"It's a pretty romantic story," Bruce Ringdahl says, with a laugh, of the moment he first met his wife, Erika.
He was in the laundry room at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, where both attended as students.
"I was just staring at everything, and she walked in, so I asked her, 'How much soap do you put in these things?' That was it, my great pickup line — she was smitten from the start."
Clearly, Bruce was smitten, too. The couple finished their undergraduate degrees at St. Olaf, followed by medical school for Erika and dental school for Bruce at the University of Iowa. It was then that Columbia came calling.
"This is Erika's hometown," Bruce says. "We came to Columbia in 1994 after I finished my residency in periodontics. I wanted to make my wife happy, and this is where she wanted to be."
More than 20 years later, Bruce — a periodontist — and Erika — a physician of family medicine — are well settled into their careers and the community. They have three children — ages 24, 21 and 18 — and, as Bruce says, "have probably spent more time driving back and forth to Rock Bridge High School than most of the students there." From family to work to community involvement, Columbia is undeniably home.
But when he first arrived in town back in 1994, a 31-year-old, newly minted periodontist, Bruce wasn't sure where to start. He had plenty of skills and ambition, but he needed a push in the right direction.
A colleague suggested he go to Landmark Bank, which was First National Bank at the time.
"I didn't have a patient, a record, anything — I didn't even have collateral," he says with a laugh. "But they took me in, showed me how it would work [getting a loan], treated me like family and got me started. I've been hooked ever since."
Bruce's practice, Bruce E. Ringdahl DDS LLC, started with one chair and some equipment that Landmark helped him buy. It took time, and certainly a lot of hard work, but the practice steadily grew. His current office — a 2,500-square foot facility — now houses six operatories and employs seven staff members, including three full-time hygienists, two surgical assistants and an office manager.
"It was hard at first," he says of the early days of the practice. "You start out hoping to see a couple of patients in the morning to a couple in the afternoon. Now, the hygienists are seeing 20 to 25 patients a day, and I see 20 patients or so. It's a lot of moving parts, but it's good. I'm grateful for how it's taken off."
Periodontics is a form of dentistry that focuses specifically on the structures that surround and support the teeth — "the dental foundation," as Bruce puts it. It's an interest area he honed in on during the three years he practiced family dentistry, prior to completing his periodontics residency.
"I treat diseases of the gums and place dental implants to help my patients resolve problems and stay healthy," Bruce says. "That's the goal. And if you have the respect of your referring dentists and the respect of your patients, I'd say you've found success."
As his business continues to grow, so does Bruce's relationship with Landmark. Just recently, when he decided to update the equipment and software in his office, Bruce's banker, Chris Widmer, was his first call.
"We've got an easy relationship," Bruce says. "I call him and let him know what I'm thinking about doing, give him some cost estimates, and then he says, 'This is how we can make it happen.' It's like working with an old friend."
Like any relationship that lasts more than two decades, things have grown over time. Bruce now has commercial accounts through Landmark, a home loan, personal checking and more. But the relaxed atmosphere that won him over in the first place is still the same today.
"I remember walking into the bank that first time and feeling so small," he says. "You go in thinking, 'Are they going to take me seriously?' From the beginning, they made it a partnership. They want to help you succeed, and they're in it for the long haul."
"And they're local," he adds. "That's part of the relationship. They see you on the golf course, they see you out to dinner with your family, and they know you. It's money that comes from the community and stays in the community. You can't get more local than that."
With their youngest child heading to college at Texas Christian University in the fall, Bruce and his wife are preparing for life as empty nesters. Hopefully that means more time for traveling together, Bruce says, and more opportunities to invest back into the community and their church. Professionally, though, he doesn't expect much change.
"I've got three kids who keep going to school out of state," he says, laughing. "Work's not stopping any time soon."
Truth be told, he's plenty happy to keep doing what he's doing.
"I'm one of those comfortable-in-my-own-skin kind of guys," he says. "I love what I do, and I love doing it here."
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