Beloved family dentist, Dr. Robert Betzel, recently retired from his Eatonton dentistry after 40 years of practice. Dr. Meigan Miller transitioned into the North Lafayette Street practice on July 23.
Dental assistant, Susan Fuller, and hygienists, Keran Comer and Rachel Lewis, remain with the office, so familiar faces will still be around to assist Dr. Miller in caring for patients.
Mention the Betzel name to citizens of Putnam County, and their eyes will light up and a smile will shine back in recognition of the cherished family who, for several decades, has in so many ways cared for the community and its people.
Robert Betzel married Mona Dodson on Aug. 18, 1973 and their wedding was a grand affair accounted in a September 1973 edition of The Eatonton Messenger. Betzel was an honor graduate of Emory School of Dentistry in 1976, and was awarded Fellowship in the Academy of General Dentistry in 1982, one of only six Georgia dentists to receive the Fellowship award that year.
Dr. Betzel began his practice in Eatonton in July 1978, but prior to moving to the town, he was elected to a two-year internship program at Charity Hospital in New Orleans where he served as chief dental resident during his last year.
Coincidently, that is also where he met the hospitable Harvey Wilson, former president of the People’s Bank, who later telephoned the dentist and extended an invitation to assist him and Mona with their financial needs if they wanted to make Eatonton their home.
Harvey already knew Mona because her parents were from Eatonton, but since Dr. Betzel’s parents lived in Atlanta, the couple originally planned to make their home in the metro area.
But, the kindness of Harvey convinced the couple that Putnam County was a good fit for them.
“Because of his outreach and the welcome he extended to us, we knew we would have a place here,” said Dr. Betzel; “and a bank.”
That same hospitality Harvey extended all those years ago never waned.
From the time he and Dr. Betzel first met, Harvey would end their conversation with, “If there’s anything I can do for you, let me know.” More than 40 years later, on a recent visit to see Harvey, that was how the selfless Harvey still ended his conversation with his longtime friend.
“Mr. Wilson’s outreach was professional,” said Mona. “But also personal.”
The Betzels said it was the people of the community that helped get the dentistry on its feet, and it was the people who were the glue that held the office together through the years.
Making the decision to move to the area, the Betzels were greeted with open arms, and literally, an open door, by Dr. Tom Brown who offered the office right next to his on North Lafayette Street. The Betzels soon became not just neighbors of the already established dentist, but also like an extended family as Dr. Brown referred patients to his new colleagues.
Mona said it was comforting just knowing Dr. Brown was there for the couple, making them feel that they weren’t just needed in the community, but also wanted by its residents.
“Over the years, we’ve been mindful of how kind and generous they were to us,” Mona said about her and Dr. Betzel’s benefactors. “And we wanted to pass it on to the community.”
So they did. Through the years, the Betzels built not only a successful dentistry, but a presence in the community where they are called “family.”
“He’s been an asset to the community,” Susan said. “He’s given toothbrushes and toothpaste to organizations throughout the community and supporting the community not just as a dentist.”
Some of Dr. Betzel’s service to the community includes being on staff of Putnam General Hospital and serving on its Foundation Board; and serving as president of the Eatonton-Chamber of Commerce, vice president of Putnam Alliance for the Performing Arts and treasurer of the historical society.
Not only did the Betzels treat their patients like family, they also developed strong relationships with their staff through the years that transcended professional boundaries.
“Dr. Betzel made it easy for the staff to form bonds with each other,” Susan said.
Keran added, “It has always been a comfortable working environment.”
That is proven by the longevity of Dr. Betzel’s staff; Keran has been there 21 years, and Rachel, the baby of the family, has been with the office eight years.
Mona said Susan started as a patient when she was nine years old before going to work at the dentistry for the past 29 years.
“I can still see her now, sitting over there,” Mona pointed to a seat in the cozy waiting room. “She was here to get her teeth pulled.”
Working alongside Dr. Betzel as his assistant, Susan learned to read the dentist’s mind.
“He is personally the best mentor I have ever had,” Susan said, fighting back tears. “And Mona is the package deal.”
Rachel, who was just out of school when she started working for Dr. Betzel, was a perfect fit for the office. When she was growing up her grandmother was a hygienist with neighboring dentist Dr. Brown.
“We have been blessed with a staff where we have had babies being born and sending them off to the first day of preschool. We’ve been together through the celebrations and the sorrows,” Mona said. “It’s a patient family; Dr. Miller will fit right in with that.”
The staff at Dr. Betzel’s office agrees. After working with her for several weeks, the ladies said they are enjoying Dr. Miller’s bubbly personality.
“Dr. Miller is very personable and friendly,” Keran said.
Explaining how he knew Dr. Miller was the right fit for his patients, Dr. Betzel said, “The Lord moved in such a way to bring us together.”
Dr. Betzel said he had been looking for someone to take the office for three years. Little did he know that around that same time, Dr. Miller had begun praying for a practice to purchase.
Dr. Miller, a native of Albany, spent seven years at a practice in Gray, where her husband Clint is from, before purchasing Dr. Betzel’s practice last July.
The daughter of a small-town dentist, she noted it was her dream growing up to have her own small town dental practice.
“A year ago the opportunity came up,” Miller said. “We looked at a few places, but none of them felt right.”
Then she was set up to meet Dr. Betzel; and, noted that as she sat in his lobby, she felt like it was right.
“She is an excellent practitioner,” Betzel said. “She has had nothing but a positive response from the patients.”
True to form, the community has come out to extend the same welcome to Dr. Miller that the Betzels received 40 years ago.
“I have been welcomed beyond belief,” Miller said, noting two of the patients had even sent her a bouquet of flowers.
“Everyone has been excited and welcoming,” she said. “People are resistant to change, and I understand that some people are afraid of the dentist. My prayer every day is ‘Lord, guide my hands.’”
The mother of three young children, 4-year-old Nora, 3-year-old Julia and 11-monthold Marshall, Dr. Miller is a 2011 graduate of Medical College of Georgia School of Dentistry.
“I don’t want to just provide dental care,” she said. “But my goal is to take care of people. That’s the core of who I am and that’s the legacy Dr. Betzel left.”
Mona said she and Dr. Betzel are not saying goodbye. They are going into another chapter of their lives.
“We have no intentions of leaving Eatonton. We are richly blessed because of this community,” said Mona. “This is our home and our family; you don’t just run off and leave your family.”