More than 40 years ago, a sequence of events led John Harker to ditch the drafting board for dental tools and move to Hope with a mission that he says was to save as many teeth as he could. And he did.

Last week, the 71-year-old Hope resident officially retired from dental practice nearly 50 years in the making.

“It was a very difficult decision,” Harker says. “I am still in good health and enjoy what I’m doing and I love the patients, but it’s time.”

Harker graduated from Waldron High School in Shelby County and went on to pursue undergraduate studies in engineering at Purdue University. It wasn’t too long before Harker realized it wasn’t the path he was meant to follow.

“I decided I didn’t want to sit behind a desk my whole life. I wanted to do something with my hands,” Harker says. “I knew Dr. Newton in Columbus and Dr. Pence. I was very impressed with them, and I figured it would be a good profession. It has turned out to be an excellent profession.”

Once he completed dental school at Indiana University in 1971, Harker found himself in Albuquerque, New Mexico. At the time, the Vietnam War was going on, and Harker wasn’t sure what his role might be or where he would be sent. While remaining in New Mexico for the next couple of years, Harker says he had the honor of studying the dental art under one of the best.

A gentleman named Dr. Brabb was an acquaintance of one of Harker’s cousins, who was working as a dental lab technician for Brabb and introduced Harker.

“I got lucky because Brabb was one of the best dentists in the southwest,” Harker recalls. “I learned more there in two years than I could have learned in 10 years of graduate school.”

At the time, Harker and his wife knew they wanted to start a family, but didn’t want to do so in a large city. Both of the Harkers had grown up on a farm and knew that was likewise how they wanted to raise their family.

In 1973, the couple moved to Hope. Harker opened his dental practice later that same year.

Today, as the father of two looks back on his career in Hope, he says the one thing he’s enjoyed the most is the people he’s met.

Before retiring, Harker was seeing five generations of some families. And even some members of his staff are from families who have been coming to see Harker for generations.

Such is the case with Mandi Calhoun, who came to work for Harker just over 20 years ago. Calhoun is the third generation of her family to be treated by Harker.

Although she brought experience from other arenas of the medical field, Calhoun admits dentistry was a new experience. But during her time working with Harker she’s learned much, she says.

“Dr. Harker is certainly one to not sit still,” Calhoun says. “He is very ‘Old School’ and eager to teach.”

Calhoun quickly found Harker’s passion for teaching isn’t just happenstance.

For years, Harker has served on the Flatrock-Hawcreek School Board and says his love of education is part of his motivation for serving on the board.

Harker is also a member of the Academy of General Dentistry, which understandably holds education and the philosophy of education in high regard.

“So I’ve always spent a lot of time and effort in education,” Harker says. “Education in dentistry has always been rather easy, I love what I do.”

Over the years, the dental profession hasn’t been without its issues, Harker admits.

“The most challenging part has been the politics of dealing with insurance companies, which want to dictate treatment,” Harker says. “And that takes away from your ability to really relate to patients and treat them the way they should be treated rather than the least expensive way the insurance company wants to treat them.”

However, occasional administrative hiccups and obstacles don’t outweigh the benefits of a successful decades’ long practice.

All in all, as Harker recalls his time practicing in Hope he says there is nothing he would do differently, not really.

“I’m a very conservative person, and I suppose I should have been more aggressive,” he says. “But I think my conservatism has been beneficial for my patients.”

As he looks ahead to retirement, not too much will change, he says. Harker says with the help of his two grown sons, Ben and Danny, he plans to still farm a portion of the 600 acre property he shares with his wife just outside of Hope.

Harker hopes that the impact he’s made is lasting, however, those around him say there is no doubt it will be.

“Prevention was my big thing and that is what I’ve always stressed,” Harker says. “I don’t want to take your teeth out, I want you to keep them and having a few teeth is better than having none. I’ve always told patients my goal is to get them to outlive their teeth.”

Harker’s dental practice was bought by Dr. Jarod Gearhart, who has worked alongside Harker for more than a year, Harker says.

With more time to pursue adventures and interests, Harker is hopeful he and his wife are able to travel a little at some point, he says.

Calhoun says she and the staff are extremely happy for Harker and wish him the best, but describe his retirement as bittersweet.

“He’s always been the glue and father figure and played that part,” 49-year-old Calhoun says. “We knew we could count on him if we needed anything.”

When asked about his philosophy of life or nuggets of wisdom – how he views the world around him and the hopes he holds for it, he says simply, “Love your fellow man.”