Alumni Issue: Dr. Gary Means — The 'most humble man'

Categories:  Edinboro Alumni Issue 2019    News
Friday, October 11th, 2019 at 11:47 AM
Alumni Issue: Dr. Gary Means — The 'most humble man' by Shayma Musa
Dr. Means posing with a patient. | Photo: Jamie Heinrich

He stands around 5’11”, snow white hair combed just so, his expression somber and his eyes focused toward
the doorway.

It’s Oct. 4, not long before he plans to leave the dental business he’s worked in for over 50 years, most of which had him serving the Edinboro community. Behind him, office manager and scheduler Jodie Chrzanowski, and business finance manager Barbara ‘Barb’ Harris-Pellegrino, smile and whisper to themselves. This interview is a surprise from them to the “most humble man” they’ve ever worked with.

He had been changing light bulbs in the office when they told him that shortly, as in one hour from then, he’d be telling The Spectator his life story.
He rushed home and changed into his finery so that the pictures “would turn out.” And he gathered himself for this curve ball, as he had for the many surprises that life had thrown at him.

Born in Indiana, Pennsylvania in the year 1945, Gary Means was the oldest of several siblings, and from his early childhood, to when he was in 11th grade, the family uprooted themselves several times. They’d first move an hour away, from Indiana to DuBois; then moving another hour away to Saint Mary; then two hours to Corry; and finally 40 minutes away from Corry to Erie where they permanently anchored the family.

In Erie, Means attended Strong Vincent High School where he, “kept his head down, went to school and went to work right after school.”

THE ROAD TO DENTISTRY

“Whereas some fellows and gals had that dream (of becoming dentists) for a long time prior to going to school, I did not.”
The story goes like this: his first semester of his senior year of college, while standing in a three-hour organic chemistry lab, his lab partner Alfred Walker asked him, “What are you going to do when we graduate?”

“No idea,” replied Means.

“Then why don’t you come down to dental school with me?” Walker said.

“I can’t afford that, I barely got through here,” Means said, referring to Edinboro.

But his interest was piqued, and he ended up taking the entrance exam for the University of Pittsburgh dental school, passing that exam and gaining acceptance to the program.

A mixture of the money Means saved up, the scholarship he was awarded, and a work study job at the university meant that he could afford to attend dental school.

“So I went,” Means said. “It was one of those serendipitous things.”

GIVING BACK

Fuller Brush seller. Centennial Hall maintenance man. Penn Union machine worker. Door-to-door salesman. Anything and everything that would give him a few more dollars in the bank. These are the jobs that Means worked in high school, college and graduate school to keep funding his education.

“Work kept me busy,” Means explained.

Fifty-three years later, many students at Edinboro University are like the young Gary Means. According to university data, on average, 53 percent of full-time freshmen receive the federal pell grant, which is awarded to students who have an expected family contribution lower than $5,140. During the 2018-19 academic school year, Edinboro University awarded more than $3.6 million dollars in institutional scholarships.

Means gives back to students every academic year with the established Dr. Gary Means Scholarship, which is available to those who meet three basic criteria: 1.) Be a student-athlete; 2.) Be an entering freshman; and 3.) Major in pre-medical, pre-veterinary, pre-pharmacy, or pre-dental.

“I could work to pay my tuition, but many students work and still graduate from college with debt; I was lucky that I left Edinboro with no debt,” Means said.

The essence of Edinboro is the community, as there’s a 15:1 student to faculty ratio, allowing students to form lifelong connections with their professors.

Means experienced much of the same in his time. “My offer of acceptance to University of Pittsburgh Dental School was contingent upon me having ‘Physics 2.’ However, it was not offered the spring of my senior year and I was graduating. So I went to my professor at the time and asked to be in a higher level class. He agreed and passed me, and I was able to go to dental school.”

AFTER SCHOOL

At Edinboro University, Means majored in natural sciences, as back in ‘64 there was none of the strict differentiation of concentrations such as “Pre-med, Pre-Dent and Pre-PA.” He graduated from this degree program in 1967. Four years later, in 1971, he graduated from dental school at the University of Pittsburgh, entering right into the most intense years of the Vietnam War.

“I didn’t want to start a practice because I knew that I would be drafted, so rather than take a risk and invest time and money into starting a practice, I decided to enlist in the United States military,” Means said.

He was shipped down to Fort Polk in New Orleans, Louisiana where he would stay for six years. At the fort, he was in charge of keeping the cadets’ teeth in tip-top shape, so that when they, “went into the jungle, their teeth would be in good standing.”

After coming back home from Fort Polk, Means worked for a short period in Erie as he set his practice up in Edinboro.

“Dentistry is about helping people. Treating people. Solving problems. I love solving problems and my day is made up of solving issues,” Means said.

He lives that spirit at his practice, as recently they changed their office hours on Thursdays, extending them until 7 p.m. so that patients can make it to the office without missing work, or bring the kids around after school.

THE BEST BOSS

Every morning at 8:30 a.m., Means has a ritual. He walks in, stops at his office manager’s desk and says “good morning,” catching up with her since the day before. He then moves to his business and finance manager, and on, and on, until he’s greeted all employees of the practice.
After the interview, Chrzanowski and Harris-Pellegrino are excited to comment on their time working with Means.

Chrzanowski, struggling to hold back tears, said: “I’ve worked here for three years, and I remember working next to him thinking he was very quiet. Little did I know it was the opposite. As you got to know him, he’s just, you know, great people — he’s a great boss, he’s great with his family and he truly cares about his patients.”

Harris-Pellegrino continued the sentiment. “He is very concerned about everything [and] he’s always checking in.”

“He’s a great boss,” Chrzanowski concluded. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Now none of that,” Means said, comforting, as he picked up the mail to walk it over to the post office.

Dr. Gary Means will conclude over 50 years of dentistry within the next two weeks. The Edinboro practice will continue in the hands of Dr. Mathew Rosinsky.

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