By Kristen Miller
COKATO, MN As a 26-year-old fresh out of dental school, Dr. Bruce Bohnsack took a “leap of faith” by moving to Cokato and starting his own practice.
After 36 years, Dr. Bruce is leaving the practice in his son, Andy’s hands, to enjoy the life of retirement.
Growing up a farm boy in New Prague, Bruce was the first in his family to attend college.
His interest in dentistry came early fifth grade to be exact as his “very patient” dentist answered his questions and showed him equipment around the dental office.
That interest continued and in 1976, he graduated from the University of Minnesota’s School of Dentistry with a DDS (doctor of dental surgery) degree.
“During my senior year of dental school, I began researching and visiting numerous communities in rural Minnesota in search of a place to hang my shingle,” Bohnsack said.
Dassel and Cokato had four dentists at the time, all in their late 50s and the location was very inviting, Bohnsack noted.
He remembers calling Gordon Mattson, the contact for community development. “I will never forget his response,” Bohnsack said. Mattson told him that he didn’t have a lot of time, but that Cokato could use another dentist. Mattson then asked Bohnsack if he would mind getting up early.
“The following week, my wife, Susan, and I headed out to Cokato for a 7 a.m. meeting at the Norseman restaurant,” Bohnsack said, explaining how surprised he was to see a table full of Cokato businessmen there to welcome them.
After a tour and a few more business meetings, the decision was made to open a practice, he said, noting that Bruce Peterson of the State Bank of Cokato, and Charles Mitchell of First National Bank were extremely helpful.
Though his practice was welcomed, particularly by Dr. Elwyn Piker, who was ready to retire, the decision was “a leap of faith” on the Bohnsacks’ part. Bruce had purchased a building, but didn’t have a license to practice dentistry yet.
He asked Susan, “What are we going to do with a building in Cokato if I don’t pass my national board exams? Sell hot dogs?”
The building wouldn’t be ready until November 1976, months after he graduated. In the meantime, Bohnsack said, he was fortunate to be asked to be a part-time clinical instructor at the University of Minnesota’s School of Dentistry.
After his Cokato office opened, Bohnsack continued to teach one day a week in the removal prosthodontics department for 17 years.
Starting from scratch, he had no idea how business would go.
First, he started with one chair.
“People were stopping me on the street to make an appointment,” Bohnsack said. “Within two weeks, I had a second chair.” A third chair would be needed within three more years, he noted.
As he got settled into Cokato and his new practice, Bohnsack started to become involved in the community. “I was raised to believe, and always felt, that if you live and work in a community, it is your obligation to give back to that community,” he commented.
He immediately joined the Rotary club and Cokato Chamber of Commerce, both of which he has been a member of for 36 years. He also served on the Cokato Development Corporation board for 20 years, and as a board member and chair of Cokato Community Chest.
In addition, he served two terms on the Dassel-Cokato School Board and has been an active member of Cokato Evangelical Lutheran Church.
In his 36 years of dentistry, one may guess there have been significant advances in technology throughout the industry.
One of the biggest changes has been the development of bonding agents which allow restorative materials to adhere chemically to tooth structure, Bohnsack explained. Resin-based composite filling materials are now widely used as an alternative to metal and implants are becoming more common for the replacement of missing teeth.
Some of his most memorable moments as a dentist were also the most stressful for him and typically included reimplanting teeth that had been knocked out in an accident.
He remembers a toboggan accident, a baseball, and a church pew as three of the culprits.
Bohnsack officially retired the first of this year and has passed on the practice to his son, Andy, and knows it will be in good hands.
What he is going to miss the most is the people. “A lot of my patients were friends,” he commented, adding that he won’t miss the regulatory paperwork that has increased over the years.
He also appreciates his staff over the years.
“Nothing would have been possible without the support of many dedicated employees and my family,” he commented.
Sheryl Faust has worked with Bohnsack for 25 years as office manager, and together they have seen through the cycle of life.
“It’s been interesting, exciting, and sometimes sad to witness the cycle of life of the patients,” Faust said, who also has plans to retire.
“Bruce has been a good person to work for because he cares so much about his patients, always putting them first,” Faust commented.
Bohnsack plans to spend his retirement traveling, fishing, hunting, and spending time at his cabin in Park Rapids. He will also continue his collections of old fishing lures and duck decoys.
He doesn’t plan on disappearing from the Cokato scene, however.
Moving to Cokato “was one of the most important and best decisions Susan and I have ever made,” Bohnsack said, adding he appreciates the area’s emphasis on family values. “It has been a privilege to live here, and thank you for allowing me to hang my ‘shingle’ in Cokato,” he added.