100 Years | Three Generations

The Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry is a family. The community on campus and beyond is tight-knit and cooperative. But did you know that every graduating class is filled with family members of previous graduates? Recently, 10 to 20 students in each class at the dental school have Dugoni School of Dentistry graduates and practicing dentists in their families. “We have several families at the Dugoni School of Dentistry who can boast three generations of graduates—the Dugoni and Hovden families to name a few,” shared Dr. William van Dyk ’73, past president of the Alumni Association, at the 2016 Annual Alumni Recognition Luncheon. Another such three-generation legacy family is the Skelley family of San Francisco.

The Skelley family has a long history in dentistry and in San Francisco. Their dental dynasty started with Dr. Fred Skelley, P&S Class of 1915. He grew up in San Francisco and met his wife of Finnish decent, Ingrid Arvonen, while attending Glen Park Grammar School. He and his family were long-time inhabitants of San Francisco and all survived the 1906 Earthquake.

Fred began his practice in San Francisco when he opened his dental office on Mission Street near 29th Street shortly after graduating from the College of Physicians and Surgeons. Now, 100 years later, the family includes 15 dentists, many of whom are Dugoni School of Dentistry alumni.

While the veracity of the stories is unverified, there are several legends in the Skelley family folklore about how Fred ended up completing a degree in dentistry. One story is that he was encouraged to join the class by a friend but was one unit short in physics to be able to attend the program, so he worked all summer long on the new Geary Street streetcar line in order to make enough money to take the one remaining course needed. Another tall tale is that Fred’s father used all the family’s money to head out to the Gold Rush in Alaska. Left without money for tuition, Fred needed to finish college one year early, so he switched to dentistry and obtained his DDS degree from the College of Physicians and Surgeons. His offspring are glad that he did.

Dr. Eugene Skelley ’54 always wanted to follow in his father Fred’s footsteps. He remembers his father and his father’s classmates as “icons of dentistry.” They were the early adopters of the newest methods. Eugene recalled, that as a child, his family had a large building in San Francisco, the one on Mission Street which they still own today. “My dad’s office was there and it was just always a big part of our lives,” he said.

Dr. Coragene Skelley ’41, Eugene’s Skelley’s older sister, also followed in her father’s footsteps even though she was one of only two women in her graduating class. Coragene married another dentist, Dr. Edward Savio ’39, and all three of their children—Dr. Coragene I. Savio ’70, Dr. Ednaima (a.k.a. Tad) B. Savio ’71 and Dr. Edward F. (Ted) Savio ’91—attended the Dugoni School of Dentistry and became dentists too.

[pullquote]It looked like so much fun, we all wanted to do it. —Dr. Lila Marie Skelley ’74[/pullquote]

In upholding the family tradition, Dr. Coragene Savio ’70 married Dr. Barry Kinney ’68, another dentist and Dugoni School of Dentistry alumnus. “When I got out of dental school in 1969, I was ready to start my practice downtown at 450 Sutter,” Kinney told the Noe Valley Voice. “My father in-law (Dr. Edward Savio), who had his offices out at 1712 Church near Day Street, suggested that Coragene and I take a look out in the Noe Valley neighborhood before deciding. We found a house on 24th Street, made an offer, and the bank agreed to loan us $50,000 to buy the house and build our office.” This expanded the family dental legacy in San Francisco. Dr. Edward Savio, Sr. ’39 started his practice in Upper Noe Valley in 1939, where Coragene’s sister, Tad Savio, and brother, Ted Savio, still practice today. Barry and Coragene practice nearby, along with her first cousin, Dr. Jocelyn Yvonne Skelley ’90. Dentistry is truly a family profession for the Savios and their Skelley cousins.

Back on Eugene Skelley’s side of the family tree, of his five children, two are dentists and Dugoni School of Dentistry grads—Drs. Lila Marie Skelley ‘74 and Jocelyn Yvonne Skelley ’90. Two others are in related professions as a registered dental hygienist and dental lab technician. At age 93, Eugene is still licensed and continues to work in the lab. He even has dreams of achieving dental breakthroughs in the area of prosthetics. A culturally aware and creative thinker, he suggested, “One day a month students and professors should only speak Spanish at the dental school since it is our second language in San Francisco.”

In our interview, Eugene expressed fond memories of his dad, Fred. “He was athletic and healthy and inspired everyone.” It seems that with his indomitable spirit and family full of dentists, Eugene has inspired lots of people too. Lila Marie recalls that her dad took her to the dental school when she was a young child. “It looked like so much fun, we all wanted to do it.” Instead of feeling obligated to become a dentist, Lila had wanted to be a dentist since she was four years old. In keeping with tradition, she also married a Dugoni School dentist, Dr. Kjell Ragnar ’96, and she continues to practice in Alameda, California. She remembers that big old family building in San Francisco too; her grandfather used to serenade his patients by playing his grand piano at their Mission Street space.

Fred’s wife Ingrid Arvonen (Lila and Jocelyn’s grandmother) had dental connections of her own, including Ingrid’s brother, Dr. George Arvonen, his son, Dr. Paul Arvonen, and his daughter, Dr. Michelle Arvonen—another three-generation family of dentists. The 15th dentist on the Skelley family tree, Dr. Wallace Bachelder, was Dr. Fred Skelley’s first cousin. As a child, Wallace visited Fred’s dental office and later went to UCSF School of Dentistry. “My grandfather was the inspiration to his dental career too,” Lila Marie Skelley proudly declared.

Dr. Jocelyn Yvonne Skelley grew up in the dental profession. Like her older sister, Lila, her dad took her to the dental school when she was five years old, which sealed the deal for her career. “As soon as I walked in there, I thought this is incredible. I knew that I wanted to do this,” she recalled. As a young woman, she worked in her father’s office taking impressions and pouring models of teeth and later assisted at her sister’s office. Also a jewelry maker, she loves both the art and the science of dentistry. Back in the early days of her career, the whole family practiced in the same building together on Mission Street where they worked, lunched and all had fun together with their family business.

Channeling what her father had done for her and her sister, Jocelyn took her son to the dental lab when he was five years old and taught him how to pour impressions and work with some equipment. For Jocelyn and her family, dentistry has been a way of life. “We enjoy the best of both, the old solid and true hands-on techniques and the modern technology emerging every decade,” says Jocelyn. To this day, Eugene believes dentistry is the best profession and recommends it to all the young people he encounters “who are smart and have good dexterity.” For the Skelleys, dentistry really is the “best and only” profession. The Skelley family connection to the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry is strong and they have high hopes for a fourth generation of Dugoni School dentists in the family.

The Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry continues to maintain its rich tradition of treating patients, students, faculty and staff like family. No wonder so many dental school alumni families send their offspring to follow in their footsteps.

Marianne Jacobson, BA, MBA, is a freelance writer from Marin County.