By Ginger Broslat • Photos By John Brett
When one first hears about a retired couple practicing in a free dental clinic, loaning their art collections, and sponsoring research, the vision includes gray hair and wrinkles. Drs. Ashley and Michele White, however, are young and enjoying life and use their blessings to help and inspire others.
The couple retired young from a very successful practice as maxillofacial pathologists. They met in dental school at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. They were good friends who saw a relationship bloom out of deep-rooted interests in music, art, travel, and nature. A pathology professor heightened their common interests.
“He knew as much about Impressionist art as he did the pathology of cancer cells,” recalls Ashley. The professor would share a litany of slides of various cancer cells, explaining the delicate nuances in each type. After a time of pathology, he would project slides of Impressionist art. “It was a great break in the class and he had an incredible knowledge of art. It was inspiring.”
That inspiration led to a summer trek across Europe when the couple was in dental school. They visited the museums they had longed to see and enjoyed viewing priceless pieces of history.
Though free spirits by nature, both are disciplined workers and they each invested wisely and saved diligently. For seven years, the couple put in long hours and banked one salary with the intent to retire early. That plan came to fruition several years ago when they moved to their 100-acre ranch to tend the cattle and manage real estate investments. But while the couple enjoyed life, they wanted to do more.
“My wife felt like we had spent too much time and money on our education to not use it,” says Ashley.
The doctors renovated an abandoned clinic in Palatka with the intent to provide free and indigent dental care. Many migrant families with no benefits come to their clinic.
“In many cases,” says Ashley, “we are the only medical provider they have ever seen.”
The work is rewarding. The doctors are able to provide the care that is needed without concerns of insurance approval and reimbursement or payment from their patients.
“The amount we get from Medicaid helps us pay the staff and maintain our malpractice insurance. It’s a rewarding way to practice!”
With freedom from the need to make the practice a financial resource, the Whites are able to dedicate time to their son Ethan, their most precious treasure. When one is working the clinic, the other is at the farm. In addition to involved parenting, this flexibility in scheduling also allows travel time to view art collections.
“We’ve purchased most of our pieces from estate sales,” Ashley shares. “Some of the works get tied up in litigation between families, museums, and brokers. We try to find ways to creatively free up the art so it can be viewed and shared.”
The Whites’ collections have been loaned for display at renowned international museums and universities. Currently, pieces from their French Impressionists collection are on display at the Appleton Museum of Art.
“We believe art is for everyone,” says Ashley. “It’s wonderful for us to see others, especially students, get to experience these wonderful pieces of history.”
Wise real estate investments further funded the Whites’ early retirement. However, they have maintained some very strict development clauses in their transactions.
“We’re pretty serious about land preservation,” he says. “We want people and animals to be able to live together with trees.”
Their dedication to preservation increased when they saw a grove of 100-year-old oaks destroyed for a subdivision. Their requirements and deed restrictions are so strict on land they sell that essentially only someone who shares the same views will purchase it.
“If they’re willing to deal with the deed restrictions we require, we know they are as serious as we are about preserving the land.”
This unique family is motivated by a love of life. They realize the most valuable collections they possess are family and friends. It is their goal to increase that collection each day by helping those they meet along life’s journey.
“My wife said we needed to give back,” concludes Ashley. “She was right.”
European Prints from the Collection of Drs. Ashley and Michele White
Through February 27
The Appleton Museum of Art is pleased to present a complete tour of art in the 19th century. The mainstay collection of the Appleton is the 19th century Academic Painters. On loan from the Cleveland Museum is the American Impressionists exhibit. The addition of the Whites’ collection of French Impressionist prints and etchings — original artwork of Cézanne, Degas, Monet, Manet, Renoir, and Pissarro — completes the history lesson of this significant period of art.
“This is an incredible continuum of the very important genres in 19th century art,” says Jim Rosengren of the Appleton.
Museum Curator Dr. Leslie Hammond agrees: “The three exhibits individually are great. To have them together is wonderful!”
By Ginger Broslat • Photos By John Brett