Harry Dressel Jr.

Catonsville Dentist For 40 Years Whose Philanthropic Interest Was His Alma Mater, The Um Dental School

August 26, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Harry F. W. Dressel Jr., a well-known and innovative Catonsville dentist whose philanthropic interest was the University of Maryland Dental School, died Aug. 18 of cardiovascular disease at the Charlestown retirement community. He was 89.

Born in Baltimore, the son of an Edmondson Avenue hardware store owner and a homemaker, Dr. Dressel was raised on Carroll Street.

After graduating from Catonsville High School, he attended the Johns Hopkins University and graduated from the University of Maryland in 1942.

"I had a calling for the health professions during my teenage years which was encouraged by my father," Dr. Dressel wrote in a sketch of his life.

"Dentistry became a prime consideration through my respect for and encouragement of my dentist; also, by my realization that I had superior hand skill in the performance of some creative hobbies," he wrote.

He was a 1945 graduate of the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery - the dental school of the University of Maryland - and later earned a certificate in periodontics from New York University.

After serving as a Navy dental officer, during which time he also was attached to treat servicemen from the Army and the Marine Corps, Dr. Dressel returned to Baltimore and established a general dental practice in the late 1940s on Frederick Road in Catonsville. His dental career spanned more than 40 years.

Dr. Dressel was also a faculty member from 1947 to 1951 at the University of Maryland Dental School.

In 1968, he was appointed head of and helped establish the dental program at what was then the Community College of Baltimore by the college's president, Harry Bard, and later served as department chairman and professor for 16 years.

The University of Maryland Dental School's alumni magazine, Mdental, profiled Dr. Dressel in its 2004-2005 edition.

In addition to being a general dental practitioner, the profile described him as a "teacher, administrator, author, advisor, and a leader in dentistry."

Dr. Dressel said in the article that what brought him deep professional satisfaction was "working with my patients and seeing their appreciation of me as someone who genuinely cares about their health and life."

He added: "The appreciation of the dental and dental auxiliary students I taught is also heartwarming and very satisfying."

Dr. Dressel had a knack for turning patients toward dental careers either as dentists or hygienists.

"I've always been a strong recruiter for people to go into dentistry," he said in the article. "When we see a need, we really should encourage young people who have the aptitudes to pursue and fill that need."

He also had a reputation for embracing the latest dental technology, such as high-speed, air-driven drills, and was the first dentist in the state to use a lounge-type chair - now common in dental offices across the country - in his practice.

"The chair was originally designed for astronauts," he explained in the Mdental interview. "It made 'sit-down' dentistry much easier and efficient."

He held numerous national, state and local dental-related positions, including serving as president of the Baltimore City Dental Society.

He retired in the late 1980s.

"He was a friendly, warm and kind man who always had a ready smile. He was earnest but not aloof," recalled Dr. David A. Denisch, a Towson dentist and a longtime friend.

"He was probably the most professionally dedicated person I've ever known when it came to dental education and professionalism in dentistry," Dr. Denisch said.

For more than 25 years, Dr. Dressel made the dental school the focus of his philanthropy, and several years ago presented it with a gift of $250,000 for an advanced teaching classroom that was to be built in the new dental school building.

"He was a very important alumnus of the school, and his death, coupled with that of Dr. [Joseph P.] Cappuccio several months ago, represents a significant loss to the dental school. It's a major blow for us and hard on all of us," said Dr. Christian Stohler, who has been dean of the school since 2003.

"Dr. Dressel was a prominent person with the highest moral and professional standards. He was professionally accepted by everyone and was a friend to everyone," Dr. Stohler said.

"As an alum, Dr. Dressel was probably the largest single donor to the dental school," he said. "While he had strong opinions, and they were respected, he was someone I could always depend on."

Reflecting on his life's work in the alumni profile, Dr. Dressel said: "I love dentistry - it's been my life, and it has brought a lot to me. It's nice to have had the Lord give me that opportunity."

The former Ellicott City resident enjoyed golfing, travel and computers.

Dr. Dressel was a communicant of St. Timothy Episcopal Church in Catonsville.

"I hope that on my demise my eulogist will feel it is fitting to say of me, 'The world is a better place because of Harry's efforts,' " Dr. Dressel had written in his autobiographical sketch.

Services were held at Charlestown on Monday.

Surviving are his companion of 14 years, Hilda Golen; and several cousins.

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