When Karen Franke told her husband, Dr. Mark Franke, that she had nominated him for the 2017 Community Health Hero Award and he’d won, she introduced the surprise timidly, knowing his humble nature:
“You’re either going to hate me, or know how much I love you,” she told him jokingly.
Dr. Franke, a dentist at the Community Health Center of the North Country, said he had no idea what the award was or that his wife had nominated him, but when he found out, he was thrilled.
“I had no idea either about the award or the fact that I had won, so it was a true surprise,” he said. “As I’m not one to seek out attention or publicity, I suppose I thought about it for a while, but I settled on the fact that she does love me.”
The 2017 Community Health Hero Award was recently awarded to one individual in each of Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence counties in honor of National Rural Health Day – celebrated across the country on November 16th.
The Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization and North Country Health Compass Partners, who sponsored the award, accepted nominations from the community for individuals who exemplified “outstanding public service toward the improvement of community health and wellness.”
Dr. Franke was chosen for St. Lawrence County; Dan Myers, founder of Double Play Community Center, was chosen for Lewis County; and Lance Ronas, founder of the Indian River Ambulance Service, was chosen for Jefferson County.
Dr. Franke has worked in Canton at the Community Health Center of the North Country since 2000 and has become known in the community as the “dentist whisperer” for his unique ability to foster a trusting relationship with patients of all ages and needs.
“Working at the Community Health Center has its different challenges – as you can imagine – other than those encountered in other private practices,” he said. “We treat a large number of patients with special needs, and a good number of our patients are low-income individuals, including children.”
With patience, compassion and a genuine desire to help his community, Dr. Franke has volunteered his nights, weekends, and other time outside of working hours to accommodate his patients with special needs. On “Give Kids A Smile Day,” he volunteers his services to give low-income children a free dental exam, and he does the same for local senior citizens on “Senior Smile Day.”
He also visits local elementary schools during National Children’s Dental Health Month (February) to speak to children about the importance of oral health, and is an advocate for water fluoridation throughout St. Lawrence County’s towns and villages.
“While neither myself or the other dentists that I work with have special training in treating patients with special needs, or children, we do whatever we can do to meet their needs,” Dr. Franke said. “Even with the sometimes never-ending problems our patients face, even the smallest success makes my day and makes the practice of dentistry so worthwhile.”
At age 64, Dr. Franke is nearing retirement from his more than 30-year career in dentistry. He said he plans to spend time with his wife, five daughters, and 13 grandchildren while continuing to be involved in the community.
“I certainly won’t be sitting around doing nothing,” he said.