Donor Profile: Eric and Beth Hannapel Give Back in Many Ways11 min read
This profile is one in a series highlighting School of Dentistry alumni, donors and students.
It would be easy for Eric and Beth Hannapel to go about their daily lives focused only on their successful orthodontics practice and the busy pace of raising four children in a close-knit family.
That would be enough of a challenge and reward for most couples, but the two School of Dentistry alumni have chosen to also devote a significant amount of their time and resources to their professional alma mater.
Nearly every Tuesday Eric drives the two hours from his practice in Caledonia, Mich., near Grand Rapids, to Ann Arbor to share his knowledge and 25-plus years of experience with the graduate residents and DDS students in the dental school’s orthodontics clinic. His work as an adjunct professor is nearly year-round, except for a few weeks when students are on break or have a lighter schedule in the summer.
The mentoring doesn’t stop there. In what has become an annual end-of-summer tradition, Eric and Beth invite third-year orthodontic residents to their lakeside home in Caledonia for a weekend of fun, food and in-depth discussions about the practice of dentistry and orthodontics. The residents visit the Hannapel orthodontics office and often the questions go well beyond the technical aspects of orthodontic equipment and procedures to include much broader topics about life as an orthodontist, or just life in general. The Hannapels offer their insights for the residents’ many questions – about how to start a practice, how to choose an office associate or partner, where to locate a practice and countless other topics that soon-to-be orthodontists want to discuss. “We both try to give them the big perspective of life and how you are going to be successful in life,” Beth said. “Things like: Live where you want to live, don’t go where the dollar sign is. Look at the person you are going to be working for; is that a quality human being? We want to get to know them and try to give them the big picture of what is important in life.”
And then there are the financial gifts to the School of Dentistry over the last decade or so. Several years ago, during the comprehensive Victors for Dentistry fundraising campaign, the Hannapels gave $50,000 for a scholarship fund honoring now-retired orthodontics faculty member Dr. Rich Johnson. It was one of several gifts the couple has given to the school over an extended period.
While many alumni appreciate their undergraduate and professional alma maters, only a select few choose to give back in the variety of ways the Hannapels have. They say their reasoning is simple: The School of Dentistry gave them an excellent education and they owe much of their current success in life to what they learned in dental school and the professors who mentored them. Their belief in giving back is central to a life philosophy that they are modeling for their four children: Choose a career you enjoy, work hard at it and then give back when you are able to do so.
Eric earned his DDS from U-M in 1992 and did a year of General Practice Residency with the school’s Hospital Dentistry program, then decided to pursue orthodontics, earning his MS in 1996. Along the way, he met Beth, who was at the dental school following in the career path of her father, a dentist, and her mother, a hygienist. Eric and Beth were married in 1996 during the summer before her fourth year. After she finished her DDS degree in 1997, the couple practiced separately. He established an orthodontics practice in Caledonia and Beth worked as a general practice dentist with Dr. Jim Peurach (DDS 1985) in nearby Hastings, Mich. She practiced for five years, before deciding to take a break from the profession as their family grew to eventually include four children. She maintained her dentistry license over the years and her role now is to remove braces for Eric’s patients when they have completed their orthodontic treatment.
The Hannapels praise both the DDS faculty during their time at the dental school, as well as the orthodontics faculty who mentored Eric. He calls the orthodontics faculty of the time “behemoths,” a reference to the international reputations of Drs. Jim McNamara, Lysle Johnston and others. “I’m indebted to all of them. It was fantastic from an educational standpoint,” he recalls. “The demands were high and we all rose to the occasion. When you are in it, you can’t believe how hard it is. You can’t believe you are going to make it through. But as I tell the current residents, believe it or not, private practice is harder. So if you think it’s hard now, hang on to your bootstraps, because it’s harder and there’s no one else there to help you when you start the practice.”
“And that’s where I think Rich Johnson was such a wonderful, integral part for me and my class,” Eric continues. “He was always there for the residents. I remember sitting at Dominick’s (the iconic Ann Arbor restaurant-bar) and he would say, ‘Well, guys, you’ll get through that. This, too, shall pass.’ He was always very insightful and very much appreciating the hard work we were putting into it, and never minimizing it. I guess that’s where I see myself now, not just Beth and I giving back monetarily, but giving back my time.” Beth notes that Eric frequently receives texts from former residents who query along the lines of “Doc, what do you think about this? I’m in this situation.” She recalls a three-hour dinner with a resident asking their advice about overcoming a career mistake.
As residents approach the end of their education and prepare to move out into the real world, Eric describes the residents’ situation as “standing on the edge of the nest after 12 years in college.” During those discussions, it’s understandable that they need some advice. “They all of sudden feel like a deer in the headlights, like, holy cow, this is really happening. As they get close to finishing, we tend to not talk about moving teeth anymore. They tend to talk about, well, now what do I do? That’s what I remember Rich Johnson giving me. I’m trying very hard to give the residents what Rich Johnson gave me.”
Beth sees their ongoing commitment to the school from a couple of perspectives. “I think Eric and I truly value education. I want to see it stay at the quality that I feel both of us received. I want to give back to that,” she says. “Secondly, we want to be an example for our kids. I want our kids to give back to whatever they decide to do in life. And when they have gotten to a point in their lives where they can give back financially, I want them to do that, too. We’re trying to put their value system into place.” Beth’s community leadership example includes serving on the board of the Thornapple Area Enrichment Foundation, which provides grants to schools and various organizations in Barry County where the Hannapels live. She also is still active in a reading program she helped create for fifth-graders even though her children are long past that age level. Daughter Madison is an undergrad student at Miami of Ohio; Daniel is a freshman at U-M; Aiden is a senior in high school; and Caroline is 12. Madison, Daniel and Aiden have responded to the “get involved” mantra by holding leadership positions in a Youth Advisory Committee, an affiliate of the Barry County Foundation that makes grants to youth by youth.
The three oldest Hannapel children are interested in health fields and their parents are optimistic that one or more will opt for dentistry, but there is no parental pressure for that outcome. “We’re trying to show them that the only reason we can do what we do is because of what the Michigan dental school and orthodontics department has provided us,” Eric said. “It was lot of hard work and dedication, and it pays off – no matter what profession they choose.”
Eric is now in his sixth year of being an adjunct. “I thoroughly love it. I love the energy. It makes me realize how much we didn’t know when we were here. And how much I am able to provide them, hopefully not just educationally and didactically by teaching how to move teeth. But the business world of running a practice. I don’t realize how much I know, having done it since the day I got out of dental school and hung my shingle in 1996.”
While sharing his expertise and experience with students and residents is rewarding, being an orthodontist will always be about the satisfaction of treating individual patients and seeing great smiles at the end of the process. In addition to the patients at his busy practice, who range in age from children to senior citizens, Eric also volunteers at the DeVos Children’s Hospital Oral Cleft Palate Program in Grand Rapids. He is part of a team of doctors and dentists who develop treatment programs that often involve jaw surgery, bone grafts and other major procedures. It is an ongoing process that may take a decade or more from the time a child’s treatment starts until it is finished when they are teens. Eric has treated about 100 such patients over the years. “The before and after of somebody who has gone through from eight years old to 18 years old, to create a smile that sets them up to take off in life, is pretty impressive,” he said. “You don’t realize it as much when you are in the middle of it, but afterwards, when you come up for air, you realize how great they look. It’s a really nice feel-good moment when you get somebody like that.”
Still, the bulk of his work life is in traditional orthodontics – straightening teeth with braces and other methods. “I still love the profession of orthodontics,” he said. “I love bending wire and making teeth straight. It’s fantastic. It’s a different set of teeth every day. Problem-solving. That’s really what it’s about. I definitely feel like I found my niche. When I’ve got my gloves on and I’m moving teeth, it doesn’t get much better. Which is wonderful, right? That’s what you try to find in a profession so it doesn’t feel like work. I’ve definitely found my place for sure.”
Beth says she likely will return to general dentistry at some point as their children go out on their own, probably in some capacity where she can treat underserved patients both here and possibly abroad. In the meantime, the Hannapels will continue their ties to the dental school and Eric will keep encouraging his fellow alumni and graduating residents to give back to the school financially or in other ways. “I have no problem doing that,” he says. “We benefitted from a great program and we need to keep it as strong as when we were there.”
The University of Michigan School of Dentistry is one of the nation’s leading dental schools engaged in oral health care education, research, patient care and community service. General dental care clinics and specialty clinics providing advanced treatment enable the school to offer dental services and programs to patients throughout Michigan. Classroom and clinic instruction prepare future dentists, dental specialists and dental hygienists for practice in private offices, hospitals, academia and public agencies. Research seeks to discover and apply new knowledge that can help patients worldwide. For more information about the School of Dentistry, visit us on the Web at: www.dent.umich.edu. Contact: Lynn Monson, associate director of communications, at email@example.com, or (734) 615-1971.