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Hagerstown dentist hangs up drill after 36 years

John Stull says, 'I've been humbled - the well wishes, calls, cards.'

July 12, 2012|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com
  • Dr. John Stull retired April 26 after a 36-year dental career in Hagerstown.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

As a teenager, John Stull pictured a career in the construction trade because of his passion for building things.

But he became so fascinated with the human body during a seventh-grade science class at North Potomac Junior High School that, at age 13, he had a change of heart and announced to his parents that he wanted to be a dentist.

“My parents latched on to that and pushed. I had a lot of family support to do what I did,” Stull said.

That desire never wavered, and the 1969 North Hagerstown High School graduate earned his bachelor’s degree from University of Maryland College Park in an accelerated three-year program.

“I pursued it diligently. I was a man possessed. I was a man on a mission,” Stull said.

Stull graduated magna cum laude from University of Maryland Dental School in Baltimore in 1976. He was one of the youngest in his class of 120.

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“All I ever wanted was to be a dentist to families, moms, dads, children and grandparents,” Stull said.

On April 26, Stull retired after 36 years in dentistry, two days after his 61st birthday. His wife, Bonnie, and dental hygienist Debbie Vance, had worked by his side from the first day.

“It’s time to enjoy the fruits of our labors,” John Stull said.

Bonnie has been a secretary and bookkeeper all these years, working from home while raising the Stull’s two daughters, who are now grown. 

“Bonnie was my high school sweetheart. We got married over Christmas break of my freshman year of dental school,” in 1972, John Stull said.

They got married on a Wednesday evening and stayed in their Baltimore apartment for the first time that evening, delaying their honeymoon until years later.

Bonnie started her job search the next day and, when she explained that she was a newlywed in need of a job, she was hired at the first place she applied but told to take the weekend off and report to work Monday.

“My grades went off the charts after we got married. I didn’t have to worry about seeing her anymore,” Stull said.

Born and raised in the close-knit Orchard Hills neighborhood near Maugansville, Stull returned to Hagerstown to set up a dental practice in 1976. The first 10 years, his office was just up the street from its current location on Leitersburg Pike.

Stull recalls seeing one patient the first day he opened and five patients total that week. To put food on the table as the practice was developing, he worked as a dental hygienist two days a week for another dentist. 

Once Stull’s practice was established, at one point he was treating five generations of one family, he said.

For some of his patients in their 40s, he’s the only dentist they’ve ever seen.

The Stulls have two daughters, Vanessa and Jessica. Vanessa and her husband, Jeffrey Gariazzo, who is a New York City firefighter, live in Staten Island, N.Y., and have a daughter, Gabriell, and a baby due after Thanksgiving. Jessica Stull lives in Leesburg, Va., but works in Hagerstown and hopes to be moving here.

The Stulls raised their daughters in LuRose Estates, with the Ellis family as neighbors. Brandon Ellis babysat for them and the families vacationed together.

When Brandon Ellis, who is four years older than Vanessa, was starting his senior year of dental school at the University of Maryland, he approached Stull about joining his practice.

Stull said adding another dentist was “the farthest thing from my mind,” but with further thought, decided to take Ellis on as an associate after he graduated in May 2000. Two years ago, Stull sold the practice to Ellis and has been working for him.

“Brandon was the closest thing I have to passing the practice on to a son. I don’t know that he knows I feel that way, but the best part was he came to me,” Stull said.

“With Brandon here, everything is taken care of.”

The partnership was a win-win, with Stull passing down his dental knowledge and business skills learned over the years. Ellis shared new techniques in dentistry he learned in dental school.

“The two of us were able to complement each other. It worked out well,” Stull said.

Dr. Jason Powell, a Williamsport High School alum and a 2002 University of Maryland Dental School graduate, joined the practice upon Stull’s retirement.

Retirement will allow for travel to visit the grandchildren and to continue the restoration of the Gariazzo’s home, time for yard work, gardening, projects at the Stulls’ home, watching Orioles and Redskins games, and a concentrated effort to improve John’s golf game.

There will also be time to reflect on his career and to go back and reread all the cards he’s received.

“If I’ve gotten one card, I’ve gotten 100, most with gifts. I’ve been humbled — the well wishes, calls, cards. The hugs and tears, it’s just been uplifting, but humbling. I didn’t know how I affected these folks. I just didn’t know,” Stull said. 

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