Colorful plumage caught Mike Spreng’s eye as he sat more than 500 miles away from the chair where he had performed countless dental procedures.
“I’m looking at birds on my back porch,” the longtime Ashland dentist said. “I’m doing what I like to do now.”
Dr. Spreng has spent most of the last two years in North Carolina, and is excited to return home for a career celebration with his friends and patients from 1 to 3 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Ashland County Park District Office at Freer Field.
The public is welcome to attend.
It will be the first time the retired dentist has seen most of them since the COVID-19 pandemic ended his career a little sooner than he had anticipated.
“One day I was working, and the next day I was out of there,” Spreng said. “That’s how I felt.”
Dr. Spreng: ‘Ever since I was in the third grade, I wanted to be a dentist like my dad.’
Ashland-area residents were accustomed to having a Dr. Spreng around town — Warren “Pinky” Spreng opened his practice in the city in 1947.
The second-generation dentist grew up around the business.
“Ever since I was in the third grade, I wanted to be a dentist like my dad,” Spreng said. “I never waivered from that.”
He graduated from Ashland High School in 1972, Miami University in 1976 and then the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill dental school in 1980.
Once back home in Ashland, he had to wait for his license to arrive in the mail from the dental board.
“I was sitting around all summer waiting for my piece of paper to arrive,” Spreng said. “My first day was Sept. 8 of 1980.”
Worked alongside dentist dad for 15 years
He realized the real dental education was only just beginning. School had taught him a lot of information, but his hands were still new at putting it into action.
“It takes a while to get confidence,” Spreng said. “It was great having my father there. He had, at that time, 33 years experience, so if I had a question, I knew I could go to him.”
The elder Spreng would usually agree with his son’s treatment plans, but not always.
“Sometimes he would say: ‘You can do that if you want, but it’s not going to work,'” Spreng said.
The two worked together for 15 years until Spreng’s father died unexpectedly in 1995 at the age of 72.
“That was a pretty traumatic few months trying to manage all the patients for the two of us,” Spreng said. “But, we did what we had to do.”
Ashland will always be home
The family atmosphere was one that continued in the practice during the years since it opened in 1947.
“They weren’t just patients, they were friends,” Spreng said. “I think that was the real benefit of practicing in a small town instead of a big city.”
He has watched them grow and start families of their own.
“I see patients who were like three years old when I first saw them,” Spreng said. “Now they’re in their mid-40s and they have grandkids. That’s when I feel like I’m getting older.”
That all stopped, though, in March of 2020. Businesses closed — his practice included — to slow the spread of the virus, so he went to North Carolina to see his newborn grandson.
“After about eight weeks, I looked at my wife and said I think maybe I could be done,” Spreng said.
They decided the time had come to pass the practice along to Dr. Kevin Priest, who also was born and raised in Ashland.
“I was one of the 2.5 million people, according to government statistics, that retired a little early because of COVID,” Spreng said. “The thing I missed out on was I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to the staff and patients the way I wanted to.”
That’s why he hopes to see everyone during his farewell celebration.
Even after that, he will return often from the warmth of North Carolina. And his nature photography will always be sold in various stores in downtown Ashland to help raise money for the city’s flower fund.
“I really like it here (North Carolina), but Ashland is home,” Spreng said. “My roots are deep there.”