SIDNEY — Fresh out of Sidney High School in 1959 and in college at Ohio State University, Kirkwood native Phil Valentine knew he wanted a career in the medical field.
“But I wanted a life after college. I didn’t want to be on call all the time,” he said recently during his first week of full-time retirement after 51 years as an optometrist. He’d selected OSU because the school gave him a scholarship. But it turned out to be the right place. His love of math and science led him to OSU’s College of Optometry.
“It’s a profession where you do a lot of good, but you don’t have emergencies. So it gave me a chance to be with family,” he said.
He began his career as an Army doctor in Augusta, Georgia. He was spared overseas duty because there was a shortage of optometrists on his base. After three years there, he and his wife, Susie, and their baby moved to Sidney.
He continued his practice here for 48 years.
It was a little rough in the beginning, though. The College of Optometry at that time didn’t offer business courses.
“I had no idea how to run a business,” he said. “Fortunately, I had a good accountant who helped me along.” Eventually, he also had Garrietta Flanery, of Lima. She worked in his office for 16 years, the last five as office manager.
“There’s not enough words to describe what a pleasure it was to work with him,” she said. “He’s such a kind man, a Christian man. We started our weeks out with prayer.”
Valentine is active in his church, Sidney First United Methodist. For the last 50 years, he has served as a counselor and adviser at its summer camp, Tar Hollow. Through many of those years, he has taught campers to make bread, pretzels and cinnamon rolls.
“We make 350 cinnamon rolls and it takes 5 minutes to eat them,” he laughed. They’re made from scratch and are fondly called “Phil’s buns.” Cooking is something he likes to do.
“I’ve been known to put out some pretty good meals,” he said. He also enjoys deer and turkey hunting.
“And I still like to fish,” he added. “Most good hunters want to take care of animals. A patient came in when they had passed the dove law. ‘You don’t shoot the doves, do you?’ she asked. ‘They mate for life.’ I told her that I shot both. She left and never came back.”
Flanery understood his sense of humor.
“It can tend to be a little dry. So if you don’t know him, you don’t know if he’s being funny or not,” she said.
As someone who likes being outdoors a lot, he recognizes the irony of choosing a career that had him in a small room with no windows every day.
He’ll miss dealing with patients and hearing their stories in that small room, he said.
“I had a patient come in who couldn’t even read the large E on the chart. I wanted to talk to who had brought her,” Valentine said.
The patient said she had a friend who couldn’t hear.
“She tells me what’s out there,” the patient said.
“She drove herself in,” said Valentine, still amazed at the situation years later.
For awhile, the optometrist had a second office in Lima, but he sold that part of the practice to one of his associates there who filled in on days when Valentine was in Sidney.
He’s seen lots of changes in optometry through the decades. The field moved into diagnosing and treating external diseases.
“In Ohio, we can’t do surgery, but we can do pathology of the eye, diabetic checks and treating of glaucoma. I wanted to stay long enough to get into electronic recording and I did. I was one of the first doctors in the area to offer bitonic contact lenses,” he said.
He doesn’t have many regrets, but he would have liked to go on more than the one mission trip. He and a team of 10 other doctors traveled to South Africa about eight years ago. They treated 5,000 people in one week.
“I want to do more mission work, but I don’t know if I’ll do it as an optometrist,” he said.
His license is still valid. Optometrists must take 25 hours of continuing education courses annually and Valentine has already completed that this year.
“I was on the original committee of doctors who set up the requirements for continuing education in Ohio,” he said. That was in the late 1960s.
“Sidney is fortunate in having outstanding eye care. Not all communities have that,” he noted in expressing gratitude for his fellow doctors who took care of his patients when Valentine was recovering from heart valve-replacement surgery. “Doctors in town were extremely kind to me.”
As good as his practice has been, what Valentine is most proud of is his family.
“I have four wonderful children (and 12 grandchildren) and a lovely wife and I’m thankful for a community like Sidney to raise them in. People don’t realize how the people care. We built a Y and a hospital. I hope it continues, but I’m not seeing young professionals be involved in Sidney the way they should,” he said.
Valentine spent two years on the Sidney City Schools Board of Education and on the board of Upper Valley Joint Vocational School, now Upper Valley Career Center.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.