By Jordan Huether
After over twenty-three years of serving Gordon and the surrounding areas, Dr. Joseph Shetler and his wife, Karen, will be starting the next chapter of their lives in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, where Dr. Shetler has accepted a position as Assistant Professor at Northeastern State University’s College of Optometry. Dr. Shetler will teach classes at the university as well as supervise students in the clinic starting in January.
The Shetlers moved to Gordon in August of 1989, when they purchased Dr. Kacere’s practice, which was located south of the current office, in what is now the WIC office. They also bought the Chadron office at that time. “We chose to come to Gordon because we wanted to own a practice in a small Nebraska town. This became available when I was starting to look again, and I saw a lot of growth potential here,” commented Dr. Shetler. They also started the Pine Ridge office about five years ago.
The Shetlers have served the community in many different capacities during their time here, which they were very passionate about. Joseph was instrumental in building the McCarthy baseball field. He was president of the program at that time, and through a series of grants and through the aid of Dr. McCarthy upon his death, and his family, they built that field in memorial. “I was president of that program for about 15 years, and I really enjoyed all the kids that went through the program,” he said.
He has also served on the Gordon Memorial Hospital board for about seven years, four of which he was the chair. “I really feel that right now the hospital is in really good footing with regards to some financial issues that have been resolved,” he mentioned. “The passing of the levy in the November election will also be a big help. I’m also excited about the addition of some new providers and services, and Jim LeBrun has made a big difference as CEO. That’s been one of the things that’s been difficult to let go of, but I feel good about it because of the progress that we’ve made, and where it’s at with the new leadership.”
Joseph has also filled in for Santa Clause on the Santa train when that existed, as well as in the parade of lights. “I think that the parade of lights is a great addition to our community, and we’ve enjoyed participating in that,” he said.
They have also been very active in providing vision screenings for the schools and head start programs. “I’ve been very honored to be able to provide those services to the kids,” Joe said.
“During my career here, I’ve been honored to be named Young Optometrist of the year, Optometrist of the year in 2000, and Distinguished Optometrist of the Year in 2011. All of which are awards by the Nebraska Optometric Association, which Joseph was president of from 1999-2001. “I hope to continue to be active with the Oklahoma Optometric Association there,” he commented.
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Karen has been a very active member of the Gordon Lion’s Club, where she has served as numerous officers, and is anxious to join a new Lion’s Club in Tahlequah. She has also been an active member of the Music and Dramatics club.
They have both been part of the Church of God, where Karen has served as a worship leader for over 15 years, as well as children’s minister.
“During our time in Gordon we’ve had the opportunity to go on VOSH trips, which stands for Voluntary Optometric Services to Humanity. We’ve traveled to Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic; and a lot of our ability to go there was dependent on the local communities that we serve donating eye-wear, which gave us the opportunity to distribute those in some third world countries. We really enjoyed that time as well,” said Joseph.
Karen plans to do some voluntary work in Tahlequah. She served here as Joe’s Optometric Technician, and is looking to do some voluntary work with students and some after school programs, as well as some mission activities at churches there.
She has a Masters Degree in Biochemistry, and is considering some options with regards to utilizing that as well, although she doesn’t have any definite plans just yet.
“I have really enjoyed my time in Gordon, and I’m very passionate about the people that we’ve cared for,” said Joseph. “Karen and I just feel that we’re ready for a change, and this opportunity presented itself, and we felt fortunate at the same time because we had a couple people interested in filling the position.”
“I think it’s important to note that we are actively recruiting a new optometrist to live in Gordon,” noted Joseph. “Our goal is to eventually hire someone who will be an owner in the practice, and my two partners will come to Gordon at least two days a week until we find that person who will be full-time in Gordon.”
The office will maintain its current hours, but there is only going to be a doctor 2 days a week. “The people we’re looking at will graduate in May, so we’re hoping to have them by July or August,” he stated.
Looking back on their time here, Dr. Shetler had nothing but good things to say about the community. “It’s been a great place to raise a family,” he stated. “I’ve raised two sons here, both of which are very fond of Gordon.”
“The thing we’re going to miss the most about Gordon, which we have really come to recognize the last two or three weeks, is the people themselves; and we are graciously honored by the volume of people that we’ve had an impact on, and who have had an impact on us.”
“A lot of people think, well you’ve provided us with good eye-care, or maybe a good sermon on Sunday morning, or served my kid as a coach of his little league team, but what we’ve really come to learn is that people have trusted us with their eyes and they have been so gracious and have had such an impact on our lives. We came here and really grew in our profession and ministry, and in a variety of ways, but it’s the people.”
“You can’t replace people, and there have been a lot of people, from patients to businessmen that I’ve worked with, people on the different boards that I’ve served on, as well as people I’ve coached with and kids I’ve had the opportunity to watch grow up, some of them will be my doctors and dentists, and I’ve coached them in tee-ball,” he added with a laugh.
“It’s people that you can’t replace. We’ve really come to realize in the past couple weeks that in the 23 years, we’ve formed a lot of long-term friendships that we hope to continue. That’s what we’ll miss the most.”
“And we’re concerned about the weather,” he added. “I kind of like the four seasons that Gordon has, and when we started this process, we thought we’d move north, not south. We’ve heard stories about water moccasins, and a couple times when we visited down there, it was 110 degrees and your shirt stuck to you when you stepped outside. So it was really nice to have this gentle snow before we left. We will miss the snow and the different seasons. There’s winter there, but it’s much shorter and usually just rains and freezes.”
“I also think we’ll miss the small community a lot. It will take a while to develop. The college itself will provide a small community, and the town itself is only about 16,000 people, but we’ll miss not knowing everybody as we walk down the street, and just being an integral part of a small community.”
“I wouldn’t hesitate to tell someone that Gordon is a great place to have a small business or to raise a family. It is a very close-knit community, but at the same time, is a very open community to people who come here. We came here with no family in the area, and always felt very well received by the community. It has been a pleasure, and sometimes new beginnings only come about with painful endings. That’s kind of where we’re at right now.”
“We’re looking for a new challenge and passion. Gordon is a great place to have kids and raise a family, and we’ve really enjoyed that.”
The Shetler’s new home is right between Tulsa, Oklahoma and Fayetteville, Arkansas, right on the edge of the Ozarks. A couple of the largest lakes in Oklahoma are only twenty minutes from their home.
Dr. Shetler assured me that even though he is moving to Oklahoma, he will continue to wear his Nebraska red on Saturday afternoons.
We join the community in thanking the Shetlers for everything they have brought to this community and wish them the best in their new adventure.