James R. Weber watched the news reports of Hurricane Katrina and knew he had to do something. Weber, a dentist and 1970 graduate, has a long history of volunteerism. So the question wasn’t “What if?” but “How?” The federal government was recruiting dentists, but it required a solid four- to six-week commitment, which was impossible for a solo practitioner like Weber.
Fortunately, the Ohio Dental Association was looking for volunteers to set up a trip of its own, and Weber and 10 other Ohio dentists signed on, paid their own expenses and headed south. In mid-October 2005, Weber found himself in Baton Rouge, La., where he spent five days working in a 32-foot-long mobile dental van on loan from an organization in northern Ohio.
On the Saturday of his visit, Weber and his wife made an evening trip for dinner to New Orleans’ French Quarter. As the couple drove through the city, where a wrong turn landed them in what was left of the city’s Ninth Ward, Weber saw what televised reports only hinted at.
“You can’t really get a feel of it without being there,” he says.
For their effort, Weber and the other Ohio dentists were awarded the 2006 Ohio Dental Association Marvin Fisk Humanitarian Award. But Weber says the real reward came from seeing the resilience of the storm’s survivors. “It was terrible to see all that devastation, but really a privilege to serve these folks because they were powerful, heroic people, for the most part,” he says.