In Memorium

J. Howard Sprague was born November 11, 1936 in Worcester MA to J. Howard and Emma Sprague.  His father, J. Howard Sprague, MD DO, practiced medicine on the first floor of family home on Park Avenue, across from a park that had many ponds that dad loved to skate on. His mom, Emma, was a piano teacher and made sure that dad had music lessons from an early age. He settled on the violin, learning on an instrument that his father had ordered from Sears Roebuck complete with printed instructions! Grandma Emma found dad a live teacher – a member of the Worcester Symphony.

Favorite childhood memories included Blackie the cocker spaniel, hiking in the White Mountains with his dad, summer vacations at the cabin of a friend on Loon Lake in NH, and developing black and white photographs with his dad.  Unfortunately, when dad was ten, he lost his father to cancer. From then on, Grandma Emma focused all her efforts on getting dad through school. She took in borders, taught music lessons and sold the family car. Later, she sold the house on Park Avenue to help dad with dental school tuition.

Dad attended public school near his home through 8th grade. For high school he began the 18-mile commute to South Lancaster Academy, and after that, Atlantic Union College.  Since he and his mom did not have a car, this was no mean feat. Trains, bicycles, friends, and an old motorcycle all contributed to his success. He graduated from South Lancaster Academy in 1954. He attended Atlantic Union College until he was accepted to Loma Linda University School of Dentistry in Southern California, from which he graduated in 1962.

During high school, dad did A LOT of bicycling. A 200-mile day trip to the White Mountains was not unusual. He was a member of the Worcester Cycle Club and rode with the best. One year he was the MA Junior Champion. When he was 16, he and his friend Dennis Caulkins rode from Washington, NH to San Francisco, CA to attend the Seventh Day Adventist Pan American Youth Congress.  They did it the old-fashioned way- no hotels or support vehicles. Dad tells how he started with two pair of socks, but lost one along the way.  They slept under bridges, in barns if the farmer would let them, or out in the open. They always took Sabbath off and found a church to attend. The journey took 6 weeks.  When they arrived at the convention center in San Francisco, the guards in the lobby told them that bicycles were not allowed inside and was trying to get them to leave. But just then, over the loudspeaker came the announcement that Dad and Dennis had arrived all the way from the site of the first Adventist church in Washington, NH and “The Bicycle Boys” rode down the aisle and away from the surprised guard.

Other high school memories center around choir and the Worcester Church youth group. His pastor, Herbert Thurber, treated him as a son and many other families adopted him as well.  This meant a lot to dad since he had a father of his own. He tells of an evangelistic series that his youth group put on in Worcester.  Dad and others from the group presented to a seemingly empty auditorium. However, the janitor was listening. At the end of the series, the janitor’s family continued to study the Bible and was baptized.  This was dad’s first experience with public speaking and paved the way to a lifetime of teaching, both chairside and from the podium.  Other, less angelic stories, that he told us from high school included firecrackers and other practical jokes. He had some thin rubber bladders that could be placed under dinner plates and surreptitiously “pumped” to make the plates rattle.  Grandma must have been a bit of a prankster herself, because she let dad set these up one time when she was having some lady friends over to dinner. Dad reports that those ladies didn’t even stay long enough to clean the food off their plates!  Things were explained to the guests soon after, much to their relief!

While in dental school, dad enjoyed the mountains of Southern California. He hiked Mt. Whitney, San Gorgonio and San Jacinto, among others. But mostly, he learned how to take care of his patients. His interest in dentistry had been sparked by his childhood dentist, who invited him into the lab and showed him how thing were made.  At dad’s last checkup before dental school, his dentist told him that he had a cavity, but to get it cared for at school as that would cost less.  When dad had his teeth examined by a dental classmate, with the help of dad’s very first dental x-rays, not one, but thirty two cavities were discovered. Dad helped at least two upper classmen meet their clinical requirements to graduate. He liked to say that if he had not become a dentist, he would likely have been wearing dentures from an early age simply because he did not know what was going on in his mouth. As a result of this experience, dad placed emphasis on thorough diagnosis and prevention for his patients, always making sure he had the most up to date methods to help his patients not have the dental problems that he had.  Dad thoroughly enjoyed his time in Loma Linda, and often said, when we were visiting LLU for alumni conventions, that he would have been happy to remain in that area.

Dad joined the US Coast Guard for the two years immediately after graduation. He was assigned to Columbus, OH where he enjoyed the mentorship of his commanding officer in the dental clinic. After completing his tour in OH, dad chose to settle in Claremont, NH, a small city on the Connecticut River, equidistant from Worcester MA, where is mom lived, and the White Mountains, where he wanted to spend more time hiking. 

In 1968 Dad married Rosemary Heath Ingenlath, a nurse and daughter of the dairy farming Heath family in Newport, NH.  That is a fun long story….I will fill it in later… but at any rate, it translated into a very happy 53 years of marriage.

He began his practice in a second-floor suite on Pleasant Street, above Fischman’s Department Store.  I remember dad telling three stories about that place, and can just barely picture it among my own childhood memories. I believe the carpet was green, leading up a windowless set of stairs inside a glass door. At the top of the stairs, the door into the office was on the left.  Dad would chuckle when he recalled that his dental unit leaked one day and damaged the greeting card department in the store. He reports that he bought the entire card department that day! Another story was that a heavy lady in high heels walked into the new office and one of her high heals sank through the new carpet and plywood and she got stuck….the third story, and I think I was there for this one, and can just see it in my mind, was a grateful patient bringing her nanny goat in the open back of her truck, parking it outside the office on the busy street, milking it right there in the truck and bringing a cup of warm goat milk up to dad in his office.

After a couple of years over Fischman’s, dad decided he wanted to practice in a quieter setting. He found a columned white split level home just outside town on River Road, with a view of the Connecticut River, and began renovating it into a dental office. He was handy with tools and construction and did much of the work himself.  There was a willow tree in the yard, and my sister and I liked to play house under it. I can remember getting my teeth cleaned there by Midge the Hygienist, playing with plaster in the kitchen turned lab, playing with the toys in the basement waiting room, and stealing sugar cubes from the room dad had made especially to teach patients about how to care for their teeth and eat well.  The room had two sinks and a big mirror, shelves with examples of foods good and bad for the body- teeth in particular- and sugar cubes demonstrating the amount of sugar in various foods and drinks. These sugar cubes were quite a prize if one managed to get one! I also remember dad working on a model sailboat in that lab. It was wooden, with a red hull. He even sewed a silk sail for it. It was beautiful!

I remember dad proudly calling his friends from his desk at the River Road office to announce Greg’s birth. The Sprague line would continue!

Dad named this practice “Riverdale Dental Arts” and promptly found himself in hot water with the Board of Dental Practice. In those days it was considered unprofessional to name one’s practice. All that was allowed was a small sign with the dentist’s name on it.  He quickly removed the sign and replaced it with the appropriate small black name sign. I recently discovered the letters between dad and the state board about this incident. One of the things I admire about dad is his ability and willingness to learn, take correction, and apologize on paper or in public. It takes a really great man to be able to be humble in that way.

After approximately 6 years on River Road, the local economy was in a slide, gas prices were up, and patients did not want to drive out of town to see the dentist. One winter, I remember dad waxing and casting his own gold crowns in order to save on lab bills. He had a cardboard box that he carried the waxing instruments and models in. I even remember him waxing during church board meetings! He cast the crowns in lab at the office. Ever flexible, dad purchased a two-story building on Broad Street, again in the middle of town, but a nice corner lot this time. He sold the River Road office to a new dentist in town and started renovating again. I remember mom packing him not one lunch, but two. He would treat patients all day on River Road, then eat supper while he drove to Broad Street, where he worked late into the night refitting the first floor as a dental office. The second story he rented to a lovely retired couple, the Fullertons. This office was more compact than the River Road office, and very efficient. It had two operatories, a small steri area, an x-ray alcove, small lab/doctors private office, one bathroom, waiting room and business office. Dad built the cabinetry for the operatories and steri center himself. He liked bright colors, and put one bright wallpapered wall in each operatory. There was an orange wall in the business office, a green wall in one of the ops, blue and red in other rooms.  

Sometime while practicing on Broad Street, dad talked with his friend Dr. Robert Roy down in Stoneham, MA and learned about the tax benefits of employing one’s children in the dental office. So it was that each of us children began our dental educations. Mom was our supervisor and trainer for each step in the process. First it was weekend janitorial and yard work. Then, when dad’s long time assistant Sharon wanted to work less, we started assisting. Eventually, Sharon retired and Mom and Jennifer and I held down the job. I recall dad telling mom that a patient had taken exception to the youthfulness of his assistants.  After that we were outfitted with some very professional looking uniforms! He sent me to x-ray class at the vo-tech in Concord, along with another new employee who needed the training, when I was 13. I had my license at 14, the earliest I could obtain it. By the time we left Claremont, I was in the front office as well. He practiced at 250 Broad Street until we moved to MA in 1987.

Dad was always one to stand up for whatever he believed to be right, no matter the inconvenience. He and mom read the book “Better Late Than Early” by Raymond and Dorothy Moore when I was about 6. They immediately decided to not send me to school until I was seven. They contacted the Moores and read more of their books. By the time I was 7, they were not sure they ought to send me to school at all.  In the 70s this was no easy thing. NH had strict, well enforced laws about children being enrolled in school by age 6. These laws had been devised to keep children out of the mills back in the early twentieth century. Mom and dad went to see their lawyer and thus began a rather stressful episode of my childhood. I remember letters coming that threatened to put my folks in jail if I was not enrolled in school within ten days. Mom quipped, “I could read a lot of books in jail!”  Dad soon learned that his attorney was also the school board’s lawyer. Dad had to find a new attorney, but the good part was that the school board’s council knew and liked dad. The new lawyer and the old one worked well together and found a loop hole for us. The law stated that children had to “be registered,” not that they had to attend the school. Consequently, it was arranged that we would be registered at the Estabrook SDA School in West Lebanon, NH, but do our work at home. The principal there was helpful, requiring only that we attend his school one day per month. As time went by, this requirement was waived and we only went to Estabrook for annual testing. 

Dad had many hobbies, many stemming from things he enjoyed doing with his own dad in their short years together.

Hiking was a lifelong interest- especially in the White Mountains. The Imp Trail and nearby Dolly Copp Campground were nearly sacred to him because of his clear memories of time spent there with his dad.  We spent many autumn weekends camping and hiking up the “four-thousand-footers.”  Dad did not want to hike in the heat, so it was always cold when we went. We tended to find ourselves descending the mountains after dark, a circumstance that provided many memories of flashlights that malfunctioned, streams crossed in the dark, wet feet, and other adventures that come with “after darking it” on the rocky, root entangled White Mountain Trails. On these expeditions I remember him fondly recalling the gently switch backed, smoother trails he enjoyed when hiking in Southern California. Sometime in his sixties day proudly checked off the last of the “four thousand footers” in the White Mountains.

He continued to bicycle throughout his life- often riding his bike to work and back.  On his 65th birthday, he and my brother Greg and a couple of cousins rode a 65-mile loop through the White Mountains. Last summer he was still biking with the grandchildren. 

The violin lessons his mom took him to did not go to waste.  He continued to play right up to the end. He and mom made sure that all three of us children pursued music and we often played together for church and other events. For several years when I was a teenager, dad took violin lessons with me from Mr. Kucer in Norwich, VT. It was an hour drive each way and we read many books together on those precious Wednesday mornings. I especially remember reading the Chronicle’s of Narnia with him on those trips.  For recitals, we usually did something together; Vivaldi, Bach, Hyden. When we moved to South Lancaster, MA, dad joined the Thayer Symphony Orchestra and was thrilled that his children were able to tour with Dr. Virginia-Gene Rittenhouse and the New England Youth Ensemble.  He and mom were on several world tours with the ensemble- dad was videographer and mom did whatever Dr. Rittenhouse needed doing.  Later, he enjoyed playing with Dr. Connie Drexler’s string ensemble in South Lancaster.

Shortly after moving to NH in the 60’s, dad joined the local flying club and obtained his pilot’s license. He liked to take friends and school children up for local aerial tours in addition to taking longer trips to visit friends or attend dental meetings. However, when he realized that all his professional friends who were recreational pilots had died in plane crashes, he handed in his key.

I am not sure what sparked dad’s love for the stars, but when I was about eight years old he traded one of our cars in for a 14 inch Celestron Telescope. We were a one car family from then on.  He read Sky and Telescope magazine regularly and even built an observatory into the roof of our house! The flat roof rolled off, giving him unimpeded access to the heavens.  One of his great joys was to have friends over and give them a heavenly tour.  A dream of his was that he and mom would run a retreat where people could stay and study the Bible and the stars. He never was able to do that on the scale he dreamed of, but the house on Green Mountain was just that, on a small scale.

Boats always fascinated dad. He had a motor boat early on in NH, but when he found that boring- “all you can do with a motor boat is squeeze the throttle and go back and forth,” he took up the more challenging task of sailing. Since he did not do anything half way, he ordered a 22 foot sail boat kit. He spent months and months building it in the garage. The kit frustrated him a great deal because it was not a precise as he was used to doing things at the office.  Finally, it was ready for a maiden voyage on Lake Sunapee. I remember hanging my little feet over the prow and feeling the cool water run between my toes. After a few years, he sold the white Luger and bought a smaller yellow and bright orange Sun Fish for use on Sibley Pond. Before my memories begin, dad purchased a bright blue topped Klepper kayak- the kind that can be taken apart and transported in two canvas bags.  Dad, mom, Jennifer and me would fit into the Klepper and explore rivers, lakes and ponds. When we girls were outgrowing our spots between mom and dad, and Greg was born, a second Klepper was purchased. For years, those two boats rode around like a pair of slender, beached, blue whales on top of our beige Volvo station wagon.  Eventually, dad saw the ease of owning  plastic LL Bean kayaks and invested in two of those. He sold one Klepper, but could not quite part with the other one.

Painting was something dad became adept at in high school and college. He was hired by an exterior painting company in Worcester and spent years working on the triple decker apartment buildings in his home town. His boss especially liked him because he was ambidextrous. That meant he could paint off both sides of the ladder, reducing the times a ladder had to be moved and speeding up the projects. In Claremont, he painted the church steeple and anything else that needed doing. His last major painting project was the interior of Topsham Dental Arts in 2009, though he did other projects around the house after that. Artistic, canvas picture painting was something he picked up from his brother-in-law Leon Strickland. Grandpa Sprague had been a skilled graphic artist, so it is not surprising that dad enjoyed his acrylics. He pursued this hobby mainly while on vacation at the cabin he and mom built on Sibley Pond in Canaan, ME.  He would bring smaller canvases for us children to work alongside him.  Somehow, our paintings never looked as good as his!

The cabin on Sibley Pond was another of his hobbies and a retreat from the busy round of dentistry and other responsibilities. He chose a lake near his two sister’s homes in Canaan, ME. His oldest sister, Marion, practiced medicine out of her house on Easy Street and the hospital in Skowhegan. The next oldest, Beverly, married to pastor Leon, lived all over the country, but retired to the Strickland family property in Canaan.  The cabin is a dark stained board and battened 12 x 20 rectangle. He and mom built it in 1975 with a hammer and a hand saw. After two weeks of dawn til dusk labor, they put a padlock on the door and left until the next summer vacation.  The cabin harked back to dad’s happy memories of vacations with his folks on Loon Lake in NH. Like the White Mountains, it was a place where he felt close to his memories of his dad.

Models were a constant hobby. Not that he worked on them daily or even monthly, but there was always something in the works. There were small WW II aircraft that mom made into a mobile to hang over Greg’s crib, there was a larger PT 109 that props that turned! He did not just put models together- he painted them in great detail.  As Greg got older, Dad got into radio controlled models. Greg and he became expert pilots on the RC club field in Lancaster, MA.  They had all the “stuff” to build and maintain their flying machines…. Model trains were another fascination. Dad built two rather large tables worth of track and mountains and tunnels and villages. As a child, it was one of my favorite things to watch the blue “Continental” face around the track.

Reading was a daily practice with dad. I understand that his mother was a great reader, so this craving for words came from her. There was always a stack of books by the bed and he would read late into the night- Bibles in multiple versions, EG White books, and others. He read primarily theology, Christian philosophy and apologetics. C.S Lewis, Jack Provonsha, Paul Tillich and Francis Schaeffer were favorites. The books he read were heavily underlined because he read to learn. When an addition was made to the small Green Mountain home, mom made sure it had a library for dad to keep all his books in. It had floor to ceiling bookshelves, and they were full. I even remember books stacked on the floor in front of the shelves!

Photography is the hobby dad was perhaps best known for. Again, this was something that started with his dad. Grandpa Sprague took and developed his own black and white photos. He handmade the photo albums as well, with wood burned pictures in their wooden covers. Like his father, dad did a lot of black and white photography. He had a dark room set up in the basement of our house on Green Mountain and I remember being down there with him many a Saturday night. It was such fun to see the pictures start to show up on the paper. But the large, black, square timer clock with glow in the dark green numbers and dials always managed to frighten me! Dad enjoyed the technological advances in photography and especially had fun with making videos. He took countless movies of the family, documented two international Youth Ensemble tours, and recorded weddings, funerals and other events for friends and family. He enjoyed editing the raw material, adding background music as appropriate, and placing explanatory names and titles.  As computers came into use he found fun and frustration in learning to edit digital films.

Computers could almost qualify as one of dad’s hobbies. He had always done some graphic design and mimeograph printing for his dental practice and for family Christmas letters. I can still smell the ink and hear the drum as I rolled the mimeogrpaher for him!  He was an early adopter of the Xerox machine at the office. He also bought an electric typewriter for the office, and about 1984 he purchased a computer and software for patient accounting. I remember questioning him quite pointedly about the necessity of such a financial outlay. But, as usual, he was right.  He started working on a computer at home sometime after we moved to MA. He designed many beautiful pages and wrote copiously for patient education.  Email was something he really enjoyed as a means of keeping up with people.  He knew how to use a telephone, but writing was his preferred method of communication.

Computers facilitated another of dad’s passions: sacred music education. During the 80s, after the move to South Lancaster, he became very concerned about the direction church music was taking. He began to research the subject, and then to put together a seminar on sacred music. He and mom presented this material many times around the country and in Kenya.  The central theme was to “give God the honor due His name” by not mixing the sacred with the profane.

The “House on Green Mountain” in Claremont, NH was his dream home. It overlooked the Connecticut River Valley and Mount Ascutney was framed in the west facing living room picture window. Every night we had a different sunset panorama to watch.  We had five acres to roam on, with a small stable that one of dad’s patients renovated in exchange for dental treatment. That barn became home to Cricket, the palomino mare that had been mom’s 16th birthday present. She came to join the family when I was 8. What a dream come true for an 8 year old girl! Not so much a dream come true for dad. One of the two times I remember him crying was while he was using the post hole digger from Taylor Rental in our rocky soil to make Cricket’s fence. We had logging trails that led all over and around Green Mountain to ride on, or cross country ski in the winter. Dad was an excellent skier, cross country and downhill, but he never mastered the art of horsemanship. In fact, all domestic animals were a bit of a mystery to him. It bothered him that they did not think the same way he did. The horse was mom and my territory, but skiing around the mountain in winter was special time with dad.

I thought we lived at and ran a resort there on Green Mountain. It seemed there was a constant stream of visitors.  The most frequent were Dad’s mom and Aunt Martha. Aunt Martha was a retired spinster school teacher who loved to drive. She would bring Grandma, her sister, up for visits. There seemed to be no end of interesting friends of hers that she brought as well. They would bring good things to eat, read us stories, and some played music with dad.  Other regular guests were Grandma Heath and Aunt Olive, mom’s father’s sister. Dad was always kind and patient with these elderly visitors. There were frustrations at times over the temperature of the house and other such things, but they were worked out. Dad installed a screw in the thermostat so that his mother could not get it up past 68 degrees….. We moved the couch closer to the wood stove for her and had blankets handy. Mom tried to get her to put on pants, but that was a losing battle- she wore a short sleeved dress and a sweater- her lifelong uniform.

Caring for Grandma Sprague, Aunt Martha, Grandma Heath and Aunt Olive, and even a couple of their friends were themes in mom and dad’s life. Dad wanted his mom and aunt to move up to Green Mountain with us when they were unable to continue to live alone, but they could not fathom leaving their respective realms. So, we made many trips to South Lancaster and Worcester to see to their needs, move them out of their apartments as necessary, and then to spend many days in rest homes and nursing homes with them as time went by.  The second time I saw dad cry was when his mother died.  Mom’s Aunt Olive and Louise Lindgren did come to live with us in South Lancaster until they died. Dad was always good to them in every possible way.  Something Grandma Heath really liked was that he called her “mom.”

While in Claremont, dad was involved in his church and the American Cancer Society.  He held most every church office, most often that of head elder. He preached as needed and taught the youth Sabbath School class for years.  He regularly held “5 Days Plans to Quit Smoking” programs at the church and in connection with the American Cancer Society.  One year, he was president of the state ACS.  As young children we “kicked the habit” many times! We enjoyed the educational movies that were part of the presentations- especially the one about what happened to spiders on caffein or nicotine.

In 1987, a dentist friend, Dr Joe Kluzak from South Lancaster, called dad and told him that he was retiring and asked if dad would be interested in his practice.  This was a bit of a shocking idea, but after prayer and consideration, mom and dad put the practice, the office building and the house on the market. They decided that if God sold all three, they would move. Within one month, all three pieces of the puzzle were sold and plans were under way for the move. This was very exciting for us teenaged girls, as we would be living next door to Atlantic Union College, where both mom and dad had attended and we planned to attend. We were already driving there at least once a week for New England Youth Ensemble rehearsals. The move would allow us children to live at home through college and continue to work in the dental office to pay our tuition. Besides, we liked being together and were in no hurry to separate to the four corners of the earth!

Dad was fifty when we moved south to MA. At the time, I thought that a rather advanced age to start a whole new practice adventure! But then, dad was always up for an adventure. To make the move, we rented the biggest Uhaul in town. I think it took two trips to get the home and office moved. Dad had sold the Broad Street office and practice to Dr. Pamplin, the same dentist who had bought his River Road office years earlier.  Dr. Pamplin was bringing his own equipment from River Road, so we lugged all the heavy chairs and other things out of the office and onto the Uhaul.  I remember Dad’s brawny childhood friend Bud Roberts helping us unload the dental chairs in South Lancaster. He made it look easy! One of those chairs, the goldenrod yellow one, now sits in the basement at Topsham Dental Arts. Anybody want it?

The new practice came with three golden assets: Dr. Kluzak’s meticulous dentistry and resulting reputation, nice patients, and Ursula Mejia, the genious who single handedly ran the practice.  The building was a mess. Dr. Kluzak had sold it to a couple of local investors, so it was only the practice that dad bought with a check and a hand shake from Dr. Kluzak. Dad was never one to rent, so he approached the owners of the building and was able to purchase it.  We moved into the second story apartment and then the renovations began……..

Dad closed the office for nine days. We worked together ripping up tattered old carpet, tearing down stained wallpaper, scrubbing, sanding, painting, wallpapering…. new carpet was laid……new sinks installed (the old ones had buckets under them because they leaked). There was not much sleep going on for those nine days. The transformation that dad engineered in those few days was quite amazing! The postage stamp grounds of our new home were also transformed. That took longer than nine days, and mom was the chief engineer. She took a mud hole front yard and derelict back yard and created a horticultural showplace. The trailing red roses that bloomed profusely on the split rail fence that rimmed the front yard were a show stopper.

Dr. Kluzak had been winding down his practice for some time, so Dad set about to resurrect it.  He took it from a slow paced two day a week practice to a very full time, productive practice. As Greg and I each graduated from LLUSD, we joined him and there was enough to keep all three of us as busy as we wanted to be.  That says quite a lot about dad’s rapport with his patients and the community. He was gentle in his manner, and confident in his approach to treatment planning and execution. Patients recognized his passion for his profession and valued his meticulous care.  He considered his patients to be his friends, even his extended family.  He wanted the best for his patients, and I can remember his frustration when they did not understand or want what they really needed. He would often go out of his way to see that the best care was rendered, even if he did not get paid for it. I remember a Russian woman who had terrible decay in one of her centrals. There were some language barriers, but apparently, she wanted the tooth extracted. Dad did not think that was an ethical solution, so he gave her a root canal and nice filling for free.  She was very upset that he had not taken the tooth out. I think she went somewhere else and had it extracted. That episode was painful for dad.  Fortunately, most of his patients appreciated his dental wisdom and skills. His Claremont patients were dismayed at the news that he was leaving for MA. Dad remembered that he did more crowns in the last three months in NH that in the previous five years!

The twenty years in South Lancaster were bright with old friendships renewed and new friendships made. Many of dad’s high school and college friends were in the area and enriched our lives – some through the services they provided in the care of the building, some through church association, some as patients, all as warm, caring friends.  Dad liked to say that moving to South Lancaster was “like coming home.”

In the beginning, the office space was not large, but the building was quite good sized. In addition to the office, it had three apartments. We lived in the second story and finished attic. The two ground floor units were rented out. One by one, the ground floor apartments were incorporated into the office, until, by the time Greg came back to the practice, there were no rentals. The office space grew to include a lobby, front and back business office, 5 operatories, a nice steri area, lab, private office, and two bathrooms. The main patient bathroom was so small that our larger patients had to use the other one and when the fan came on one seemed to be in a helicopter. The largest part of dad’s staff was his family. There was Ursula Mejia out front, one part time hygienist, and mom and us children. When I joined the practice in 1998, an assistant was added. When Greg joined in 2005, another assistant, Linda Currie, joined us.  That was it. Nice and simple.

Dad and mom were pleased that all three of us children graduated from their alma mater, AUC. Our address, 240 Main St, was practically on the college campus. When we walked out the office front door and turned left, only a gas station stood between us and Preston Hall, the girl’s dormitory.  And Thayer Conservatory, where we went for New England Youth Ensemble rehearsals, was only a swift ten minute walk away. We lived at home, worked in the office, and walked to class. Dad and mom enjoyed being part of each of our college experience.  They were great supporters of the New England Youth Ensemble activities and enjoyed entertaining our friends. Greg and I graduated with degrees in biology and Jennifer with her BS in nursing.

From the first fall semester that we were AUC neighbors, there were students boarding with us. It did not matter whether or not there were extra rooms. If someone needed a place to be, our home was open. Dad and mom were always welcoming to the many people constantly moving through their home. I believe there were 17 different students who lived in that upstairs apartment home over the years!

Dad enjoyed technology- dental and otherwise. He even got into HAM radio for a while. He had an intraoral camera just as soon as they were available. Anything new that came along and would improve the patient experience was something he wanted. Of course, it had to rate well with Gordon Christenson as well! He had Wand Anesthesia units before they were common. Not everything he tried turned out to be valuable or practical, but most did. When he was 65, he wanted to do something new, so he signed up for the Straumann implant mini residency in Bern, Switzerland. He enjoyed placing and restoring implants a great deal and got Greg and I involved as well.

While in South Lancaster, dad and mom traveled more than they had previously. They had done two cross country road trips, one in 1972 and again in 1974, but otherwise had stayed close to home. Vacations were invariably spent at the cabin once that was built in 1975. The only other trips were to dental meetings. Dad did the Peter Dawson Academy meetings in Florida and several times attended the Washington, DC convention.  We drove to those meetings and enjoyed seeing friends along the way. I hardly ever recall that we stayed in a motel. While dad was at his meetings, mom took us to the Smithsonian or to the ocean. In 1985 dad took a month off from the office and we all went to Austria to visit a family we had been corresponding with. What an experience that was! We rented a tiny Opal Cadet and drove from our home base with the Schopfs in Klagenfurt, Austria, to Italy, Switzerland and France. Dad took wonderful pictures and did several slide presentations to community groups when we returned.

From Lancaster, it seemed that doors to the rest of the world continued to open. Dad and mom enjoyed international tours with the New England Youth Ensemble, and frequent travel to the west coast as I began dental school. Mom and dad also made several southern tours to visit friends and do music seminars. Mere days after I returned to the practice, dad set off to St. Kitts in the Caribbean for his first short term mission assignment. Mom helped me get settled before heading down to join him. I made a number of desperate long distance phone calls during those two long months that he was away!  Over the next few years dad and mom served three different stints in Kenya. Their first was to the SDA Dental Clinic in Nairobi and was supposed to be for about six weeks, but extended into four months. The other two trips were for two months each and were to the Masai Dental Clinic run by NASDAD. While on these adventures, dad and mom did much more than dentistry. They visited the local churches and soon found themselves doing seminars on music and family life, telling childrens stories and preaching.  They made many dear friends and supported at least two students through college.

In 2006, after Greg had finished dental school and joined the dental practice in South Lancaster, dad asked Greg and I when we wanted to buy the practice from him.  I think he already knew the answer - we did not want the practice. For our entire lives we had heard dad talk about moving to Maine and that was where we wanted to go. MA felt like a sojourning place where we had gone for the purpose of being together through the college years. That purpose was fulfilled and now it was time to adventure to ME. Dad gamely agreed, and the process was set in motion.

I don’t know that any of us really thought the practice would sell – it had been on the market at other times with no results- but this time God sold it, and the building, rather quickly. Like in NH, when the patients knew dad was leaving, we had the busiest practice ever. Everyone suddenly wanted their crowns done.

In August 2, 2007 Dad and mom drove out of 240 Main Street for the last time. It was their anniversary and they were setting out on another journey together. Once everything had landed in the house Tim and I had bought in Harpswell, dad and mom flew out to Walla Walla, WA to visit Jennifer and family for a month. From then on, they traveled at least once per year to spend one, two or maybe three months at a time with my sister’s family. Dad enjoyed the people and the country there. His dental classmate Thor Bakland was there and dad treasured their visits.

2007-2008 was the year of building the office. We purchased a quiet property adjacent to the Topsham Town Library. Plans for the office were drawn up on napkins around the kitchen table. Eventually we put the designs on grid paper and then took them to a modular home builder. Dad had so much fun designing the dental office. He had renovated three different homes into offices, but to be able to design from the beginning! Wow! He was full of good ideas and the building that is now at 37 Foreside Road is a monument to his good ideas and planning.

Topsham Dental Arts was named by dad. I think it was his final word on the Riverdale Dental Arts incident. Dad welcomed the first patient into his first purpose built dental office in September of 2008. He was 72 years young and starting again. He continued to practice until just about three years ago.  His schedule was designed around his other plans and at his convenience. Mom worked tirelessly beside him, organizing his life as she always has done.

In 2009, the same day our third child was born, dad and mom toured a delightful home that was for sale just a couple of miles from our house. The realtor called it a "French cottage." The address was 25 Howards Hill. Dad felt that he had come home. I had only lived away from home long enough to do dental school, and Greg had come home as well after graduating from LLUSD. Mom and dad welcomed Tim into the family and home when we married in 2001. Our two oldest were born while we lived at 240 Main St. Tim and I purchased the Harpswell house with the intention that we would all be able to live in it until the practice could support more individual residences. We had all been living together for so many years that it seemed quite strange when dad and mom decamped to their own residence!  They did not stay alone in it for long though. When our fourth child was on the way, Greg moved over to mom and dad’s charming house. Greg chose his wife carefully, because she had to understand the family system!  They have been living with dad and mom for the last four years while developing their endodontic practice.  Dad was forever telling us how glad he was to have us all so close together. He wished Jennifer and her family were here as well. When Greg and Jennifer brought a six-pound baby named Jay Howard Sprague home last August, dad could not have been more pleased. Once again, the Sprague line would continue!

Over the last few years dad’s short-term memory had become a trouble to him.  This trouble was what finally brought the curtain down on his practice of dentistry. He was unhappy about not going to work, but found joy in the family. Dad worked beside us in every way he could right up to the end. He helped with yard work, dump runs, food preparation, dishes….and he read constantly. He was grateful, always counting his blessings, never cranky, never wanting to be any trouble. He lived trusting that God was in control. He always finished his prayers with, “We leave our lives in Your hands.” And that he did.  Dad lived peacefully, even in dark times, because he knew who he believed in and that God does indeed work all things together for good to those who love Him. 

Dad was reading a Little House on the Prairie book to his youngest granddaughter in Walla Walla, WA when he started to have a heart attack. He coded within the hour and never regained consciousness. He went peacefully, as he lived.  

Dad lived in hope, for that is what it means to be a follower of Jesus and a Seventh Day Adventist. He lived in anticipation of eternity. Let’s meet him there- where time will have no meaning and all God’s gifts can be enjoyed as He meant them to be!





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Topsham Dental Arts

The team at Topsham Dental Arts is dedicated to excellence in dentistry. They offer a wide range or dental procedures including dental implants, porcelain veneers, dentures and tooth whitening. The office is located in Topsham, Maine and serves the areas of Brunswick, Bath, Yarmouth, Harpswell, Lisbon Falls, Lewiston, Freeport, Bowdoinham, and Portland.

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