Dr. Joseph I. Shevenell, an Anne Arundel County dentist whose method of keeping jittery patients calm while wielding his drill and other dental tools was to sing to them, died in his sleep Sunday at his Annapolis home. He was 74.
While other dentists soothed anxious patients with Muzak or chatter, Dr. Shevenell employed a more novel technique. In a steady, firm baritone, he sang, whistled or hummed songs from a vast repertoire of popular music he had memorized.
"He liked Broadway tunes and would even sing Christmas carols in July. He started singing to children and then sang to their parents. He enjoyed his work and he enjoyed singing," said his daughter, Dr. Marlene J. Shevenell, also an Annapolis dentist. "One patient asked him to record his songs so when he retired, she could take it to her new dentist."
"Well, I loved it and I've been working here 45 years," said Ann Z. Hayes, a hygienist who began working for him in his dental office at 101 Ridgely Ave. while a high school student. "It became a big thing with the patients. He'd do a whole medley of songs. It was so funny."
Dr. Shevenell was born and raised in Saco, Maine, and earned a bachelor's degree in biology in 1947 from St. Michael's College in Burlington, Vt. After serving in the Army at a medical laboratory at Edgewood Arsenal, he enrolled in dental school at the University of Maryland and graduated from there in 1957 with scholastic honors.
He began practicing in Annapolis with Dr. Victor Leocha and in 1972 established a practice in west Annapolis.
"He took care of three or four generations of patients from the same family. He was a kind, caring and a great dentist. That's why patients stayed and why we wanted to work with him all those years," Mrs. Hayes said.
"I moved here from Altoona, Pa., in 1962 and he was recommended to us. He became like a brother to me," said Abraham S. Brown, whose family members remained patients until Dr. Shevenell retired in 2001. "One Sunday afternoon my grandmother was visiting and had a problem with her bridge. She was told if they ever broke them, they couldn't be repaired. We called Joe, he fixed them that afternoon, and they lasted until her death several years later."
Dr. Shevenell also volunteered much time and energy to various dental organizations. For more than 20 years, he was a participating member of Donated Dental Service Program, which provided dental care for the needy. "He'd take care of the elderly and the clergy and never think of sending a bill," his daughter said.
Dr. Shevenell had held positions with many dental organizations, including the Maryland Dental Services Corp., American Dental Association, Maryland State Dental Association and the Anne Arundel County Dental Association.
As a scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 366, 13 of the boys attained the rank of Eagle Scout. He also was a former member of the Annapolis Planning and Zoning Commission.
Dr. Shevenell also was a longtime active member of the Admiral Heights Improvement Association, and the Elks and Lions Club. He enjoyed wood carving, hunting and fishing. For many years, he traveled to Alaska to go salmon fishing.
A memorial Mass will be offered today at St. Mary Roman Catholic Church, 109 Duke of Gloucester St., Annapolis.
In addition to his daughter, Dr. Shevenell is survived by his wife of 52 years, the former Jane Cooke; two sons, Joseph R. Shevenell and Michael J. Shevenell, both of Annapolis; and five grandchildren.