So much to smile about – a story of the Strychalskis
By VICKI NOTARO
OBSERVER Lifestyles Assistant
“There is life in Dunkirk and it goes on. The new generation will continue and improve (the practice) in its own way,” Dr. Irene Strychalski said as she reflected on her 40 year practice in orthodontics.
Dr. James Strychalski is Dr. Irene’s husband. He retired three years ago after 40 years as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. Dr. James and Dr. Irene Strychalski are well-known in the area, not only for their professional services as owners and practitioners at Lake Shore Orthodontics and Oral Surgery, P.C., but as community supporters. Their practices were located at 415 Main St. in Dunkirk.
They recalled the beginnings of their careers during a recent interview.
Their story goes back to Munich, Germany. Dr. Irene had grown up in South Africa, and at age 17, spent time traveling in Europe visiting relatives.
“I was in Europe and didn’t want to come home and found a job in the U.S. Army Hospital in Munich. They had an opening for a dental assistant. I was fresh out of high school. He (Dr. Jim) was stationed there. We met on my birthday in September 1966. The rest is history!,” she exclaimed.
Dr. Jim was a major and a dentist in the military. He served in Vietnam in 1968-69. He was working at the U.S. Army Hospital in Munich in 1966 when he noticed the girl working in the cubicle next door. A romance developed, and the couple married June 28, 1969 at St. Hedwig’s Church in Dunkirk.
“I pretty much always planned to return to Dunkirk. I was born and raised here,” Dr. Jim stated.
He finished his specialty training at the University of Rochester. In 1973, the couple came to Dunkirk permanently.
Recalling her early days in the United States, Dr. Irene said, “I came here shortly before the wedding, and continued my education here.”
She graduated from the SUNY at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine dental program in 1975, and earned her specialty in 1977.
Carl Gugino of Fredonia and Bucky Colarusso were working together in a practice on Holmes Place in Fredonia when Dr. Irene graduated in 1977. She joined that practice upon her graduation. She expressed admiration for the practitioners, noting that her mentor, Dr. Carl Gugino, had lectured world-wide and that the men had subsequent practices elsewhere in Western New York. Dr. Carl’s’ brother, Gerard Gugino, was a co-owner of the practice that Dr. Irene took over and would fill in monthly and at other times. She noted that there are different methods for straightening teeth which utilize different equipment. The new owners of the orthodontic practice, now known as Orthodontists Associates of Western New York, share the philosophy of early correction. “It’s the same location, same phone number, same staff, same equipment. Expect a grand opening at a later date,” she noted.
Both of the Strychalskis were very active in professional societies. Dr. Jim was past president of the District Dental Society in 1988-89, and the first president from Chautauqua County.
In 1998, Dr. Irene was the first woman president of the Northern Eastern Society of Orthodontics, comprising the north-eastern U.S. and Canada.
“We’ve been very active in attending meetings having to do with our profession. We’ve considered it part of professional life,” Dr. Irene said.
The Strychalskis are members of multiple clubs, including Shorewood Country Club, and are Blessed Mary Angela parishioners. Dr. Jim has held a number of leadership roles with the Knights of Columbus.
“I was a board member of Northern Chautauqua Catholic School for seven years,” Dr. Jim noted.
“We support the college, offering the Anthony Strychalski scholarship in music,” he said. His uncle Anthony was a member of the Woodcliffe Orchestra (a local favorite) for 50 years.
Dr. Irene is past president of the Rotary. “I’ve been in it 25-plus years. I just joined the revitalized Dunkirk (Rotary) group. They’re combined,” she stated.
She is also the past president of the local chapter of the American Association of University Women, and is excited to announce that she has been invited to join the Shakespeare Club.
“I like an academic challenge!” she exclaimed.
A woman of many interests, she went on to say, “I love gardens. I want to beautify and go dig in the ground. I think Dunkirk deserves to be lovely. I let everyone else argue about buildings. I just want to put the flowers in!”
She still takes piano lessons with Marge Weist, and hopes to re-start presentations at the Chautauqua Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
Dr. Jim noted with a smile that he keeps very active with “frequent visits to Darwin’s health facility and the on-going challenge of keeping my spouse happy.”
One of the highlights for the couple was being honored as the Dunkirk Community Chamber of Commerce Community Service-persons of the Year in 2012. The award came as a surprise.
“We were delighted to accept the award,” Dr. Irene said.
Family are an important part of this couple’s life. In 1977, they welcomed their first child, Erica, followed by daughters Elizabeth, Wanda and Laura. In addition, they are the proud grandparents of Ted, Warren and Erik.
Reflecting on her professional life, Dr. Irene spoke for both of them.
“I had a wonderful time – we each had 40 wonderful years. I want to stress how wonderful it is and we appreciate the people here and their support.”
Dr. Irene is just as eager to look forward as she is to look back. When discussing the new owners, she noted, “This is a classy group. We’re extremely fortunate to have them. If I’d planned it this way, it couldn’t have worked out better,” she added.
Knowing that their professional legacy will live on, the Strychalskis have a great deal to smile about as they enjoy their well-deserved retirements.