To say that new WSDA President Dr. David Minahan has lived a fortuitous life is only partially true — sure, he was a dedicated student and a gifted athlete, who went on to marry his college sweetheart and then became a dentist. He and his wife Susan do have two great sons and a tight-knit family, and he has the kind of comfortable success in his practice that many dentists aspire to have. But saying that he’s had a fortuitous life carries with it an implication of luck, and luck hasn’t played a big role in Minahan’s story. The three attributes that have contributed are hard work, perseverance, and teamwork.
What lies ahead
Minahan is well aware of the challenges ahead though — starting with membership — and he’s looking forward to tackling them with help from members from around the state, the Board, and the WSDA staff. “As I do my visitations, I always share with our members how grateful I am for the capable Board and WSDA staff — they make my job easier.” With membership falling around the country, Minahan acknowledges that we need to figure out ways to reverse the trend. “We’ve had some hiccups over the past year or two within the organization,” he says, “And it would be nice to reach consensus, but that’s not likely to happen 100 percent. We can at least try and keep communications open to the degree that we’re able, and encourage listening on both sides. I try to put myself in the other person’s shoes to see their perspective.”
With membership issues looming large, Minahan is encouraged by the work of Chair Dr. Ted Baer and the Task Force on Membership. “We need to identify the barriers to membership and determine why more women aren’t joining, and why minority members feel better served by their ethnic associations than they are by the ADA,” he says, “And, we have to figure out how we get the ADA, state constituencies, and their components to identify together, rather than as opponents.”
Minahan has committed himself to determining what the branding and message of organized dentistry is, and how that can be used to emphasize the value of membership. When he does, he’d like to roll that out at the component level during his visitations. “I really see the membership battle as being fought and won at the component level,” he says.
Encouraged by last year’s successes legislatively, Minahan is hopeful that the Association can continue to effectively downplay the midlevel provider option, by pointing to residency programs that he feels have much more promise in terms of access and delivery of care to those in need. “The residency programs have gained compelling traction with the legislators, and our grassroots efforts are critical to continuing that. We’re so pleased that Dean Berg has chosen to close the dental school for Dental Action Day and is encouraging all students to attend. Between the students and the dentists, we should have ample opportunity to speak with legislators about funding for the dental safety net, residency programs, and better Medicaid reimbursement. And while I know that the Medicaid issue is a controversial situation, the advantage to our dental school and its students is huge.”
Lastly, Minahan is looking forward to the Task Force on Public Policy, which is long-ranging, and will provide the Association with white papers on advocacy, while shining a light on the work of the Association.
The road to the presidency
So, while he would have been proud to serve on his component’s board, he says, “I was doing a lot at the UWSoD, and there was so much crossover between the two groups, I was very aware of the component issues. I served on a number of committees at Seattle-King, and I always respected the leaders.”
The importance of mentoring
Sue, also a UW alum, accompanies him to mentor activities, interacting with spouses and dentists alike. Outgoing and fun, she’s a real asset to Minahan, and has been described by their friends as “…a force of nature in that family. When they arrive on the scene you often hear from Sue a little bit before you hear from Dave. She’s terrific.”
With 50 percent of this year’s class at the UWSoD comprised of women, Sue’s insight and influence are ever more valuable — and Minahan is quick to credit his wife for her own keen skills, as well as for supporting him in his leadership endeavors. “The only way that I have been able to participate as heavily as I have is because of Sue — she’s accepted that because of my work with the University and the WSDA I’m often an “absent husband.” Sue is no stranger to volunteering and leadership, having served as president of the Junior League of Seattle and as a volunteer with the Alliance of the WSDA for years, and she’s as respected as Dave for her tireless volunteer efforts.
Fund raiser extraordinaire
Long-time friend and fellow Class of ‘75 alum Dr. Mike Fey, echoes that, saying, “You see a lot of guys who put in time for various organizations like the UW who are out front, taking credit, and Dave’s not that guy — he’s the one behind the scenes doing the real work, putting in time. He’s well informed, supports the school with time and financially, but he’s not the kind of person who is doing it for recognition, he’s doing it for the love of the cause.” Perhaps, but Minahan is the first to admit he hasn’t always felt he was the strongest candidate for the task at hand. “That’s one thing about these leadership roles,” he says, “They have led me to areas I wasn’t always comfortable with — I would never have been a fund raiser. I never would have done anything with the legislature. Those are two things I wouldn’t have done on my own, but the job needed to be done. These positions stretched my abilities, and I’m more comfortable with it now.” But Minahan can see a horizon for leadership, especially now. “I’m hoping to broaden someone else’s perspective on fundraising,” he says with a laugh, “But I’m happy to be the cheerleader, because I’m comfortable at driving the enthusiasm.”
Bleeding purple and gold
While most would say playing sports at the university level is impressive, Minahan downplays his basketball experience at the U, saying “I was not a scholarship player, but I was 6’4” and the second-tallest guy on the team, so I had an opportunity to play and had some good experiences meeting people and traveling around a bit. And, I got to soak in the love for Husky basketball.” While he would have loved to continue playing, he laughs and says, “I was too slow to be a guard and couldn’t jump high enough to be a forward. Still, I got great seats to see Kareem Abdul Jabar and others play.”
Minahan and Sue met through a blind date set up by their fraternity/sorority houses – matched up by height. At their first meeting the pair went door belling to help repeal blue laws. “We dated freshman year a bit, recalls Minahan, “And went home for the summer. Friends who knew us made sure we got reconnected when we got back to college. We dated all through undergrad and got married just before dental school.”
After just three years of undergrad at the UW, Minahan applied for early entry into the dental school. He was accepted as an alternate and then the following year he reapplied to UW — and nowhere else. “In hindsight, that could have been really foolhardy,” he says, “You heard all of these stories about people not getting into dental schools, and most of the people I knew were applying to multiple schools.” In the end, of course, it didn’t matter — he was accepted into the UWSoD. He had applied himself and it had paid off — his goal was within reach.
An early calling
It was an 8th grade project — a vocational notebook — that gave Minahan the laser focus he needed for his career. He says, “The elements that went into dentistry — being a people-oriented person, the academic/educational piece, the science background, the creative, hands-on aspect to dentistry — were all things that I was very much interested in. The exercise forced me to focus on the classes I would need, and the track I would have to take.” Of course, there were a few misfires along the way — when Minahan got a C in a science class in high school he thought it might all be over. But for the most part, he kept his eye on the prize, no matter how unusual that might have seemed to others.
It was about that same time the he took a job at Longacres Racetrack — a post he would hold for ten years until he graduated from dental school. He was a maintenance supervisor on the public side of the facility, working with a good friend of his from high school. The racing season ran from Labor Day to Memorial Day, and Minahan and his buddy supplemented their pay by working Longacres’ shoeshine concession, earning 50 cents per pair. But more than just earning a wage, Minahan soaked in the experience, observing the spectrum of people who wagered on horses at the track. “I learned things on a global scale,” he recalls, “At that time, when you walked from one end of the facility to the other and then upstairs, it was like walking through the entire demographic of Seattle. At one end of the facility there were people using their welfare checks and grocery money to bet, a little further on was the Clubhouse, where middle class people paid a little extra to wager. Upstairs was the Turf Club — a private area that catered to some of the wealthiest, most influential people in the state. I thought that was interesting and valuable — I got to circulate among some people I might never have met and I gained a lot of insight about human behavior. And, I benefitted from some management experience that may have helped me to a degree later on in life.” Even then, Minahan was making influential friends — Longacres owner Morrie Alhadeff was one of the people who helped Minahan get into dental school by writing a letter on his behalf.
Family, friends and sports
Allan followed in his father’s footsteps, attended UWSoD. Allan says, “First and foremost, the reason I got into dentistry was because I saw that my dad was able to help others and was a distinguished person in the community — we’d go from event to event, and people always knew him, had an idea of who he was and held him in high regard because he had taken care of them, so I started thinking about getting into his profession.” He remembers the first time he realized dentistry could change lives, saying, “I fractured my front tooth in a basketball game, and thought it was pretty cool to go back to my Dad’s practice and have him fix it right away — it felt like my front tooth was back in working order in five minutes. Up until then, I had just had cleanings, and that was the first time that I realized that you really could change someone’s life through dentistry.”
The Minahans are blessed to have friends from all walks of life — dentistry, his practice, the University of Washington, neighbors, their golf club, and the Junior League of Seattle, and so many wanted to be a part of this article that we ran out of space. Dr. Rick Crizi had this to say, “David is a good friend with whom I’ve worked with professionally for more then 30 years. He and his wife Susan are two of the nicest, most caring, compassionate, and concerned people I know. He exemplifies the best in oral health care delivery with exemplary personal ethics and patient care. Obviously, he’s involved with a profession he is passionate about, and has worked tirelessly to make dentistry in Washington work for both patients and providers. His efforts at the UW on going and generous. He is a dedicated fund raiser for both the ADA; WSDA and the UW. He leads by example.”
Dr. Mark DiRe, a close friend to both Dave and Susan, first met Minahan in dental school, although the families really bonded after a serendipitous meeting in Hawaii. “I have lots of great stories to tell about Dave,” DiRe said with a big laugh, “Unfortunately, none that you would be likely to print.” DiRe points to Minahan’s keen sense of humor — whether at a Board meeting or a party with friends — as one of his most endearing qualities, saying, “He puts people at ease with a casual sense of humor that everyone can appreciate. He’s honest and straightforward, and unlike most dentists, he’s a good, patient listener. That’s a real advantage when you’re in administrative post like the one he’s in. You’ve got to remember that he helped raise a great deal of money for the UW and that’s the kind of work nobody wants to do. He stepped up and did it very successfully and never wanted the limelight for it.”
Athletics, always so important to the family, remain so, with legendary tailgate parties at all the Husky home Football games. Dave serves as the bartender gamely mixing bone-warming cocktails. Fey says, “He’s just like a bartender at a bar — he likes telling stories, likes hearing your stories — it’s a good time! He’s not just there stirring up drinks, he’s stirring up the crowd, too.” For her part, Sue combines haute cuisine with standard game fare. “We enjoy sports as a family,” explains Allan, “My mom included — she probably listens to more sports radio than any of the boys in our family. I don’t know if it was just because she had two boys and a husband who were really into it, or if she would have been interested on her own. As a family we still love going to games or watching them on television — it’s an important part of the family.”
The family travels together, too, with many trips to their favorite destination, Maui. But Dave and Sue — who say they’ve really only scratched the surface of their travel bug — have also gone to Ireland, London and Paris. Italy is next on their agenda, but Minahan knows it will likely have to wait — Association duty calls. “We’ll get in Hawaii because Alaska’s annual State meeting happens to be there this year, but I’m sure that will be the extent of it this year. We’ll get to Italy in the near future.”