Ford Scholar Alumna Olesya Salathe from the Class of 2001 has earned the Gerald E. Bruce Community Service Award for her passion for providing dental care, running a dental practice, and helping her rural Oregon community of Molalla.
Salathe’s family fled political persecution in Russia and immigrated to the United States when she was eight years old. Her family moved to Molalla when she was in middle school, and she graduated from Molalla High School in 2001. It was here that her passion for dentistry began.
She called the office of Dr. Paul Puffer, a dentist in Molalla, asking for help on a science project focused on dental staining. “I received one follow-up phone call from Dr. Paul personally,” Salathe recalls. “That left a big impact on me – the doctor himself being interested in some high school kid and her science project.”
As a junior, Salathe began working as a sterilization technician for “Dr. Paul.”
“From there, I leaned that I loved dentistry, I loved teeth, and everything to do with them, and he helped me realize my goals,” she said.
Salathe went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in Biology from George Fox University in 2005 and a Doctorate of Dental Medicine from Oregon Health and Sciences University School of Dentistry in 2010. Dr. Paul hooded her at her graduation from dental school and offered her a job as an associate dentist at his practice, Northwest Dental Clinic.
In 2012, Dr. Paul sold his practice to Salathe, and Northwest Dental of Molalla continues to thrive.
Salathe and her husband, Scott, have two children, Hudson, 6, and Lylah, 4. They live in Colton, not far from Molalla, where they enjoy gardening, restoring hotrods and tractors, and taking care of their many animals.
When she took the dentistry oath, Salathe made a commitment to do the best she could. “I believe that as dentists we offer a skill set that only a minority possess; therefore, it is not an option but a moral mandate of myself to volunteer.”
Director of Postsecondary Success Denise Callahan said the Bruce Award selection committee “was very impressed not only by her academic performances both as an undergraduate and graduate student, but also the initiative she has taken professionally and civically in her rural community.”
Salathe serves on several boards, including the Clackamas County Dental Society and Oregon Dental Association House of Delegates.
Salathe encourages her 10 employees to serve their community as well, having a “Serve Day” every quarter. During Heart of the Community Day, they provide dental care to under-served community members. They put on the Annual Free Custom Mouth Guard Clinic for Molalla and Colton High School athletes. They work with Mission of Mercy in Portland, providing free dental care to those in need as well as local free dental days.
“Tell me where the spare dental chair is, and I will be there to serve,” Salathe said.
She credits her passion for serving to Dr. Paul and also to her grandfather, who fought for freedom of religion, basic human rights, and the ability to bring up children to believe freely. His hardships paved the way for thousands of Soviet Union emigrants to flee.
Salathe also credits Mr. Kenneth Ford. At the summer conferences, she “gained a sense of responsibility to give back, to be part of something bigger than myself,” Salathe said. “It was the dreams of my grandfather and the giving heart of Kenneth Ford that led me to where I am at today.”
Salathe appreciates a quote from Mr. Ford: “People have been so good to me that I want to give back to them. This company, the timber industry, my friends and family, and the employees are the ones who will carry my torch when I am gone. You are now the torch bearers, and you must understand your responsibility to mankind.” Salathe says, “I’m just trying to keep that flame burning.”
The $5,000 grant that comes with the Bruce Award will go to the Colton Booster Club to help build a much-needed new playground at Colton Elementary School, where her son goes to school.