Many people seek to make their careers something that they are passionate about. Fortunate people are able to find that they are passionate about their careers but also able to support other causes that are near and dear to their hearts either through financial contributions or volunteering their time. Dr. Richard Marz, owner and dentist at Premier Dental Wellness in Statesboro, has been able to do both.
Marz, 63, went through much of his schooling in Delavan, Wisconsin. He received a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He then continued his schooling at the Marquette University School of Dentistry. Upon his graduation in 1984, he entered the U.S. Army Dental Corps as a captain. He served at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina from 1984-88.
He and his “incredible” wife of 37 years, Penny, moved to Statesboro in July of 1988, and he started his private dentistry practice.
He and Penny have three daughters: Stephanie, a registered dietician who has one son with another on the way; Julia, who works as an account manager for Insight Global; and Leanna, who is in the Air Force and works as an F16 avionics integration technician.
As a dentist, he gains joy by providing care to appreciative patients. However, he knew that there were people in the community who might not be receiving the care that they needed due to financial reasons. He’d heard of dentists going to foreign countries to provide dental care for the citizens of those nations.
“I never participated because I always felt that charity starts at home. We have plenty of local community people that need help,” he said.
Ten years ago, Marz attended a course series by a dental consultant who talked about giving back to the communities through a program called “Dentistry from the Heart.” Marz was excited by the idea. The shirts provided to program participants said “Smile, it’s Free.”
Marz didn’t like that connotation because nothing is truly free — it actually cost him and his practice $1,500 to use their moniker. After three years, Marz realized there was a better way to spend that money directly towards the same cause.
“After that, I decided to do my own program that I called ‘A Gift of Dentistry.’ We started in it 2016, and have done it each year since — except for 2020 due to COVID-19. We have the event just before Christmas in the hopes that we may help some have a better holiday,” he said.
Dr. Suketu Patel of East Georgia Center for Oral and Facial Surgery has been on board since the inception of the program when Marz approached him.
“He was extremely willing and helpful,” Marz said. “All of our staff members volunteer their day to help with no pay. We normally have help from the dental assisting program at Ogeechee Tech, and we get a few other dental assistants and hygienists that volunteer. It’s a great team effort and we finish the day tired, but fulfilled.”
The program has grown since the beginning when they served 40 patients — this past December they helped 85 people.
Another way that Marz shares dentistry through volunteerism is through the Kiwanis Club of Statesboro. He joined the club shortly after moving to Statesboro in 1988.
“I felt that it was important to be a part of something bigger than myself. I acted as the sheriff for a year. That was a difficult job for me, but I still look back and feel like I was able to be a greater part of the club when active in that role. I enjoy being part of a group — an extended family of sorts — and enjoy the meetings and the friendships I have developed.”
Marz volunteers his time during the annual fundraisers of the club, the Statesboro Kiwanis Rodeo and the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair but also serves as co-chair for the law enforcement committee. During the week of the fair in years past, Marz has offered his dental services to the fair workers. Often on the road, many of them are unable to maintain a regular dental care or healthcare schedule.
While working as a dentist and a business owner in the community, he received many requests for contributions to the community.
“It became obvious that it was hard to really make a difference due to the division in contributions. I decided several years ago that most people are covered under a government umbrella to assure they don’t suffer. Unfortunately, animals had no such support and, if anything were being abused at a heart-wrenching level. I then decided that helping provide for an improved quality of life for animals would be my passion,” he said.
Several years ago, Marz approached County Commission Chairman Roy Thompson to ask if he would allow a group of individuals to assist the Bulloch County Animal Shelter transition from more antiquated policies in the humane treatment of the animals in their care.
“I can honestly say that I feel this is one of my greatest accomplishments as a resident of Bulloch County. After presenting to the leaders in our community and then getting the blessings of our county manager, Tom Couch, I was able to form the Bulloch County Animal Shelter Advisory Board, for which I am chairman,” he said.
Marz considers himself incredibly fortunate to work with local animal advocates and some great people in local government, including Ted Wynn, Lee Eckles, Wendy Ivey and Barbara Leggett, and with committee members, Sarah Roehm, Waldo Meeks, Kania Greer and Carrie Mitchell.
The goal of the group was to offer better alternatives to euthanasia as a way to control the animal population. At the time when the group started, the euthanasia rate at the shelter was 60%. It’s now at approximately 10%.
“While the early meetings were sometimes difficult, we came together as a trusting unit to substantially improve the quality and duration of life of our unloved animals,” he said. “I feel that, while I was only a piece of the puzzle, had I not come forward, we may have still been at our old way of doing business.”
The group’s philosophy was to “start valuing the life of animals even though they may not have a current owner to care for them.” They began that quest in 2017, with a presentation to the county leaders. The group knew that they had a challenge ahead because so many people see nothing wrong with purchasing an animal from a “puppy mill.”
“I always say that for every animal you buy, one is killed at a shelter. Our biggest accomplishments are drastically lowering the euthanasia rate — where we are on the cusp of the level designated as ‘no kill,’ not killing for population control, utilizing animal rescues to help move shelter animals into the rescue world where potential new owners are vetted for all the requirements necessary to provide a good home for the previously unloved animals,” he said.
Another way that Marz assists animals is through the Pilots N Paws group. He received his private pilot’s certificate in 1986, instrument rating in 1987, commercial pilot certificate in 2020 and his commercial glider certificate in 2021.
“I wanted to help others by using my airplane. I originally started doing Angel Flights. That was predominately a service that linked pilots up with patients requiring repeated medical appointments by specialists. They are frequently located in the large cities far away from patients. It was very fulfilling,” he said.
As a dentist, his office hours typically conflicted with the office hours of the specialists that patients needed to see. This made it difficult for him to participate regularly. His last Angel Flight was for a preteen with a brain tumor.
“The Make A Wish Foundation granted her a wish to go to Disney World. She lived in Atlanta with her mother and little sister. I flew up to Atlanta and took them down to Orlando. I let the young lady fly my plane for a bit. She was thrilled about that. That was a tough flight — we live in our own little world totally oblivious to the life altering situations that others must deal with,” he said.
After realizing that Angel Flights wasn’t a good fit due to his schedule, Marz started looking for a way to help animals. He started with Pilots N Paws about nine years ago. He’s not sure how many dogs he’s flown but he knows it’s a pretty fair amount.
One of his best friends was found through Pilots N Paws…and it was part of the Paws branch of the group.
Marz received a messaged from the adoption coordinator at Boxer Aid and Rescue Coalition regarding a boxer at a shelter in Columbia, South Carolina — a high kill shelter. The skinny and scared-to-death boxer needed transport to Jacksonville, Florida.
“He wouldn’t look at me when I first loaded him up — or even take a treat. By the time we arrived in Jacksonville, he was a bit better but wouldn’t get out of the crate. I had to lift him up while someone else slid the crate out from around him. All of his mannerisms just broke my heart,” Marz said.
Fast-forward to the next weekend.
“I flew back down to Jacksonville and adopted him. He wants to be with me all the time — even while mowing the grass on a zero-turn mower. I have four beautiful and loving dogs, but I am Marty’s person,” he said.
Marz wishes that more people who are potentially adopting animals would attempt to find their future fur-babies through avenues like the animal shelter, the Humane Society or Fixing the Boro.
“There are so many animals that deserve a better life and have, in many cases, been failed by people that look at an animal as a throwaway item to be tied up to a tree, post, car wheel or the like. Animals have an incredible amount of love to give and will do it with no reservations,” he said.
Marz feels that unless a potential owner is looking for something very specific, buying from a breeder is unnecessary. It can also result in a shelter animal being killed due to the lack of adopters. He says that the real heroes in the animal world are the people involved in rescue.
“I don’t know how they do it — but I’m glad they do,” he said.