Seniors & Aging

Retired WWU professor learned value of dental care from his impoverished parents

Bob Monahan helped Interfaith Family Health Center move from a small office on C Street to its current location, which allowed for dental and mental health care to be added, as well as move from a referral program to a community clinic with over 14,000 patient visits per year.
Bob Monahan helped Interfaith Family Health Center move from a small office on C Street to its current location, which allowed for dental and mental health care to be added, as well as move from a referral program to a community clinic with over 14,000 patient visits per year. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Bob Monahan learned early about the importance of dental health. He grew up during the Great Depression, but his parents made sure he had proper dental care, even at the expense of their own teeth.

Age: 84.

Hometown: Bellingham.

Career: Retired professor of geography who taught for nearly four decades at Western Washington University.

Family: Marilyn, wife of 60 years; three children (one deceased); three grandchildren; six great-grandchildren.

Poor on Bainbridge Island: "I was born in Hoquiam and grew up on Bainbridge Island when it wasn't the high-rent district," Monahan says. "We grew a lot of our own food, so we always ate well. But we didn't have much money.

"Toward the end of the Depression they (his parents) had all their teeth pulled and got false teeth. But they lived long lives - my dad died at 83 and my mom at 75. I've never forgotten the sacrifices they made for me and for my teeth. As a kid, I didn't realize how they were neglecting their teeth."

Helping others: "The Interfaith Coalition of churches began in 1981 with Pastor Don Clinton at Christ the Servant Lutheran and Pastor Donel McClellan at First Congregation, with help from other religious leaders and citizens, like Barney Goltz," he says. "Their first effort involved finding physicians who would take people who could pay on a sliding scale, or pro bono.

"I got involved in 1985 when we got two rooms at the old C Street medical center. We scrounged up everything. I borrowed a pickup and brought in an examination table, furniture, a lamp. We were pretty much of a shoestring operation, but we helped a lot of people."

Adding dental care: "Soon after I got involved with Interfaith, a local lawyer, Steve Adelstein, and I started working to establish dental care. It took five years to really get it up and running. Both of us were interested in having dental services available. It's so important to overall health."

Supporting dental health: "I'm still involved with Interfaith, and I strongly support the donated adult dentistry program. I tell everyone how important dental care is. There's a big connection between general health and dental care.

"For seniors who need help, there's a program at the Bellingham Senior Center for exams and cleaning."

Budget lament: "I've been frustrated by the recent DSHS dental service cuts. Dental care in much of our country is like a black hole. We've put a lot of money into it, and there are still so many problems."

Name game at Western: "We came to Western in 1955 when we moved to Bellingham. I like to say I worked at three colleges and never had to move my office in 38 years. It was Western Washington College of Education when I started, then Western Washington State College, and now WWU.

"When I started teaching at Western, there were three of us in the department and about 1,730 students at the college. I taught cartography, courses in arctic lands, economic geography and human geography, among other courses."

Active retiree: After retiring in 1993, Monahan directed the Canadian Studies program at WWU, taught in summer programs and served on the Western Washington University Foundation board. He's now an emeritus board member.

Loved WWU: "I loved working with the kids at Western," he says. "It was always fun. I found the students stimulating. I never hated to see Monday morning come.

"When I started at Western, I remember most of the kids were first-generation college students. They came from fields, forests, fisheries. They were the sons and daughters of working stiffs."

Helps younger students: "I love being a volunteer in a program at Western called Compass 2 Campus. It's run by Cyndie Shepard. This brings at-risk fifth-graders to Western to see what college is like, and pairs them with Western students who continue to mentor them for four hours a week in a program. The idea is to get kids who might not be thinking about college to see what it's all about."

In his son's memory: "Our son, Patrick, died in an auto accident when he was 19. But he's still helping people through the Patrick Monahan scholarships for geography students at Western. More than 100 students have received one of those scholarships. I feel very good about that."

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