Notable Neighbors

November 3, 2022 at 5:01 p.m.
Notable Neighbors
Notable Neighbors

By DEAN LAUX Columnist

You Could Call Him A Family Man
Kenneth W. Lounders, DMD is a dentist whose “roots” (if you’ll pardon the expression) are firmly planted in Florida, stemming as he does from grandparents and parents Richard and Stella Lounders, who were born and raised in the Sunshine State. His dad Richard started life in Key West and moved to the Tampa area when he was 15. There he met and married Stella, and they settled in Ybor City, just northeast of downtown Tampa. Ybor City had been founded in the 1880s and was populated heavily with immigrants, mostly from Spain, Cuba and Italy, who found work in the city’s tobacco manufacturing business. Ybor City had some tough neighborhoods to go along with its nickname: “Cigar City.”

Richard and Stella raised a big family – eight offspring over a 17-year period – and Ken was the second-youngest of the batch. Naturally enough, the older kids played a big role in babysitting and mentoring the younger tots. “They were almost like parents to me and my younger sister Sabrina,” Ken acknowledges. “Especially Frances, who was the oldest. But I was also very close with my older brothers Eugene and Richard. Those three were very influential in my life.” Later on, Ken was able to return the favor, babysitting for the children of his older siblings.

With all these brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, great uncles, great aunts, cousins and a burgeoning number of in-laws, family was very important in Ken’s life. “I tagged along with many of them to lots of places, and they were very responsible in keeping their eyes on me,” he avers. Family came first for the Lounders, and helping one another was a way of life.

Ken went through elementary school at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ybor City and through high school at Tampa Catholic. “I assumed that everyone in my classes was a Catholic,” he says, but he came to realize that there was a mix of religions, including Protestant and Jewish, at those institutions. Those years shaped his values – especially the importance of helping others and showing tolerance for others. “My friends were all of mixed backgrounds, Spanish and Italian and Cuban, white or black, and we never made an issue of religion or race or ethnic origins. We just accepted each other as friends,” he recollects.

He admits to being just an okay student in those days. “I was more interested in sports. I played all of them. I loved basketball, but in high school my best sport was track. I didn’t do well academically until I was in college, where I learned that there was something called studying.”

When Ken was in high school he spent a few summers working in an apple orchard, and his dad fancied the idea of buying one in North Carolina. Ken thought that maybe he’d join his father and make his living as an apple farmer. But his sister disabused him of that notion and suggested that first he go to a junior college, find out what kinds of career possibilities he liked, and then make his way from there. He took her advice, signed up for courses at Hillsborough Community College, and began a ten-year odyssey through higher education that saved him from apple farming and led him to the field of dentistry: from an associate’s degree to a bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of South Florida, and then to a doctorate in dental medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville in 1989.

How did he decide on dentistry as a career? After all, lots of folks associate dentists with pain and won’t go to a dentist’s office unless driven there by a toothache. Ken has heard all the dentist jokes and even laughs at them himself, but he sees the situation differently. “My brother-in-law was a dentist, and he brought me in to see how he worked. I saw that he was really helping people. I liked working with my hands, genuinely helping people and being in a technical field,” where there were always new methods, techniques and products to consider.

The year 1989 was a busy one for Kenneth Lounders. In rapid succession he married his girlfriend Julie, whom he’d met in dentistry school, got his DMD degree, joined the Army and moved out of the country. His Florida University coursework had not included training in how to start and run a business in dentistry on his own, so he decided to join the U.S. Army’s 7th Medical Command (MEDCOM), which was looking for dentists and medical personnel to man its facilities around the globe. He could hone his dentistry skills there and learn something about having a private practice.

Ken signed on for a three-year program, went through basic training at Fort Sam Houston in Texas and was promptly shipped out to Germany as a full Captain. Julie was able to join him shortly afterward, and they found a nice apartment near the Army facility. They lived “on the economy,” as the saying goes, with no military PX or mess hall to go to, and they developed friendships with the locals, learning enough German to get by. A big bonus was the fact that Ken got enough leave time for them to travel around Europe – Switzerland, Austria, Italy, France, Czechoslovakia – and develop a taste for some continental cuisine.

By the time Ken’s tour of duty was up in 1992, he and Julie had two young boys, Colin and Alexander, to take care of, and he opted to get his discharge and start a practice of his own back in Florida. (Spoiler alert: They would add two more, Jordan and Matthew, to their brood before their marriage came to an end in 2005.)

But where to go? “We looked at Tampa and Jacksonville and Winter Haven and Mulberry, but we decided on Englewood,” Ken says. They liked the peaceful, “Olde Florida” feel of the town, and the townspeople they met were so helpful and friendly. Ken found a small practice for sale on Old Englewood Road, just off of West Dearborn Street, and garnered a loan from Englewood Bank to complete the deal. “We could never have done it if it weren’t for their willingness to take a risk with us,” Ken declares. Ferold Davis, then the bank’s president, was said to have admitted that “I have a soft spot for dentists.”

Nine years later, in 2001, he departed from the Old Englewood Road building (now the property of Labcorp) and bought and renovated another property on Rte. 776 just north of Dearborn Street. It’s a handsome building fronting on Rte. 776, with a rock garden in front and ample parking space beside it on a graveled lot – looking for all the world like a home in Phoenix or Tucson. And it is, indeed, a home, for Ken has created a residence above it. The office and waiting room are tastefully decorated, some of the artwork having been created by his son Colin, who works there part-time while studying to become a lab technician.

“I have four awesome kids,” Ken avers, “even though they’re not kids anymore.” Alexander is an algebra teacher in Gainesville, Jordan has a degree in chemistry and is working in the medical technology field, and Matthew is planning to become a high-tech machinist. “I try to spend as much time as I can with them,” he says. In particular, he gets time to regularly go fishing and practice archery with Matthew.

Ken is not ready to retire. “I love what I do,” he says, “and I want to keep doing it for as long as I can. I know I’m helping people in what I do, and that gives me great pleasure.” And make no mistake, what Ken does, he does very well. He has a 5-star rating with his patients and the rating services, the highest that can be given. Typically he is praised for his friendly manner, his thoroughness, willingness to listen and explain, and his virtually painless dentistry. He’s built an excellent staff and a loyal following with his patients, making a once-terrifying visit to the dentist not only bearable but pleasant.

To Ken, what could be nicer than that? After all, he is a family man, and his patients are family to him, too.

Dean Laux is exploring interesting folks living in our community. If you know of anyone with an interesting background please send an email to: [email protected]. Include the person’s name, contact info and give a brief description of the person’s background.