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There are two unusual bonds that bind the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry’s Class of 1952. First, all 50 graduates of that class were military veterans, and most had served in some capacity in World War II.

Dentala yearbook provides accounting of the UAB School of Dentistry inaugural graduating class of 1952Dentala yearbook provides accounting of the UAB School of Dentistry inaugural graduating class of 1952In addition, the members of that class were the first to graduate from the new dental school, which was founded in 1948 as an arm of the University of Alabama. That means they had no older students to turn to for advice or direction. They only had each other.

“Being part of that class was very special to my father,” says Marian Renfroe, daughter of Class of ’52 graduate Jasper Allen Jones. “He used to talk about how it was a very close class. He made some life-long friends from that class. Our families would go to conventions together, we’d vacation together. That’s what really sticks out to me, the friendships that developed from that class.”

Unfortunately, the members of the Class of ‘52 are not available to tell their stories of the early years of what became the UAB School of  Dentistry. But the school’s first yearbook, The Dentala, contains an interesting and entertaining account of the history of that inaugural class.

Written by an unnamed author, here are some lightly edited excerpts from that story, providing a first-person look at what school was like for the Class of ’52.

“Registration day – September 15, 1948 – began an infamous, unpredictable, history-making journey through the newly organized University of Alabama School of Dentistry.”

First up was a Histology course taught by Dr. Margaret Klapper, who apparently was a fast-talker. According to The Dentala, a student “dropped his pencil one day and missed four pages of notes.”

“Ceaseless study groups until the wee hours and several dry runs with the microscope marked the preparation for Dr. Klapper’s quizzes. … It is doubtful if ever a course was so well organized as was Histology.”

Next was Odontology. “Those thrilling lectures on dental anatomy by Doctors Hitchcock and Andranaco will never be forgotten. … The plaster room in Odontology Lab, designed to accommodate only three students, was known at times to accommodate all of us. To pour a mold without getting one’s self ‘well plastered’ was truly an accomplishment.”

The second semester classes included Gross Anatomy and Biochemistry. “We were soon lost in a maze of fascia, muscles, nerves and arteries. … As we came to know Dr. Sensenig better, our original fear was replaced by deep admiration and respect for one whose primary interest was in the students’ welfare.”

The Comparative Dental Anatomy course was taught by Dr. Joseph Volker, who was the school’s first dean and went on to become the university’s first president. “Surely no self-respecting dentist could appreciate a successful practice without a thorough knowledge of the masticatory apparatus of the Rhesus Monkey, Mississippi Alligator, Dog Fish Shark, Indian Elephant and Duckbill Platypus.”

“With blood-shot eyes and shattered nerves, we warmly welcomed the end of the first year. After too short a summer, we returned eagerly (????) for more. We knew not what of, but we were accustomed to that by now.”

According to The Dentala, the second year proved to be even more challenging than the first. “Hours of Oral Pathology, Physiology and Odontology, 5½ days a week, made Gross and Bio seem like a picnic.”

Fast forward to the third year. “We faced the oncoming junior year with anticipation. … Equipped with a vast store of knowledge and arrayed in immaculate robes of white, we were introduced for the first time to those awesome individuals known as patients.”

“Along with our clinical problems at this time, we were also confronted with Anesthesia, Exodontia, Radiology, Oral Diagnosis, and Pharmacology. … We were very fond of Dr. Beutner for his kindness and humor. … Our hats are also off to Dr. Driver, Dr. Teague and Mr. Anderson for treating us like adults.”

“After much delay, the new building was opened to us … though the place was swarming with workmen sawing, hammering and drilling. … One of the workmen yawned, and before he could close his mouth, we had placed two gold foils.”

“Enjoying the relative laxation and freedom from complicated paperwork, we demonstrated how much operative dentistry could be done the second semester of our junior year.

“For fear that we would get too engrossed in the art of filling teeth, it was decided that we should broaden our medical knowledge, including atelectatic rales, pleural friction rubs, and galloping heart rhythms. We griped quite a bit, but in the end admit that under Dr. Klapper’s excellent guidance, learned a great deal of information that will prove valuable in the practice of dentistry.”

The Dentala describes a difficult senior year, especially in the clinic. There were even concerns during the final weeks of the final semester that the class might not be cleared for graduation. Then …

“Dr. Wuerhman announced that we could consider clinical requirements completed. Light hearts gave forth with laughter, and for the first time in weeks the class was its jovial self again.”

“(The graduation date of) May 31, 1952 at last was just around the corner. It was now believed that, in spite of our most severe case of ‘Senioritis,’ we would graduate. … We had weathered the storm together, and the trials and tribulations had served as a bond to bring us closely together. We sincerely believe that there will never be a more unified group.”

“We were fairly old fellows, conscientious and serious, but at the same time, jovial and fun-loving. We were never too busy to lend a helping hand to each other, to go to bat for each other if necessary. Lasting friendship and brotherly love emerged from such an association.”

“And though we are happy to graduate, we are saddened at the thought that the Ole Class of ’52 must disband and each go his own way. The class will never die, however, but will live on in the memory of each of us. And we will all be looking forward to meeting together again as often as opportunity permits.”