Gilliom was born in Indianapolis, but spent his formative years in Anderson, Ind. He completed his Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology and Chemistry at Butler University and went on to graduate from the Indiana University School of Dentistry.
Before graduating from Butler, Gilliom took a summer class at Ball State University—Organic Chemistry. While taking the class, Gilliom found another kind of chemistry when he met a gal named Lois, and they were married two years later. Lois was from Richmond, Ind., and she and Russell decided they wanted to open a dental practice in a small town. A cousin of Lois’ recommended Northeastern Indiana as a possible location, but the Gillioms also checked out towns in Wisconsin and Southern Indiana.
In 1975, the Gillioms settled on Churubusco because it was a nice community that was close to family and it needed a dentist, so Gilliom became an associate to Dr. Steve Cullison, D.D.S.
Cullison decided to retire from dentistry not long after that to farm full-time, so in 1978, Gilliom started his own dental practice, Russell E. Gilliom, D.D.S.
Gilliom has been preparing for his retirement for years by putting measures into place to keep the office running smoothly. In 1985, Dr. Richard Zollinger, D.D.S., came into practice with Gilliom. A few years later, Gilliom said the business was growing and he saw the need to expand to another building. Russell and Lois set out on a two-year venture, visiting multi-doctor practices across the country, taking design courses and working with an engineer on specific technical details for the new office. Lois, who was in charge of accounts payable and payroll for 22 years, said it was a highlight for her to work with her husband to design their new building.
“It was gratifying to see it all come together,” she said.
“We wanted the new building to be an efficient and healthful environment, and also to be comfortable for patients,” Gilliom said. “We try to maintain the feel of a friendly, old-style practice, but also offer enough staff to get everyone through efficiently.”
The Gillioms said they give a lot of credit to former office manager Connie Beckman for the design of the front desk and file area.
The new building opened in 1991, and Dr. Dionne Hladin, D.D.S., joined in 1994. In 1995, Gilliom changed the name of the business to Russell E. Gilliom, P.C. In April 2008, Hladin and Zollinger purchased the practice and changed the name to Churubusco Family Dentistry, L.L.C.
Gilliom said he feels God is calling him to sell the practice and retire from the day-to-day routine. However, Gilliom still plans to practice dentistry on the mission field and may also fill in from time to time in Churubusco.
Russell and Lois have both felt called over the years to travel to primitive places to meet the basic needs of individuals and share the love of Christ. They have been to Jamaica to perform tooth extractions on the native people. Gilliom said the only supplies he usually has are a cup, a bucket and a flashlight. People line up before daylight to be treated and the dentists work until sundown.
On one particular trip to Jamaica, they only had five doses of anesthetic left to last a whole day. Gilliom said they prayed for a solution and a native health nurse dropped off some extra anesthetic so they were able to treat more people that day.
The Gillioms also traveled to India to help set up a dental office because the Indian people are lacking dental and eye care even though medical care is abundant.
In addition to their Jamaica and India trips, the Gillioms have been to New Mexico to the Navajo Nation, the Yucatan Peninsula, and also to help with disaster relief in Iowa and in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina. Gilliom also volunteers at Matthew 25 in Fort Wayne.
“I’m open to anything,” he said, adding one of his favorite quotes, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
Gilliom serves in several capacities at a long list of organizations, including being a member of the Christian Dental Society and a Mission Dentist, a member of the missions committee at Trinity Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Columbia City, Chairman of the Whitley County Board of Health, on the board of Faith Christian Academy of Whitley County, President of the 30th Indiana Infantry, member of the board of the Midwest Civil War Civilian Conference, member of the US Naval Landing Party and also a member of the Mennonite Choral Society in Berne.
Gilliom enjoys Civil War reenactments and also participating in the Mennonite Choral Society’s annual production of Handel’s “Messiah.”
In addition to his many memberships and the time he plans to commit to them, Gilliom said he and Lois would like to do some traveling to see friends and family and to spend time with their two children, their spouses and their five (soon to be six) grandchildren. Gilliom also enjoys farming.
As a people person, Gilliom said he will miss the people he comes into contact with on a daily basis once he retires on September 28.
“I consider my patients friends—almost family,” he said. “I’ve been blessed with so many great patients and the opportunity to develop deep relationships. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to make a difference in their lives and serve the community.”
Over the years, patients have brought him all kinds of goodies, from bluegill filets and produce to pies and cookies.
Gilliom said he likes to have fun with patients. Some patients wear goofy teeth in for their appointments and Gilliom has made some teeth of his own that resemble Austin Powers’ grin and some that are decayed and in need of a good brushing that he wears for Civil War reenactments. He also likes to put John Deere stickers on the tools when farmers come in or he sets out pliers and a Dremel tool for certain patients.
With “little bits of daily joy,” Gilliom said he finds the best in every day and in every situation. He said he has had several spiritual situations where he was able to share his beliefs.
“The Lord is using us to affect other people, and using others to affect you. I’m dealing with people and their lives,” he said. “I’m not just a tooth carpenter. I love working with people and that is why I’ll miss the people.”
Gilliom said he will also miss the staff at the office, especially since most of them have been working with Gilliom for 15 years or longer—six employees have been with him for 25-plus years.
“We’ve been blessed through the years with a very wonderful staff,” Lois said. “They are committed and loyal and very conscientious in all aspects of the job.”
For his final piece of dental advice, Dr. Gilliom recommends that individuals perform regular maintenance and check-ups, keep flossing and brushing and repair problems when they are small.
“Just use common sense—and stay away from Mountain Dew.”