Reprint by permission of The News & Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina
By JANE STANCILL, N&O Staff Writer
The Raleigh News & Observer April 26, 2004
Dr. Henry Lineberger Jr. is one of 15 surviving members of the first graduating class in the UNC School of Dentistry. At 77, Lineberger still practices in Raleigh three days a week.
The dental school at UNC-Chapel Hill was established as the first — and only — one in North Carolina. Thirty-three men and one woman graduated 50 years ago this June. The survivors were honored recently at a dinner in Chapel Hill, and they will be recognized at the dental school graduation May 9.
Lineberger couldn’t decide whether he wanted to be a doctor or a dentist, but after a stint at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, the choice was clear. He just didn’t like being around sick people. Some nights, he and another doctor-in-training had to administer penicillin shots every two hours to 120 sailors on the venereal disease ward.
Lineberger’s father, also a dentist, was instrumental in founding UNC’s dental school. It started five years after World War II, and most students were young veterans. Lineberger recently talked about his experience as a member of the first class of dentists to be trained in North Carolina.
Q.What was it like to be part of a start-up dental school?
A.We had no facilities really. We had Quonset huts, and we had our anatomy labs and dental labs in the medical school. In our third year, we went in the clinic, which was in the new building. It was like going to heaven after being in Quonset huts.
Q.Tell me about the first class of students.
A.We started off with 39. Most of them were veterans. We had five or six who were not veterans, and we had one girl. A majority of them were married and had children.
Q.A woman in dental school 50 years ago? That must’ve been unusual.
A.It was. She was a good old gal, though. She got along with us and the anatomy labs in the Quonset huts — the old stinking mess. She did well.
Q.What was the state of dental care here in 1954?
A.That was the reason for starting the school: Dentistry was very low in North Carolina. We spread out pretty well all over the state when we graduated.
The faculty of the school went out to the different communities and gave a lot of seminars free. That helped a lot. The faculty had only one class, so they had a lot of free time. They went to places like Raleigh, Durham, Charlotte, Asheville, all over, and talked to the local dentists about what they were teaching us. It helped raise the level of dentistry all over the state.
Q.How did UNC attract faculty to Chapel Hill for a school that had no building?
A.They got the best possible person for dean, Dean [John] Brauer. He was at the University of Southern California. They knew pretty well who were the top people in the United States. Most of them came from cities such as Boston, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, all over. They came to Chapel Hill and thought they’d died and gone to heaven. They came by the dozen. Almost all of them accepted. They seemed to have a desire to live out in the country. They didn’t want to live in Chapel Hill.
Q.Were you and your classmates close?
A.We were very tight knit because everything was sort of experimental. They’d try one thing and then change it. We studied together in groups.
Q.What do you think about the dental school today?
A.It’s fantastic. They’ve had three very large expansions since we were there. Of course, dentistry in 50 years has changed dramatically. Some of the things we were taught they’re not even doing anymore.
Q.What are the big changes?
A.I think the pain of dentistry has been almost eliminated. The preventive end of it. When I came to Raleigh, the first thing I did was support fluoride in the water. You could not believe the opposition to that.
Q.So the school has come a long way since 1954.
A.It was the beginning for North Carolina dentistry. I think they had 80 in the graduating class this year.