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Dr. Petznick standing in front of vintage car.

In the fall of 1958, Dr. George P. Petznick set foot on the University of Alabama Dental School campus as a first year student. A proud Auburn graduate from the class of 1955, Dr. Petznick then entered flight school to become a Jet Fighter Pilot for the U.S. Air Force. But Dr. Petznick knew he wanted to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and become a dentist, so after graduating from flight school, he went straight to the Admissions Committee at the Dental School.

“Dr. (Joseph) Volker, who was Dean back then, told me I needed to go back and take a few more science courses, because it had been a couple of years since I was in school. So I went back to Auburn for a year, and then entered dental school in 1958.”

It was just before starting that second stint at Auburn that Dr. Petznick met his wife of nearly sixty years, Kathleen. They were each visiting Panama City Beach at the time, and both remember meeting while out one evening with friends. The exact details of their initial introduction are still playfully debated to this day, but as fate would have it, Kathleen and George ended up in a class together the following fall at Auburn, and George finally won her over. Kathleen eventually joined him in Birmingham after the couple wed in 1961. That same year, Dr. Petznick was called to active duty in Cuba, and had to take a year off from dental school.

Dr. Petznick remembers his time in school with great fondness, especially the opportunity he received to work in the personal lab of Dr. William A. McCracken, a well-known and well-respected faculty member in the Prosthodontic Department.

“I was just a freshman when Dr. McCracken chose me to work with him. I think he noticed how good I was with my hands and how well I could cast partial denture frameworks. I did all his lab work, and traveled with him. Kathleen and I lived in an apartment right across the street from his personal lab, and so I could easily go over and learn whenever I wanted.”

After graduation, Petznick went to work with Dr. Thomas Brigham, who was Dr. McCracken’s former partner. Just two years after he started there, Dr. Brigham sold George his practice. During those early years of his career, he also worked at the UAB Student Dental Health Clinic, treating UAB dental, nursing, and medical students who couldn’t take off for their appointments during the day. “I’d work all day at the practice, then at 5pm I’d head to the student clinic and stay there until 9pm. I did that for about ten years,” Dr. Petznick explained.

petznick pilot

In 1985, after nearly thirty years and three active duty deployments, Dr. Petznick officially retired from the Air National Guard with the rank of Colonel. But he didn’t put his wings to rest. In fact, retiring from the military gave Dr. Petznick the free time he needed to pursue other passions. He continued to fly his personal airplane, often to dental meetings, and he also started restoring antique cars, traveling to classic automobile shows around the country and winning awards for his remodels. He was also able to invest more time into service opportunities within the dental community, and upon his retirement in the summer of 2020, his list of career-long dentistry committee and board memberships was equally extensive and impressive. Among these include his service to the UAB School of Dentistry, which include five years on the Admissions Committee, four years on the Alumni Association Executive Council, and his tenure as President of the UAB Dental Alumni Association from 1986-1987. In 2003, the Birmingham Society for Advanced Dentistry Social Club named Petznick the Birmingham Dentist of the Year for his service to the Birmingham community.

Today, George can be found spending time with his family and friends at his lake home on Logan Martin Lake, or working on his latest car remodel, which currently happens to be an extremely rare 1938 Cadillac V16 convertible. Once COVID-19 is over, Kathleen and George plan to resume their travel adventures abroad. Dr. Petznick is still actively involved in the Birmingham Rotary Club, the Birmingham Monday Morning Quarterback Club, serves as a Trustee for the Birmingham Museum of Flight, and is a board member of the Southern Museum of Flight. “I like to stay busy, in case you can’t tell,” he chuckled.

Reflecting on his long career, the Petznicks agree they were fortunate to experience ‘The Golden Age of Dentistry’ during the 1960s and 1970s. “All the dentists in Birmingham knew each other and became close. We had Christmas dances, spring parties, and everyone always brought their whole family down to the Alabama Dental Association meeting.” said Dr. Petznick.

“I was able to get involved with a group of dentists’ wives who participated in charity projects. We became good friends with not only other dentists, but many of George’s patients,” Kathleen recalls. “It was a time of garden clubs and dance, and it gave us a community in which to raise our three children (Dr. Paul Gaston Petznick, DMD ’89, Dr. Charlotte Petznick Maxwell, DMD ’96, and Mr. James Lyle Petznick).”

Despite how the profession of dentistry had changed over the years, George and Kathleen remain grateful for the friends and community they made through George’s career. “These are people I saw every day, not just at the office. My patients became my friends; they were never just a number.” said George.

“We’ve gotten to know so many good people through George’s work,” explained Kathleen. “It’s made for a nice, sweet marriage!”