Off to Rush City ‘on a hope and a prayer’

Recently retired, Dr. William Kieper and wife, Mae, reflect on their first days in Rush City and the connections that helped launch the Kieper dentistry

— This is the second and final installment in a two-part series. For Part 1, click here.

In this photo, taken in 1971, Dr. William Kieper shares a smile while holding a piece of cake with a single candle on top in celebration of his dental practice’s first year in Rush City. Photos supplied
In this photo, taken in 1971, Dr. William Kieper shares a smile while holding a piece of cake with a single candle on top in celebration of his dental practice’s first year in Rush City.
Photos supplied

When asked of his decision to retire, Dr. William Kieper referred to a conversation he had with a longtime dentist colleague and friend.

“What triggered in your mind to retire?” Kieper asked him.

“All of a sudden, one day, you’ll just know,” his friend replied.

Such was the case for Kieper whose mixed emotions over his recent retirement centered around the long-term friendships he established with staff and patients. After 42 years of practicing dentistry in Rush City, Kieper is now adjusting to his next chapter in life. He closed his office on Friday, July 12.

“Most of my patients were happy for me,” he said of the feedback received after announcing his retirement in a letter dated June 3. “Some expressed regret that they had to find new dentists.”

Otherwise, he’s looking forward to the personal freedoms that retirement is expected to provide.

He and wife, Mae, are looking to sell their Rush City area home and move closer to family and grandchildren in Lino Lakes. He looks forward to a home with several acres to satisfy his gardening interests, while more mission work may be in the cards, too.

Kieper also feels fortunate to have his health, so he can enjoy those moments and any travel plans he and Mae might pursue.

He admitted the growing technological age and demand for it in the dental office may have been factors in his decision, as well. “I’m kind of a dinosaur,” he said. “I needed to update my office with digital X-rays, computers, paperless charts. … They are the wave of the future. I’m ‘computerphobic,’ but I can get messages off my cellphone.”

So it was with confidence and comfort he handed his practice and patients off to Dr. Tuyen Nguyen and his team at Soft Dental, which Kieper has called “the next generation of dental providers.”

In a recent comment to the Post Review, Nguyen assured, “Dr. Kieper’s former patients can enjoy the convenience of our location and be confident they are being handed off to a progressive, efficient team who will work together to provide gentle, caring services and education to them while experiencing the latest in dental technology.”

A budding dentist

William Herman Engbrecht Kieper grew up in Fessenden, N.D., and takes pride in a name that reflects both his father’s and mother’s families with two middle names.

In 1969, Kieper graduated from dentistry school with a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree at the University of Missouri. With the country at war in Vietnam, he volunteered for the draft and found it to be a good experience. He served in the Army from 1969-71 at Fort Riley, Kansas.

William and Mae Kieper pose for one last picture in the dentist chair at Kieper’s practice.
William and Mae Kieper pose for one last picture in the dentist chair at Kieper’s practice.

“It was a unique experience,” he recalled, as his prior training in dentistry allowed him to work and keep fresh in the field through the Army Dental Corps. He provided dependent care for patients ranging from soldiers’ wives and children to those retired.

Prior to coming to Rush City, Kieper didn’t want to be farther than an hour away from the Twin Cities. He had a list of towns in need of dentists. He looked at cities from Osakis to Mora, but in talking with a man who worked in dental supplies, Kieper found a vacant clinic facility just about 60 minutes north of the big city.

So it was off to Rush City.

But it was 1970, and the finances were not there for the young couple who had no income coming in, except for some money from the Army tucked away, with debts owed on college loans and no luck to be found with bank loans.

“We came here with nothing, other than two used vehicles, a 2-year-old and a child on the way,” Mae said. “We came in on a hope and a prayer. It was a commitment to our family. You find your way through God.”

She added, “We thought we’d look around at Rush City first. Downtown was thriving, and we looked at a church.”

Dr. William Kieper with friend and colleague  Dr. Tuyen Nguyen of Soft Dental.
Dr. William Kieper with friend and colleague
Dr. Tuyen Nguyen of Soft Dental.

Finding the right church was important to the couple, and they found what they were looking for in Rush City Baptist. They visited with the pastor, George Asp, and his wife, Betty, at their home, a parsonage where they also met Shirley Carlson, who with husband Dennis owned the Dairy Queen in town.

It was a chance meeting, and the connection between the two families was excitingly realized.

“She (Shirley Carlson) walked in, saw Bill, and it dawned on her that she and Bill’s sister Barbara lived together at the Mounds-Midway School of Nursing in St. Paul,” Mae remembered.

The connections continued for the Kiepers who also met prominent members of the business community, from Karle Hammargren of the Clinic Management Group to those with investing power from the Rush City Development Association.

After yet another family connection was realized — this time with Hammargren knowing Mae Kieper’s family back in her home town of Harvey, N.D. — a meeting among the group was set. And nothing but good news resulted.

“We were kind of scared because we had no money, but they co-signed everything for us,” Mae said of the investors’ willingness to welcome a new dentist and family to Rush City.

Kieper’s dental practice was born in 1971.

“If that wouldn’t have happened …,” Mae started but didn’t finish. “They became like family to us. They were like our fathers. Money was so tight then, and the economy was terrible. I believe it was divine intervention. So we knew we were meant to be here.”

It didn’t take long for the Kiepers to dive right into serving and giving back to the community that helped them get their start. They served in various roles at church, Rush City schools and in community service organizations. William Kieper even announced at Tiger football games.

Education was often held in high regard for the Kiepers, who helped start the parent-teacher association in Rush City and supported reading programs and other programming at the schools.

William Kieper took it a step further by running for a seat on the Rush City school board. He served in that capacity for 22 years.

“People thought I’d be a good candidate,” said Kieper, noting his strengths included finance negotiations and questioning issues that warranted such scrutiny. “I didn’t believe in micromanaging.”

Kieper once served as board chairman of the St. Croix River Education District, which started as a special education cooperative in Chisago County before expanding into what it is today.

“They did a lot of good,” he noted.

Even before Kieper opened his dentistry, his arrival was anticipated.

“There was another dentist in town, and he was overloaded with patients,” he said. “A receptionist was already making appointments for me, so when I started I had a full slate of patients. My entrance was probably more glamorous than my departure.”

Patients quickly grew fond of Kieper and his friendly personality in the dentist office. They allowed him to be a part of their families, even unto the third generation.

“The community has been good to us, and we want thank them and all the wonderful things they’ve done for us,” Mae Kieper said.

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