Smiles carry Ayers through hard times, life

Curt Ayers was no stranger to adversity. Having overcome polio and having lived with glaucoma, the Marquette Dental School associate professor knew how to laugh through tough situations.

Ayers died in his sleep at his Wauwatosa home last week from a presumed heart attack, according to his wife, Ann, and colleague, Thomas Taft, the director of educational development and assessment at the Dental School.

"He was a lot of fun," Ann said. "Everything was a joke to him."

"Curt had a very interesting personality," Taft said. "He had a wry sense of humor. He was a quiet person but he always had something humorous to make of the situation."

Ann Ayers said she asked that a memorial go to the Dental School, perhaps for a scholarship.

"I want it to go to the students," she said.

This school year marked the late professor's 31st year at the university. Taft and Ayers' wife said in all his time at Marquette, he was interested in teaching.

"He loved working with the students," Ann said. "He was not intimidating."

April Watson, a fourth-year dental student, said she took a public health course with Ayers her freshman year, where one assignment required the students to teach oral hygiene to local grammar school children.

She remembers how Ayers used to walk into the classroom each day and say, "Greetings, future doctors or dental surgeons and others."

"He was pretty entertaining," Watson said. "He always had little jokes."

Ayers also linked current students with nearby practitioners and taught preventive dentistry courses, Taft said.

Ann said she and her husband had just celebrated their 30th anniversary in March. They met in Ottawa, Ill,. when a man she was dating introduced her to Ayers.

According to the university press release, they had one daughter, Julie.

Ayers was bedridden for a long time in his childhood because of a case of polio, his wife said.

Despite this illness, however, Ayers ran track in high school, winning the state championship.

He received a track scholarship to Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., his freshman year, which was taken away after Ayers was involved in a car accident, Ann said.

The associate professor then transferred to the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, Ill. for two years before enrolling in the four-year dental school program at Loyola University in Chicago.

After receiving his D.D.S. from Loyola in 1964, Ayers opened up his private practice in his native town of Ottawa and worked there for about eight years.

Ann said he was diagnosed with glaucoma when he was 32 and could no longer work at his office. Ayers decided to go back to school and received his degree in public health dentistry at the University of Minnesota, Taft said.

In 1974, Ayers started working at Marquette and has focused on students since then.

"He spent an ungodly amount of time preparing his lectures," his wife said.

Funeral services were held for Ayers Tuesday at the Becker Ritter Funeral Home at 14075 W. North Ave.

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on April 28 2005.