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He is currently fundraising for a professorship for the Department of Endodontics.

In his own, unique way, Joel Hearn, DMD, has been leaving his mark on UAB for a long, long time.

Joel Hearn, DMDJoel Hearn, DMD

In 1978, Hearn, already a 1972 graduate of the UAB School of Dentistry, was in his endodontic residency at UAB when he caught wind of a contest being held that fall to write the UAB fight song. The prize? $150. Hearn took piano lessons in grade school and junior high and played keyboard and bass in a few rock ‘n roll cover bands, so he knew a little about music composition. And, lo and behold, his entry won and made its official debut during the 1978-1979 UAB men’s basketball season.

“It was something I did for fun,” he said. “I met a faculty member in the music department who told me they were going to have a competition to write the fight song. I said, ‘I’ll write it.’ It was a homemade, low-tech presentation, but it was successful, and 44 years later it’s still being played and sung.”

Four decades later, Hearn continues to give back to the university. He is currently assisting with fundraising efforts for the Paul D. Eleazer—Larry W. Alley Endowed Support Fund for Endodontics, named for two admired professors in the School of Dentistry. The fund will be used to support faculty recruitment in the Department of Endodontics until it reaches $500,000, at which point it will be submitted to the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama System to be converted to an endowed professorship to support an outstanding faculty member.

This is not Hearn’s first fundraising effort to support the School of Dentistry. In 2014, a campaign he led, the Excellence for Endodontics Campaign, raised $1 million to remodel UAB’s endodontics clinic, which had not been remodeled since 1975.

“I’m quite proud of that,” he said. “We worked hard on that.”

Hearn is also the only emeritus member of the UAB Dentistry Leadership Council and is past president of the School of Dentistry Alumni Association, among other roles. Now, he has given substantially to the Eleazer-Alley professorship, his newest avenue to contribute to the School of Dentistry’s success.

“The School of Dentistry is a source of so many wonderful things in my life,” Hearn said. “It’s the source of my career, and I loved my job—I had the best job in the world. I’ve always had a feeling you should, in return, support and hopefully provide a great School of Dentistry experience to the next generation.”

After graduating from the School of Dentistry in 1972, Hearn served in the Air Force for three years and practiced general dentistry in Tampa, Florida before returning for his endodontic residency from 1978 to 1980. (In case you are lucky enough not to know this, endodontists specialize in root canal treatment.) He practiced in Florence, Alabama, until his retirement in 2016.

“Endodontics is a wonderful career that I enjoyed for 36 years,” Hearn said. “Endodontists help people with issues that are not life-threating—it’s not life or death, although a lot of patients think it’s life or death. They come in with a problem and leave with it fixed. How good is that? It pays the bills, you’re part of a team and you help people—it’s hard to imagine a better job than dentistry to me.”

Joel Hearn, DMDJoel Hearn, DMD and colleague

And Hearn said the foundation of the career he loved was the UAB School of Dentistry, specifically its professors. That’s why, through these campaigns, he is looking to establish endowed professorships to be able to recruit and retain first-rate faculty, who in turn attract high-quality students.

“It’s sensible to give back, and I hope others feel the same way,” he said. “I feel strongly about it. I’m loyal to the School and the Department, and I’ll always do what I can.”

Before he begins fundraising, Hearn always donates the initial gift himself.

“I’m not asking someone to do what I haven’t done myself,” he said. “I’m not afraid to be across the table from somebody and ask them [for money] if the university needs it. I’ll always be supportive and give when needed. I enjoy it.”

The Eleazer-Alley Fund is named for two professors, now both retired, that Hearn said made an enormous difference in his life and many others’. Eleazer is “dripping with brains,” Hearn said, “a great guy and a wonderful teacher and researcher” who helped strengthen the Department of Endodontics. Alley graduated a year before Hearn in the class of 1971—Hearn said that they have been friends since their dental school days—and he practiced in Huntsville, Alabama before returning to the School of Dentistry to teach. “He was voted best clinical teacher for several years by the students,” Hearn said. “He’s a great guy.”

“It is imperative to attract and maintain high quality faculty,” Hearn said. “Having an endowed professorship is, of course, very supportive in that goal.”

Dr. Ashraf Fouad, chair of the Department of Endodontics, said the department is proud to have Hearn as a role model for support among the department’s alumni.

“I am grateful to Dr. Hearn for his generosity, and his advocacy on behalf of the department,” he said. “His contributions over the years, especially to the two endowed professorships in the Department of Endodontics, are indeed remarkable.”

His initial leadership gift to the Eleazer-Alley Fund is a long cry from the $150 he took home 44 years ago for writing a song Blazers still sing today. That’s about $661.44 in 2022. How did he spend the money? Not lavishly, he said.

“I paid bills,” he laughed.


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