Ohio State Dental Journal

Giving Back to the College that Enabled their “Happy Life”: James ’72 DDS and Bette Zaletel

James and Bette Zaletel

Dr. James (“Jim”) Zaletel, also known by his patients as “Dr. Z,” is more than a decade into retirement from the northern Virginia dental practice he sold 12 years ago. He and Bette—his wife of 43 years, who retired from her own career as a pediatric nurse practitioner—spend some of their quality time playing golf, taking brisk two-mile walks together, traveling (including trips in their RV), and just enjoying a glass of red wine and Bette’s homecooked meals in the evenings from their back deck overlooking the Potomac River. “It’s the little things loving couples do to take care of each other and promote a healthy lifestyle,” said Dr. Zaletel. “That’s an important part of our happy life together.”

Another part of the Zaletels’ happy life? The couple has been able to give back, quite generously, to the college that helped enable them to enjoy their lives. “After 35 years of dentistry—two in the military and 33 in private practice—we are able to enjoy the fruits of my labor and my education,” said Dr. Zaletel. “A lot of doors have opened for me, beginning with and because of my Ohio State College of Dentistry degree.”

“We have a great opportunity at this time to make a distinct difference for the college. My wife and I are so happy and proud to be a part of it, and we hope others who can give will join us.”​ —​ Dr. James Zaletel

To honor that education and help secure it for the next generations of dental students at Ohio State, the Zaletels recently made a $100,000 gift to the Building on Strong Foundations campaign to expand and upgrade Postle Hall. The couple has also committed to an endowment to the College of Dentistry in their estate plan.

Dr. Zaletel, a Cleveland native who earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Dayton, believed he had received a strong dental education when he graduated from the College of Dentistry in 1972. But it wasn’t until he became an active duty Army dentist at Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County, Virginia, that he recognized just how exceptional his training had been. “When I started working with other young dentists in the military, I felt that my training, skills and ability to discuss dentistry were second to no one.” That confidence, bestowed by his Ohio State education, followed him after the military and into private practice.

While Dr. Zaletel remains grateful for his own education, he’s excited about the future of the College of Dentistry. After recent conversations with Dean Patrick Lloyd, he firmly believes that Ohio State’s dental program will advance even higher to become the premier dental school in the nation. “Dean Lloyd has made me a believer that the dental college will become better than it’s ever been,” says Dr. Zaletel. “The building campaign provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for my wife and me to be part of Dean Lloyd’s vision—and it’s a vision we now share with him.”

And though he believes the rebuilding program for Postle Hall will raise the college’s profile nationally, Dr. Zaletel’s enthusiasm extends beyond the capital improvements. “It’s not just the rebuilding, but it’s the improvements to the whole dental program that Dean Lloyd impressed us with. We’re excited about the impact this will have on both students and faculty, and education and research,” he said. “That’s another reason we wanted to make this contribution.”

Despite living over 400 miles away from his professional alma mater, Dr. Zaletel makes a strong effort to stay connected, such as class reunions. He and Bette also journey back to Columbus at least once a year to cheer on their beloved Buckeyes—including attending this season’s Miami University football game as Dean Lloyd’s guests in the University Suite at Ohio Stadium. And Dr. Zaletel hasn’t missed a single home football game versus “That Team Up North” since starting dental school in 1968. He also stays in touch with classmates and other Ohio State dental alums.

He is encouraging his fellow College of Dentistry alumni to join him in giving to the Building on Strong Foundations campaign. “We have a great opportunity at this time to make a distinct difference for the college,” said Dr. Zaletel. “My wife and I are so happy and proud to be a part of it, and we hope others who can give will join us.”