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The job ad called for a driver who also wouldn’t mind doing sweeping and other light clean-up work. No weekend work was required and it also promised to teach skills that could be turned into a profession.
Mary Ann Miles was fresh out of high school when she responded to that ad 40 years ago. She never guessed that it would turn into a lifelong occupation and that she would become a co-owner of Schmitt Dental Laboratory Inc. in Saginaw, Mich.
Miles shares ownership of the lab with Vicki Lewis, granddaughter of the man who founded the company in the 1920s. Lewis got her start in the business in 1985 and, after so many years of working together, the two women agree they are like family.
The lab was full-service when it was founded in1928 by Reinhold Schmitt who worked in the business along with two of his brothers who later went on to start their own labs. Even during the economic downturn of the Great Depression, the lab stayed open. Eventually the reins of the business were turned over to Reinhold’s son, Edward. He switched the focus to removables and that remains its focus today.
Both Lewis and Miles credit Edward Schmitt, who is retired, but still pitches in when things get busy, with teaching them everything they know about the business of operating a lab.
“When I wasn’t driving and I had all my cleaning done, I did my lab work. I did base plates, articulations and poured models,” said Miles about her early years learning the business.
Eventually, Miles and Lewis earned their CDTs. Both said they are drawn to lab work because they like to work with their hands.
“This is a really good fit for me because I enjoy the craft. I get a lot of satisfaction from it,” said Lewis who spends her leisure time doing crafty things including knitting and scrapbooking.
Miles said she’s glad she didn’t choose to work in an automobile factory as many people did in the 1970s in Michigan. She likes that every day in the dental lab is different from the day before.
“I don’t have to go and do the same thing every day,” she said. “It’s not always grinding dentures. Every case is different.”
She said lab staff tends to take different aspects of a case depending on what is needed which helps keep things fresh and every day different.
“We’ve all been trained to do everything,” she said. “It’s rare that we sit down and totally finish a case from beginning to end.”
The company employs one other person as well as a driver who makes deliveries within about a 50-mile radius of the company. All of the firm’s work comes from dentists within Michigan.
Miles and Lewis said they also have enjoyed their careers because they have been able to balance professional demands with family life. They each are parents of two adult children. Lewis said the importance of family was set by her father.
“He always understood that his grandchildren needed their Mom sometimes,” she said.
The company intends to stay focused on removables, which they believe there will always be a market for, particularly in times such as these when many people are keeping a close eye on how much they spend.
“There are always going to be people who can’t afford implants or crowns and bridges,” Miles said.
Lewis attributes the company’s longevity to the quality of their work.
“I think our quality is high,” she said. “We’re reliable and we’re dependable. We’ve been here a long time and we’re not going anywhere.”