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Fairfield son opens lone dental clinic in town

Dentist Dr. Joe Ostheller smiles as he tends to patient Jerrikay Thieren of Fairfield on Friday. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Dentist Dr. Joe Ostheller smiles as he tends to patient Jerrikay Thieren of Fairfield on Friday. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Editor’s note: Due to an editing error, the jump to this story was left out of Thursday’s Valley Voice. Here is the complete story.

The Ostheller name has been known around Fairfield since 1889, when Carl Ostheller bought a farm there after emigrating from Germany. That farm remains in the family, but the name is gaining a new reputation.

In November, Dr. Joe Ostheller, 44, opened a dental practice on Main Street in Fairfield, commuting from Gig Harbor twice a month so residents of the town of about 600 and surrounding communities don’t have to drive to Spokane for dental care.

“I love Fairfield,” Ostheller said. It’s a friendly community where the patients in the waiting room usually know each other, and his relatives, he said. “It’s neat being an Ostheller there. It’s the only place in America where my name is recognized.”

Ostheller arrives on a Thursday night and works on patients Friday and Saturday before returning home. Most visits his dad, Lowell, comes to manage the office, and they stay with Ostheller’s uncle Gary on the farm.

He leases the office from former Fairfield dentist Harry Gibbons, who retired about eight years ago after practicing for more than 50 years in the town.

When Gibbons opened his practice in 1957, he commuted to the town twice a week to see patients before moving there a year later.

“I wanted to find out whether I could make a living here,” Gibbons said. “The business was so good I moved down permanently.”

After retiring about eight years ago, Gibbons stayed in Fairfield, leasing the office to a Spokane dentist who also commuted for several years before closing.

Ann Moore, who’s lived in Fairfield for almost three decades and once worked for Gibbons, said the residents were thrilled to have Ostheller open his practice.

“They love him dearly. They love having a dentist in town again,” Moore said. She said quite a few Fairfield businesses closed during the recession, including the grocery store, hardware store and beauty shop.

With a new brewery, Zythum, now open two nights a week and Ostheller’s dental practice open four days a month, Moore said she hopes she’s seeing an upswing.

“I think we’ll get more people down here. It’s a small town and small towns have a hard time keeping people,” she said. “We’re hoping he gets so busy that he has to be open five days a week.”

Ostheller said business is busy, and he’s planning to add an associate on Wednesdays.

“I think we have enough volume for it,” he said. “Since the first day every time slot has been filled. We’ve had zero downtime.”

Operating an office from a distance isn’t new to Ostheller. After graduating from dental school he started practicing in Port Orchard and continued practicing there every three weeks after his family moved to Utah.

In 2005, he opened his Gig Harbor practice and traveled between the offices for five years before the family moved back to Washington. Then he flew to Utah once a month, to maintain the office and ties with his wife’s family.

Now he’s looking at a similar transition to Fairfield, where he sprayed for thistles and drove trucks and combines on the family farm as a teen.

“I plan to be buried in the Fairfield cemetery,” said Ostheller. His family has a section in the cemetery, where they recently buried his mother near his sisters, who both died of cystic fibrosis during childhood.

He said he expects to move in a few years, after his children finish schooling on the West Side.

Meanwhile, he’s building community ties, not only through dentistry, but through chili.

Ostheller keeps a pot of lentil chili cooking in the back room for sampling, using patients as his taste testers on the evolving recipe he eventually wants to market.

“I’m trying to find that perfect recipe,” he said with a laugh. “I think I’m getting pretty close.”

It’s part of the atmosphere that longtime Fairfield resident Jerrikay Thieren described as personal.

“He is so patient and good,” she said. “Small towns like personal commitment. We think him coming here is wonderful. He’s the type that will be active in the community.”

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