25 years for Old Town dental practice
Purinsh was Colorado Springs’ 2nd-ever woman dentist in 1980
If Dr. Mary Purinsh had opened Westside Family Dentistry in Latvia, it wouldn't have been a very big deal. In that Eastern
European country (where her father was raised), about 90 percent of the dentists are women, she explained in a recent
As it happened, however, the Colorado Springs-raised Purinsh decided to hang her shingle a quarter of a century ago in Old Colorado City. This made her the second female dentist in the history of Colorado Springs (after Dr. Garth Tremblay in 1924), according to Colorado Springs Dental Society records.
Things have changed somewhat since 1980. More than 30 of the roughly 400 dentists in the society are now women - still less than the national average of 18 percent.
Purinsh isn't sure why there aren't more dentists of her gender. She thinks it might have something to do with image. “There's a stereotype of the little old man in his office,” she said. “The media promotes lawyers and physicians, but dentists are unfairly depicted in TV and movies as a side joke.”
As an example, she recited a recent survey, in which respondents split over which they'd least like to do - pay their taxes or see their dentist.
In any case, Purinsh has never regretted her career selection. “It's a good profession,” she said. “I enjoy my patients. I have people I saw when they were young, then I saw their kids and now their grandkids. It's almost like an extended family.”
She credits her father, Alexander Purinsh, for encouraging her as a child. “ 'You can do anything you want,' ” she recalls him telling her.
Always strong in math and science (her college major was biology, her minor chemistry), with an interest in the healing arts, she initially wanted to be a veterinarian. But the idea of having to euthanize animals dissuaded her. Her father suggested dentistry, pointing out such advantages as variety of work and scheduling flexibility.
Helping inspire her, she met Tremblay when she was in high school (and, some years later, became her daughter's dentist).
At the University of Iowa College of Dentistry, Purinsh met with some skepticism from male students who wrongly assumed she was there through affirmative action. Little did they realize she had one of the school's highest grade-point averages.
Purinsh's office, which she owns as a “business condo,” remains in its original location in Old Town Plaza, 2501 W. Colorado Ave. Her business is among the few remaining that started with the Small Business Administration (SBA) loan packages that were available through the Old Colorado City development company led by Dave Hughes and Wes Colbrunn in the late '70s and early '80s.
Her location choice exposed another type of discrimination at that time - the common perception that the Westside was a dump. One of a handful of dentists west of I-25 (the numbers have since increased), she remembers “a few derogatory comments when I told people my business was in Old Colorado City. One person said, 'Let me know if the building is still standing in two years.' Now it's really changed. There are more buildings for professionals.”
Being in one place has also been good because “you can see the historical aspects of the community developing,” Purinsh commented.
She's translated her ever-deepening roots into community service, including a charity effort in the 1990s that raised more than $150,000 in donated dental services. She has been board member and president of the Colorado Springs Dental Society, and has also been active in the Old Colorado City Security & Maintenance District, Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN), Head Start, Community Health Center, Center on Deafness and Catholic Community Services. “I'm usually on some board somewhere,” she remarked.
Nor does she feel much like slowing down. Told that the article in the Pioneer would be in part an “historical feature,” Purinsh remarked with a grin, “I'm not that old.”
Westside Pioneer article