When Dr. Andy Sears first opened his Jacksonville dentistry practice in 1919, America had only 48 states, women had not yet received the right to vote and Ponte Vedra was a rustic little mining community known as Mineral City.
Nearly a century later, “Dr. Andy’s” legacy of serving the First Coast now spans three generations. After practicing for many years with his two sons, Dr. Wally Sears – who died in 2011 – and Dr. Don Sears, the late Dr. Andy would no doubt be proud to know that Don’s son, Dr. Kane Sears, has joined the family practice in Ponte Vedra Beach after graduating from the University of Florida College of Dentistry in May.
“It’s great to know that Dad’s legacy is going to continue with Kane,” Dr. Don Sears said. “It’s really been kind of a celebration; patients are just jumping for joy that Kane has joined us.”
Kane Sears, 26, virtually grew up in the family dental practice. In addition to his father and uncle, Kane’s mother, Kim, has served as the office’s dental hygienist for 40 years.
“Patients are telling me, ‘I knew you when you were this tall!’” Kane said, gesturing to about knee height.
It was the family atmosphere of the practice, in fact, that convinced Kane to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
“Our patients aren’t strangers – they’re friends and neighbors,” he said. “And that’s really what I’m looking forward to doing: working and helping people in our own community.”
A family tradition
After establishing his Jacksonville practice, in 1938 Dr. Andy built a home on Duval Drive in Jacksonville Beach, which at the time was part of Ponte Vedra. Each day, he would make the drive into downtown – and so would his patients, many of whom were family friends and neighbors who lived at the beach.
“Back in the day, the only way to get downtown from the beach was Atlantic Boulevard,” Don Sears said. “Later, when my father moved his office to Southside, his patients followed him there.”
In 1992, Wally and Don Sears decided to move the practice to Ponte Vedra Beach, offering greater convenience for their Beaches patients. After briefly leasing space, they built their current building at 35 Executive Way.
“We felt like this was the center of Ponte Vedra, across from the school,” he said.
Through the decades, the Sears practice began to see multiple generations of patients – many of whom still recall Dr. Andy with fondness.
“We have a 90-year-old patient,” Kim Sears said, “and he told us, ‘My parents were patients of Dr. Andy’s!’”
It’s a legacy that Kane is having a chance to experience first-hand now that he has begun practicing.
“I’ve asked patients, ‘who did your crown?’ and they’ll say, ‘Your grandfather put that in!’” Kane said, his voice filled with both pride and awe. “You’ll hear people say crowns will last about 10 years, and here I’m seeing work my grandfather did 50, 60 years ago!”
A new chapter
Growing up observing and volunteering in his father’s practice was good preparation for dental school, Kane added.
“There were some folks there who were ‘science smart,’ always in the books – but when it came time for patient interaction, they struggled,” he said. “Communicating with patients and working with people was much easier for me.”
Now, as he begins working alongside his parents, Kane is eager to learn from his father while also introducing the latest advances in dentistry to the practice – a fact that couldn’t make his father happier.
“He’s been here two weeks and already I’m changing the way I practice,” Don said with a smile.
Kane is quick to stress, however, that he’s just as eager to learn from his father.
“My style is to learn what he’s been doing all these years – because it’s working – then down the road use new technologies to our advantage.”
He is also looking forward to carrying on the Sears family tradition of community service. In addition to serving as president of the Florida Dental Association, Dr. Andy was the second president of the Ponte Vedra Community Association. Don Sears, meanwhile, is active in the Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach, and both his parents were instrumental in founding the annual summer surf camp for autistic children, which this year will be held July 18-19 at Jacksonville Beach.
Carrying on such a family tradition, Kane said, is an honor.
“I wasn’t born when Dr. Andy was here, so he’s like a legend to me,” he said. “He traveled the world, but his main focus was always his local community – and it’s the same community I’m practicing in now. That’s the legacy I’m excited about carrying on.”