Local dentist and world traveler retires

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Jim Osterhaus, dentist, community volunteer and world traveler, retired in June after over 31 years of serving area patients. His retirement plans include spending more time with family and continuing to travel with his wife, Sue. (Photo submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker

Jim Osterhaus, long-serving dentist and community volunteer, has officially hung up his drill and retired. "I practiced dentistry full-time for 31 years and part-time the last few years," he said. 

Unusual path to dentistry

Osterhaus was raised on a dairy and hog farm near Dyersville, the seventh of eight siblings. He earned an undergraduate degree in math from the University of Iowa. "I worked in concrete for nine months after I graduated from college," he shared. "I then moved to Australia and spent two years teaching high school math. They have a totally different system than we have."

The adventurous traveler continued his journey. "While I was there I traveled to Tasmania with a friend," he commented. "Later, we took a 3000-mile car trip across the Australian desert. The red-dirt/sand road was roughly graded, and there were inverted metal roof installations about every 20 miles that would catch nighttime condensation and allow it to drip down into a barrel. You could use the water for your car, but it wasn't for drinking." 

He continued his journey on foot. "I hitchhiked up to the Great Barrier Reef and snorkeled on a two-week break, then hitchhiked back," he explained. "Following my two years in Australia, I went overland and traveled in Southeast Asia, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey."

Osterhaus was a frugal traveler. "Most of my journey was spent on third class and local transportation," he noted. "I lived that whole year on a thousand dollars. I was broke when I got to Europe, and worked on an Army base selling beer and brats in a bowling alley in Stuttgart, Germany, before moving to Amsterdam, where I managed a small little cafe. I wasn't good at it, but it  made my ends meet."

His journey eventually led him back to the United States. "I finally got back to the U.S., and took a job in Colorado as a substitute inner-city high school teacher," said Osterhaus. "It was a tough environment and dampened my desire to teach. I decided to give-up teaching and worked for two years in a molybdenum mine in Empire, Colo." 

Osterhaus, who was not cut out for working in a mine, shared his inspiration for becoming a dentist. "After that experience, I decided I was going to go into dentistry," he smiled. "My brother taught me how to floss when I was 18 years old. Since that time, for the past 52 years, I can count on one hand the number of times I missed.  When I was in Indonesia I met a guy who was a dentist. I thought it was a nice thing to be a dentist and also travel. But it turns out that having a wife and kids is not conducive to third class travel."

Osterhaus attended the University of Iowa School of Dentistry, and earned his degree. He completed his residency in Norfolk, Va. Finances were tight for the new dentist. "I was married with two kids and no job," explained Osterhaus. "Times were tough. My credit cards were maxed out. My sister-in-law told me about an associateship in Guttenberg. In 1984 I visited the area and the rest is history." 

The dedicated dentist described his career. "Being a dentist is just like any other job – you do it everyday just like everyone else," he humbly shared. 

Community volunteer

Osterhaus was one of many individuals who introduced soccer to Guttenberg. "I had seen soccer played all over the world," he commented. "So when the opportunity came up, I volunteered to coach and helped to create a community soccer field on the south end of Guttenberg.  I coached and refereed for 25 years." Soccer has remained a presence in the busy dentist's life. "I played my first competitive soccer game when I was 47 years old," he remarked. "I began in a league in Dubuque. We traveled all around Eastern Iowa to compete. It was pretty informal – purely recreational. We practiced every Sunday and played during the week. I was still playing once a week in Madison, with old guys, until  COVID-19 appeared."

He went on to say, "I was also a member of the Guttenberg Jaycee and Kiwanis groups. Now my involvement is with the Clayton County Energy District as an advocate for producing your own energy." 

Future plans

Osterhaus plans to spend more time with family. "Sue and I got married 20 years ago, and I inherited three more sons – five total – Jake, Johnny, Bob, Tom and Matt," he said with pride. "We have eleven grandchildren that we cherish tremendously. Our days our dictated by their whims." 

Osterhaus, and his wife, Sue, purchased 60 acres of farmland outside of Elkport in 2012 and built a cabin on it. "We planted some of our acreage in trees and some in pollinator flowers," he shared. "When we aren't busy with something at home, we head out to the farm."

The retired dentist still enjoys traveling. "We still like to travel. When I turned 60 years old I committed myself to traveling some place different every year. I only missed one year due to the pandemic, but we're making plans to make up for that lost trip," he concluded.

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