Klayman office comes down
The Gainesville building near the low-water bridge on North Main Street where Dr. Norm Klayman practiced dentistry for 34 years was demolished Monday.
Klayman retired July 18, 2016, and the building has been vacant since then. It sustained water damage during the historic flood of 2017, and earlier this year, Klayman and his wife, Sue, donated the building to the city of Gainesville. At first, it was thought that the city might use the structure, set back from Main Street on a grassy, shaded lawn and facing Lick Creek, as a meeting place or a rental venue. But mold that grew in the building after the 2017 floodwaters receded was too expensive a problem for the city to remedy. Monday, the company began demolishing the building.
The Times could not verify when the building was constructed, but Klayman – known as Doc to his former patients and friends – believes it was built sometime in the 1970s by what was then the Gainesville Development Corporation working with government assistance to bring a dental office to the community. Two dentists reportedly practiced in the building for a while, but when the last one left in 1982, the building was put up for sale – just as Klayman’s lease was expiring on the office he had been using for his practice in Ava for 10 years. So he and Sue bought the building and moved his practice to Gainesville.
Although his dental practice was new here, Doc himself was no stranger to Ozark County.
Raised in St. Louis, Doc thinks he first came here to fish in Bull Shoals Lake in 1961, when he was 17 and Bull Shoals was “very well known – probably the best lake in the world for bass fishing at that time,” he said Monday.
Despite his young age, he drove alone from St. Louis to Pontiac several times to fish in that world-class bass lake. He slept on the concrete picnic tables in the Pontiac Campground, he said, remembering one night when it rained and he had to sleep in the campground’s toilets building.
After graduating high school in St. Louis, he attended Los Angeles City College in California for three years and then transferred to St. Louis University his final year. He attended the University of Missouri-Kansas City dental school, graduating in June 1970, and then served in the Air Force until June 1972, followed by another year in the Air Force Reserves.
When he was honorably discharged from active duty in 1972, Doc worked a few months for a dental corporation in St. Louis, always keeping an eye on possibilities that would let him return to the Bull Shoals area. In September 1972, that opportunity arose, and he opened a dental office in Ava, commuting from Pontiac beginning in 1975.
In 1976, in the Ozark County Courthouse, he married Sue Frye, whose parents owned a dairy farm in Squires. “She knows how to milk a cow,” Doc joked Monday. The late Clyde Rogers, then the associate circuit judge, officiated at the courthouse ceremony. “His brother, Claude, was one of my fishing buddies,” Doc explained.
The newlyweds rented a trailer at Blue Top Resort in Pontiac while Doc continued to commute daily to his dental office in Ava. In 1979, they built a house in Pontiac, where they still live today.
After buying the Gainesville building in 1982, Doc built a successful practice here that continued, uninterrupted, until February 2011, when he sustained severe injuries in a vehicle crash at Highways 160 and 5 north in Gainesville.
Hospitalized in the ICU, he remained in “an induced coma for a week before I woke up and realized I’d been in a crash,” Doc said. “They kept me there another week, and then they sent me home with a collapsed lung they couldn’t get to reinflate.”
The pain from multiple fractures was considerable, but Doc discontinued the pain meds after only two days. “It’s suppose to hurt when you’ve broken that many bones - hand, ribs, sternum, and other stuff,” he said.
He began “hobbling around on a cane,” and then his “old best buddy Bill Allen” started taking him to his boat and easing him onto a seat…
“After a couple of weeks of fishing, the lung was back up and working again,” Doc said.
He soon returned to his dental practice, and life had just about returned to normal five years later when Sue’s health failed. “I was her full-time caregiver,” Doc said. “And also, several months before that, my sister-in-law (Sue’s sister), Kathy Valentine, who had worked for me for 40 years, told me if I ever got tired of being a dentist, she had other things she could be doing.”
In other words, Kathy was saying, “Don’t hang around here for me.”
Also, by then Doc’s hands were starting to be bothered by arthritis, making it hard to pick up and hold the small instruments.
So, given all those factors, he decided “it was time.”
His last day was July 18, 2016.
Cleaning out the office was emotionally and physically hard – but something good came of it.
“My equipment was working fine, but it was 40 years old,” Doc said. “I contacted a local church group that does missionary work, and they came with a semi-truck and. unloaded the building, and it all went to Haiti and Nicaragua. It’s still being used there.”
The Klaymans, now healthy again, tried to sell the building but found no buyers. Then came the disastrous flood in spring 2017, which sent the waters of Lick Creek swirling into the building. Afterward, the Klaymans had the soaked sheetrock cut off the walls below about waist-high, Doc said, but it was going to take another $20,000-$25,000 to make the building habitable again. Not willing to make that commitment for a building they couldn’t sell, they offered the building to the city, and the Board of Aldermen voted to accept it. The aldermen ordered a memorial bench to be placed on the site to commemorate the Klaymans’ generosity.
Although the initial hope that the city might be able to use the building turned out to be unfeasible, Gainesville Mayor Gail Reich said Monday that the site could still be an appealing place for picnics and outdoor gatherings. “We told MLH to leave the concrete pad when they tore down the building, and we hope to put up a gazebo-type thing, kind of like the pavilion up at the city park,” she said. “I think it’ll be nice.”
Sue Klayman noted that, since water and sewer already exist on the site, it might be possible to add bathrooms there sometime later.
The Klaymans, speaking by phone Monday from their Pontiac home, said they had no desire to watch as the building came down. “It’s too sad,” Sue said.
Still, it’s not the building that will be missed most, she said. “The one thing he really misses is his patients, especially the ones he treated for 40 years. Some of them he had treated when they were in Head Start, and by the time he left, they were bringing their grandkids in,” she said.