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A Lasting Legacy: Community, HSHS-EWD Lose a Champion for Children

GREEN BAY - With more than 40 employees, three standalone clinics and in-school programs, Oral Health Partnership is making a difference in the lives of children who need a little extra support. As a non-profit, the organization provides no-cost dental services for children in low-income families in Brown County.

Oral Health Partnership opened its first clinic in 2007. To truly understand the organization’s mission, you need to look behind the scenes. It’s there you’ll find the spirit of a man whose big heart and passion for helping others could only be matched by his persistence.

Dr. Eugene “Gene” Eggers was the driving force behind Oral Health Partnership and helped secure the funding needed to get the idea off the ground. He passed away unexpectedly in Sept. 2018, but not before leaving a lasting impression on his family, friends and community. One of those people is Dr. Jim Van Miller, whose friendship with Gene dates back to 1972.

“He was the first pediatric dentist in Green Bay, I was the second,” said Jim. “When I got to town I called him up and I was afraid he would think I was encroaching on his territory, but he said to me ‘welcome to Green Bay, I’m glad you’re here.’ That was my initial impression as to what kind of person he was.”

Following Jim’s retirement from dentistry in March 2010, he said it wasn’t long after that he received a phone call from Gene. That phone call was one of the many examples of where Gene’s persistence paid off.

“He wanted me to volunteer with Oral Health Partnership and I told him, ‘Gene, I’m done with volunteerism, I’ve done everything you can image,’ recalled Jim with a chuckle. “Gene said, ‘no, I really need you go come to OHP and get involved with this,’ and I said no I’m not going to do that.”

Fast forward four and a half weeks, Jim was at his first Oral Health Partnership Board meeting. Eventually he went on to serve as the board’s president.

“Our beginnings at Oral Health Partnership were kind of humble, but Gene was always there working with everyone trying to keep things organized,” said Jim. “He was very proud of what he was able to start, and was always trying to get other people involved.”

It was Gene who first approached HSHS-Eastern Wisconsin Division to assist Oral Health Partnership in providing care for children, when the care needed exceeded what could be done in a clinic setting. Now, HSHS St. Vincent and HSHS St. Mary’s Hospitals both open their doors for procedures, free of charge to families.

“Dr. Eggers was a consistent voice, over a long period of time, that was unwavering in his vision for creating a better health care system for the underserved in our community,” said Tom Bayer, Vice President of Strategic and Regional Development, HSHS-EWD. “He had a clear vision, and while our work is never done, he was able to bring people together to make an impact.”

Because of the work of Oral Health Partnership, there have been fewer cases of children being admitted to the hospitals in Brown County for previously untreated dental issues.

 “The success that we’ve had in bettering oral health in our community, could serve as a model for others,” said Tom.

From Oral Health Partnership’s beginnings, prevention and education were at the center of its mission. Perhaps, that’s because Gene was a born teacher, though you may not have realized it at first.

“One time after a board meeting, he handed me a birdhouse,” said Michael Schwartz, Executive Director of Oral Health Partnership. “I thanked him, but said, ‘I really don’t know what to do with this.’ He said, ‘it’s a wren house and here’s what to do with it.’ So I hung it up and sent him a picture when I saw my first wren family. He had such a gentle way of teaching. He could be talking to you for two minutes, and you didn’t even realize it, but you just learned everything you needed to know about birds, birdhouses and wrens.”

With his heart of gold, smile on his face and one of his signature plaid shirts, Gene worked each day to make sure children received the care and education they needed.

“He was the rock of this place. He just made sure things were run as smooth as they possibly could be,” said Jim. “He gave back to the community a lot more than he got from the community. He was a person who really, really cared about families and children.”

While those with Oral Health Partnership would call Gene the heart and soul of the organization, his hard work and dedication lives on with each person you’ll meet in the clinics.

Media Contacts

Angela Deja
Public Relations Coordinator
(920) 272-3360

Dana Jermstad
Senior Communications and Public Relations Manager
(920) 429-1752
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