At 89, Dr. Ralph Merkel starts new dental practice

At 89, Dr. Ralph Merkel starts new dental practice
Posted: March 8, 2019 / Source: Fort Wayne Business Weekly

After selling the dental practice he started in 1958, 89-year-old Dr. Ralph Merkel isn’t ready to hang up his drill.

At an age when most people are a couple of decades past retirement, the Fort Wayne native and Army veteran known socially as “Doc” has joined Dr. Benjamin Clinkenbeard’s practice at 3615 Lake Ave.

You’re 89, but you describe the last two months since you’ve been at your old practice as “being out of work.” Why do you keep working?

First of all, I feel good, and I don’t have hobbies. My whole life is dentistry. ... I just felt a moral obligation to take care of my patients who’ve been good to me all these years to make sure they’re taken care of.

July 2020 I’m gone.

Are you sure?

I guess I am now. I’ll spend six months with (my second wife) Maxi in Vienna in her home (that she keeps there) and six months in Arizona with her, with her son and her daughter and grandkids.

A long career

Merkel provided a detailed written autobiography to Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly and believes he was first in a couple of things.


“Introduced color television sets to each operatory 1959,” he has listed.

Merkel believes he’s the “first dentist in the world” to have TV sets that patients can watch during their appointments. He put in a General Electric color TV set into his office.

Life magazine was interested in “the latest in dentistry” and came to Fort Wayne to take a photo of him with the TV set. However, he found out that such publicity would be considered advertising and wasn’t allowed under dental ethical standards at the time, so the photo never appeared. However, Merkel still has a copy.

Merkel got started in dentistry in 1946 as a junior at South Side High School when he talked to his employer and other men at Maloley Supermarket at Broadway and Jefferson Boulevard, where he stocked shelves and carried out groceries.

He talked to Al Maloley and others who all had daughters on a lunch break one day and asked, if they had a son, what would they want him to be in life.

“They said, ‘Well, you will probably have a 40-year span in your life to do something — age 25 to 65 — and that is probably it. So you decide what you will do.’”


Then one of the men said, “’I would want a son to be a dentist.’ And of course, I said, ‘Why?’ ... ‘Because in your lifetime you can help many, many people. Also, you can set your own hours to work.’”

With numerous World War II soldiers coming home and going to school, the dental school had a backlog of 2,870 applicants for 65 openings annually.

He had been accepted to dental school but he found himself drafted and headed to Europe. He served in the U.S. Army Korean Conflict Dental Corps 1952-54, during which time he was married to his first wife, Barbara. They had two children, one of whom went into dentistry. Their daughter, Dr. Brenda M Valliere, now runs what became Merkel’s dental practice, Summit City Smiles, with her husband and son, both dentists.

Merkel used the GI Bill and two jobs to pay for his dental school education, then got $5,000 with the help of his father’s employer to set up his practice. His wife, Barbara, died in 1996. In 2004, he and Maxi, an Austrian citizen, married in 2004, and Merkel inherited a family that lives on several continents.

Merkel’s eyes light up when he talks about Clinkenbeard inviting him into his practice. Once Merkel leaves, Clinkenbeard will continue to see any patients who have followed Merkel there. Merkel will be joined by Christine Garner, his dental hygienist for over 33 years.

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