La-Z-Boy probably won’t make dental chairs anytime soon, but it helped make a dental school Wednesday.

On a day when the Neosho plant produced its 19 millionth product, company officials visited the Joplin campus of Kansas City University and presented a $20,000 donation to its College of Dental Medicine.

“Every donation matters, and $20,000 is an incredibly generous gift from a community partner,” said Linda Niessen, founding dean of the college. “We appreciate any contribution, because those say something about people’s interest in this project. It validates that this is an important enterprise for the community.”

The donation comes from the La-Z-Boy Foundation, which gets its funds from corporate and employee contributions. Awards are made based on applications submitted by nonprofit agencies within 30 miles of a manufacturing plant or company headquarters.

Bill Snow, vice president of La-Z-Boy’s Midwest region, said that KCU’s potential for providing the region with well-trained doctors and dentists made the campus a worthy recipient.

“Studies show that some of the doctors trained at a school stay in that location,” Snow said. “This helps us in the future for our employees and for our community to have dentists and doctors here.”

After the check presentation, university officials led Snow and other company and school officials on a tour of the Joplin campus, showing them how it serves medical students and what plans await the dental school’s first class of 80 students.

That projected opening date will be in August 2023, Niessen said, taking a moment to knock on a wooden wall near where workers continued digging the foundation for the building.

“We’re on track right now, knock on wood,” Niessen said.

After construction began in March, a groundbreaking ceremony was held May 22. Niessen said work has begun on placing the foundations of the $80 million project. Construction was delayed by about a year because of the pandemic.

It will be connected to the current building via a skybridge. Wednesday’s tour stopped at a wall in the southwestern corner of the building, where the doors to the skybridge will eventually be.

In addition to state-of-the-art teaching resources, the school will include a dental clinic where members of the public can receive treatment.

What excites university officials the most is the proximity of the two schools, Niessen said. Students of both schools will learn and work together once the dental school is up and running.

“We know, for instance, that gum disease can complicate Type 2 diabetes,” Niessen said. “Health in the future is going to be team-based.”


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Joe Hadsall is the digital editor for The Joplin Globe. He has been the editor of the former Nixa News-Enterprise and has worked for the Christian County Headliner News and 417 Magazine.