Donor Profile: Maxine DeGaynor (DH 1963) — A fulfilling hygienist career that began with a strong foundation at U-M6 min read
This profile is one in an ongoing series highlighting School of Dentistry alumni, donors and students.
Growing up on a farm in western Michigan in a family of 13 children, Maxine DeGaynor always thought she would be a nurse. It was a profession that many little girls in the 1940s and ‘50s aspired to, and she just assumed it would be hers.
So, after graduating from Coopersville High School in 1956, she enrolled in nurse’s training at Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids. While there, she began working in a dental office as an assistant. The dentist, Robert Raube, was impressed by her skill and suggested a career change. “Maxine, you work very well with your hands,” he told her. “I think rather than going back into nurse’s training you should go into dental hygiene.”
Maxine liked the suggestion and decided to check it out. She made an appointment with Dr. Dorothy Hard, legendary director of the hygiene program at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. Maxine was taking flying lessons at the time and made the trip to Ann Arbor by private plane with her instructor.
The interview went well and Hard accepted her into the program on the spot. “She said, ‘Maxine, I can tell that you will do well here in dental hygiene. I had a cancellation yesterday. I will take you.’”
Once at Michigan, Maxine enjoyed her studies and found the program to be excellent, but she credits Hard with helping her to make it through. “She was very encouraging, very supportive of me. She took a special interest in me, and I have always appreciated it.”
Maxine’s gratitude for that support and for her successful career in dental hygiene recently inspired her and her husband, Gregory Scott DeGaynor, to provide a $50,000 gift to the dental school, establishing the Maxine and Gregory DeGaynor Endowed Hygiene Scholarship Fund. “I’m all for rewarding those that have helped us in our life,” Maxine said.
Hard built the University of Michigan’s dental hygiene program into a national leader during her 44 years as director from 1924-68. Last year, the school created the Dr. Dorothy G. Hard Legacy Professorship in her honor, thanks to a gift from Dr. Robert W. Browne, a DDS alumnus from the Class of 1952 and graduate of U-M’s orthodontic program in 1959. The dental school recently celebrated 100 years of excellence in dental hygiene.
Maxine remembers the professionalism with which Hard ran the program, which extended to the students’ appearance. “We had to wear a white starched uniform, our white caps with a lavender stripe, white stockings and our white shoes. We were very professional looking. That was the profile that Dr. Hard wanted for the women she had accepted in the dental hygiene school.”
Maxine earned her certificate in hygiene in 1963 and went back to work for Dr. Raube in Grand Rapids. After he retired, she worked for the dentist who bought the practice until she retired about 10 years ago. “I worked for that practice for 48 years,” she said.
She enjoyed educating patients about how to improve their oral health, especially after dentists began to emphasize the importance of flossing. “Flossing was never encouraged that much when I was in dental hygiene school, but that came about later. And so with the big emphasis on flossing and brushing correctly, it was encouraging to see how the patients listened to my instruction.”
But, Maxine said, one of the best parts of the job was the personal connections she made.
“I loved the patients, and I knew them so well,” she said. “I knew their children. I knew their grandchildren. It was almost like seeing friends a couple of times a year.”
Along the way, she also raised a family. Maxine and her husband, who typically goes by his middle name, Scott, were married in 1966. They have two children, Jonathan and Elizabeth. Jonathan, who lives in Bloomfield Hills, holds an engineering degree from the University of Michigan and an MBA from Wharton. He runs a vehicle component company near Detroit. Elizabeth, who lives in Alexandria, Va., earned a bachelor’s degree from Michigan and a doctorate in theology from Duke University. She teaches at an Episcopalian seminary.
Maxine and her husband live in Zeeland Township at a private airport. She never obtained her pilot’s license because raising a family and the expenses that came with that got in the way. But Scott, whom she met while taking those flying lessons, did become a pilot. These days, a hangar attached to their home houses two airplanes, and they enjoy flying up to Mackinac Island, which they can reach in an hour.
Scott DeGaynor is a self-made man, Maxine says. He started a successful business that provides icemaking equipment to bars and restaurants. He remains active in the business that has spanned more than five decades in the Grand Rapids area. “He never received any college education after high school,” Maxine said of her husband. “He’s worked very hard to get to this place.”
Maxine credits her hygiene career with giving the couple the extra income needed to send their children to parochial schools and to the University of Michigan. “Because I was raised in a poor farm family, I realized at a young age the importance of education. And so, when those children were young, I can remember telling them, ‘I will see that you get through college.’”
She’s grateful she was able to fulfill that promise and grateful to Dr. Hard for helping to position her for such a successful career. Establishing the scholarship is an expression of that gratitude and a way to pass along a little bit of help to a new generation of dental hygiene students.
“I will always remember Dr. Hard,” Maxine said. “She treated me like one of her daughters.”
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The University of Michigan School of Dentistry is one of the nation’s leading dental schools engaged in oral healthcare 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.