Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Garth Meyer
Gazette Reporter 

Colfax dentist Kirkpatrick to retire


May 9, 2019

Al Kirkpatrick in an exam room at his Colfax office, which he will retire from in June after almost 40 years.

The local kid is turning it over to a local kid.

Al Kirkpatrick, Colfax dentist for the past two-months-short-of 40 years, will retire at the end of June, handing the practice to Matt Mellor, another Colfax native.

Kirkpatrick is the son of the late Harold and Gladys Kirkpatrick.

Harold was a founder of the Kirkpatrick, Utgaard & Perry accounting firm in Colfax, which played a small role in how Al came to be a dentist.

"In the winter, my dad would come home for dinner, then go back to the office until 10 or 11 at night," Al said, referring to tax season. "I figured I didn't want to do that."

Kirkpatrick, 65, went to WSU for his undergraduate degree in Zoology-where he towed a live cougar at Martin Stadium as one of the Butchmen-then went to University of Washington dental school.

"I'm proof that you can go to the University of Washington and not be a Husky," he said.

He graduated from Colfax High in 1971, returning in the summers to work for Colfax Grain Growers (which later became Whitman County Growers, then part of PNW).

"I really like the job shadowing we have now," Kirkpatrick said. "My own dental experience was from my own personal ones."

After four years in Seattle, his first wife Kim (Cluckey) "decided" they should come back to Colfax. He began his career working with Dr. Bill Tempel, his childhood dentist, as an associate for one year. Then Kirkpatrick worked for Dr. Gordon Ripple for four years and, in 1985, he began his own practice, remodeling a former Main Street doctor's office that has been the office of Allen R. Kirkpatrick, DDS, ever since.

At the start, in 1979, he went to Garfield two days per week and for 10 years, taught in the Eastern Washington Dental Hygiene Clinic one day per week in Spokane.

Mellor is now finishing two years at Walter Reed Medical Center with the U.S. Army in Washington, D.C. He also went to U.W. dental school and Kirkpatrick was his childhood dentist.

"For me it just worked out great," Kirkpatrick said. "It was a good time for me to bow out and I feel really fortunate to find a hometown kid, someone with the typical Whitman County work ethic."

Mellor did a job shadow with Kirkpatrick in high school.

Also retiring from the office is dental hygienist Debbie Gylling, at the end of May, after 20 years. She was a high school classmate of Kirkpatrick's.

"There's a lot of ties," he said.


Kirkpatrick's first job was in junior high as an afternoon newspaper carrier on Thorn Hill, delivering the Spokane Daily Chronicle. He later delivered the Bulletin and then the Spokesman-Review.

Did he know then he wanted to be a dentist?

When Kirkpatrick was finishing high school, his oldest brother taught physics at U.W. and advised him to go into computers, that he'll be able to write his own ticket.

"I remember sitting out in the wheat truck thinking, that's just not me," Kirkpatrick said.

When he got to college, he chose his major for the requirements it filled to get into dental school.

"Dentistry was the plan the whole time," Kirkpatrick said.


What about the changes since he started out?

"What's amazing is the difference in materials and techniques," said Kirkpatrick, noting the short-duration early tooth-colored fillings at the beginning of his career and in the last 7-8 years, in-office crown milling machines, digital X-rays and cone-beam X-rays (three-dimensional).

Throughout his career, as required for a dental license, Kirkpatrick took 21 hours of continuing education each year.

"Six or seven years ago, I thought, do I decide to invest in the new technology or continue as is," said Kirkpatrick. "I decided to continue as is. Now Matt will have the opportunity to buy the latest, and upgrade for how he sees fit."

Kirkpatrick will retire with various plans.

He has three sons from his first marriage and three step-children with wife Kristie. Together, they have 16 grandchildren.

Kirkpatrick's oldest son Carey lives in Long Island City, New York, and works for an investment firm. Christopher, an opthalmologist, lives in Madison, Wisc. and Cody is in Denver, Colo., working in finance, between venture capital and real estate developers.

Kristie's daughter Kelley is married to Casey Jones of Jones Truck and Implement, with five children, son Clint lives in Seattle and Jeff in Spokane.

Mellor will start July 1, after he and Kirkpatrick hire a new hygienist.

Then Al will be a retired man.

What are his plans?

"Well," he said. "We're moving. One house over."

They live on Valleyview Avenue (Thorn Hill) above Lookout Park.

"My wife liked it better," said Kirkpatrick.

He will continue volunteering on the grounds at Colfax Golf Club and keep up involvement in the local Rotary club.

A veteran scuba diver, Kirkpatrick aims to plan a dive trip with his three sons, who are all certified divers.

Continuing on with the dental practice will be Jennifer Booker, who has been at the office for 25 years as a receptionist/assistant. Trudy Libey retired three years ago as an assistant, after 36 years.

"This is great. This'll be good. I can just pass the baton and away you go," Kirkpatrick said.


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