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After the University of Alabama at Birmingham officially became an independent institution in 1969, it was inevitable that many things were about to happen for the first time throughout the rapidly growing campus. And the UAB School of Dentistry (SOD) was no exception.

SOD 1970's

Here is a quick look at a few of the notable milestones that took place at the SOD during the 1970s, as the school celebrated its first 25 years and beyond.

A growing home and a copper box: On Oct. 8, 1974, the cornerstone of the greatly anticipated five-story addition to the SOD building was set, marking an important step in the $9.45 million expansion and renovation program.

Embedded in the new addition is a copper box – a time capsule containing a variety of relics from that time: the morning and afternoon newspapers of Oct. 8, a current School of Dentistry catalog, a clinic fee schedule, the current Dentala yearbook, an acrylic denture, a packet of dental instruments, a UAB campus map, a UAB telephone directory, several issues of “Medical Center,” blueprints of the construction project, and a Polaroid color photograph of the cornerstone-laying ceremony itself.

The roof-top student-faculty lounge opened in 1975 during the Alabama Dental Association’s annual meeting. Finally, on Jan. 17, 1976, the former Medical and Dental Basic Science Building and Dental Clinic officially was rededicated as the UAB School of Dentistry Building. The project included a six-story addition and quadrupled the SOD’s clinical facilities. When the project was begun, the school contained only 127 dental chairs, many of them of World War II vintage in use since the school opened in 1948. At completion, there were 255 chairs.

Largest class ever: The largest class ever (until that point) graduated received their Doctor of Dental Medicine degrees in 1975. Dr. Joseph Volker presided over the ceremonies and Dr. Charles A. McCallum, Dean of the School of Dentistry, presented diplomas. Fifty-eight students graduated in June, while eight, enrolled in a Combined Basic Medical Sciences program, graduated in August.

The first Black students: As the state of Alabama and much of the South emerged from the turmoil of the 1960s Civil Rights movement, the SOD student body was changing too. Jimmie Walker Jr. and Wilson Wright Jr. became the school’s first Black students in 1970, and four years later they were the school’s first Black graduates. They were followed in 1976 by Janice G. Jackson becoming the SOD’s first Black female graduate.

The 1974 graduation of Drs. Walker and Wright was acknowledged in a passionate article in that year’s The Dentala – credited to the yearbook’s editorial staff – that lamented the exclusionary practices of the past while also championing the change that finally was taking place.

“For now we have made a start, and the graduation of the first two blacks is a significant occasion,” the yearbook editors stated. “These first two black graduates are fine young men, but more than that, they are excellent dentists.”

“The honor, pride and dignity of Wilson Wright and James Walker should be respected by every member of our society and particularly by the members of this graduating class and the faculty of this institution. With such respect they can attain the goals set for themselves, and in so doing contribute greatly to our society and to the professionalism of the dental profession.”

A growing number of women: As the decade progressed, future women leaders like Jackson, Mary Lynne (Hartselle) Capilouto, and Sandra Jean O’Neal joined the student ranks as the number of women in each class began to increase.

Receiving her D.M.D. degree in 1976, Jackson became a longtime leader within UAB and organized dentistry. Currently, she is a professor who serves as pediatric program director and chair of the Department of Pediatric Dentistry. As a board-certified pediatric dentist, she provides care in several settings including UAB and Children’s of Alabama.

Capilouto received her D.M.D. with honors and the Dean's Medal in 1977, then completed graduate training in a general practice residency at UAB Hospital. Rising through the academic ranks, she went on to become the school’s sixth dean in the late 1990s.

O’Neil received her DMD in 1977, a certificate in Fixed Prosthodontics in 1979, and a M.S. in Dentistry in 1980, all from UAB. She has been on UAB faculty since 1979 and served as chair Department of Prosthodontics for 12 years prior to her retirement in 2009. She is now Chair Emerita and part time faculty.

“I think I am a very fortunate person because I literally stumbled into dentistry as a profession It has been so kind to me, and I don’t think I could have found something that I loved any better or was probably better at,” says O’Neal. “I cannot imagine not having UAB School of Dentistry in life. It has been a real gift in my life.”

Grateful for Greer: Numerous professors made an impact on the School of Dentistry throughout the 1970s, but perhaps none more than Dr. David Greer. A 1959 SOD graduate, Greer served in the U.S. Navy Dental Corps for six years before returning to UAB to obtain a Master of Science in Clinical Dentistry with a major in Dental Radiology.

Greer then joined the SOD faculty as an associate professor and quickly became a student favorite. He was chosen by the student body to be faculty advisor every year from 1971 through 1975, and The Dentala was dedicated to him four times “for his outstanding ability as an educator, and for his invaluable guidance and friendship.”

Greer was named the SOD’s Director of Student Affairs in 1975. In a heartfelt letter to the Class of ‘75 that was published in The Dentala, Greer expressed his appreciation for all the student support he had received over the years and offered some advice to the upcoming graduates.

“Although it may sometimes be difficult to convince you of it while you’re a student, the goal of the administration and every faculty member is to provide you with the best of dental education,” Greer wrote. “It has been a pleasure to know you, teach you and learn from you. My feelings at any time like this are best expressed by (American poet) Edwin Markham:”

“There is a destiny which makes us brothers. None goes his way alone. All that we send into the lives of others, comes back into our own.”

Today, the school’s student lounge bears Greer’s name.

Win for UAB: Joel Hearn, a 1972 SOD graduate, was conducting his endodontic residency at UAB in 1978 when he discovered that a contest was being held to write a fight song for the UAB Athletics program. Hearn’s background in music consisted basically of taking piano lessons as a child and playing keyboard in a few rock cover bands, but he decided to give it a shot.

“It was something I did for fun,” Hearn recalled recently. “It was a homemade, low-tech presentation.”

Maybe so, but it also turned out to be the winning entry, creating a fight song that is still sung by UAB students and alums 45 years later. The lyrics are simple but catchy:

At UAB in Birmingham,
All hail our players bold.
They are the mighty Blazers,
Who wear the green and gold

Tonight let’s fire their golden blaze,
The flame of victory.
Go Blazers! Go Blazers!
Win for UAB!

It is a sentiment that propelled UAB and the School of Dentistry into the 1980s, and many more decades of greatness.