceed the Corn Carnival queen coronation.
“Along with my parents’ support and direction, I credit the leadership experiences as a teenager with affording me some unique experiences in college, and then dental school,” Bohnsack said.
While at Concordia College, he was part of a new student orientation committee, and organized the homecoming half-time show his senior year.
While in dental school, Bohnsack was involved at the local student dental association chapter. He attended a national conference in his second year at the U of M, at which he was elected to represent Midwest dental students on the American Student Dental Association Board of Trustees.
After a one-year-term on the board, he was appointed to serve on two different councils of the American Dental Association; the Council on Scientific Affairs, and the Council on Ethics, Bylaws, and Judicial Affairs.
“As the only student in the entire council, I was charged with representing the interests of dental students nationwide,” Bohnsack said. “These experiences really shaped how I view oral health care on a broader stage, and how my role as a general dentist is so critical.”
In recognition of those experiences, Bohnsack was awarded a Presidential Student Leadership and Service Award from the U of M in his senior year of dental school, he said.
“At graduation, I was awarded the Academy of General Dentistry’s Operative Dentistry Award for excellence in clinical dentistry,” Bohnsack said. “Coincidentally, this is the same award that my Dad was presented when he graduated from the U of M in 1976. I thought that was pretty neat.”
Although he could have gone right into practicing general dentistry after completing his time at the U of M in May 2011, Bohnsack wanted more experience in advanced dentistry, he said.
After applying to several residency programs, Bohnsack was accepted at his first choice a clinic in Idaho affiliated with Idaho State University.
Bohnsack spent the last year gaining a wide range of experience he would not have had otherwise, such as high-level experience with dental implants, IV sedation, oral surgery, full-mouth rehabilitation, and hospital dentistry.
“I would do that year of residency a hundred times over again if I had the chance,” Bohnsack said.
He noted the value of training side-by-side with specialists in their fields of oral surgery, periodontics, endodontics, and general dentistry.
“The bottom line is that after that year of residency, I will be able to treat patients much more effectively, and probably save them some trips to specialists in Minneapolis or St. Cloud,” Bohnsack said.
“The year I spent in Idaho is something I will refer to for the rest of my career,” Bohnsack noted. “It expanded my confidence in dentistry, and the breadth of things I can offer here.”
Looking back on the last 10 years or so, Bohnsack feels it was everything about Cokato the Prairie Park neighborhood he grew up in, the Cokato Evangelical Lutheran Church hwere he worshiped, the DC schools he attended, and his family that gave him the opportunities and confidence to achieve his goals, he said.
“DC is a unique place, and a wonderful place to call home. I want my family to have the same opportunities and support that I did as a kid,” Bohnsack said. “The mountains of Idaho are beautiful, the weather is great, and I absolutely love it out there but Cokato is home. It’s good to be home.”