Longtime Whitefish dentist John Atchinson likes getting to know people — whether it’s a patient in his dental chair or while on a globetrotting adventure to New Zealand.
“I love the exchange with people,” he said. “It’s fun to reminisce.”
After 55 years in dentistry, Atchinson recently sold his practice to Dr. Mandy Stebbins. He’s only taking a party-time retirement and plans to stay on working, seeing patients two days per week.
Atchinson began practicing dentistry in 1960. He and his wife, Fay, moved to Whitefish in 1964. Since the late 1970s he has run his practice out of the professional office building on Baker Avenue.
Atchinson grew up in New York and through his college and early professional career began making his way West.
He attended Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va., before earning his doctorate of dental surgery at the University of Maryland’s Baltimore College of Dental Surgery. He served in the Air Force dental service before completing his residency at the Denver General Hospital.
“I came out to Montana to drive around and it was just like where I was raised near Ticonderoga in New York,” he said. “Flathead Lake was just like a lake near where I grew up. I called my wife and said ‘We’re going to Whitefish.’”
That was the spring of 1964, when torrential rains poured onto heavy mountain snowpack and caused the disastrous flood in June that tore out roadways and ripped away bridges as rivers rose.
“I thought I had moved to the monsoon area of Montana,” Atchinson recalled.
He and Fay settled into Whitefish, where he says it took five years to get to know everyone in town. They raised four children here, and today have 10 grandchildren.
An avid traveler, Atchinson has visited many corners of the world — hunting in Argentina, piloting a sailboat through the British Virgin Islands or taking an education course in Russia.
“Traveling isn’t about seeing the scenery,” he said. “I like interchanging with people. I like understanding a different way of life.”
When he isn’t in his office or traveling, Atchinson is often out in the woods hunting and fishing or on packing trip through the Bob Marshall Wilderness with his llamas.
Atchinson is a member of the Montana Dental Association, the American Dental Association and the Montana Study Club, which focuses on continuing education for dentists. He is also one of the founders of the on-call dental emergency program, which coordinates dentists for both Flathead Valley hospitals.
“I enjoy working with my hands and seeing the results,” he said of dentistry. “I like getting to know people. I’m thankful that I haven’t had to really retire and that I get to continue working.”
He received the Excellence in Dentistry Award from the Montana Dental Association in 2012.
“I’m happy I got to come to Whitefish,” he said. “Hopefully, I was some benefit to the community.”