After 26 years, Astes have sold Manti Family Dental practice
MANTI—In the mid- 1990s, Dr. Leonard Aste was working as a dentist for the U.S. Public Health Service. During seven years with the Public Health Service, he had been assigned to work in various federal penitentiaries.
At their home in Oregon, “I made sure every window… was locked before our kids went to sleep,” his wife, Ellen says. “There had been kidnappings and all sorts of crazy stuff.”
The Astes, both of whom had grown up in Davis County, wanted to get back to Utah. “We drew a circle,” Leonard says. “We wanted to be within at most five hours, but preferably within a couple of hours” of Salt Lake.” They were “really fortunate,” he says, to find a dental practice for sale in Manti.
A few months ago, after 26 years, the Astes sold the practice to Dr. Richard Carlile, who was formerly practicing in Port Angeles, Wash. Leon- ard’s last day in the office wasin late August.
Reflecting on his years as a family dentist for residents of Manti and Sanpete County, Leonard says, “It’s just been everything I wanted it to be. When I went into dentistry, I wanted to have a practice where I knew my patients as friends, and that’s exactly what I think I have done.”
His years as owner of Manti Family Dental boil down to the people, he says. “We have some of the most incredible, down-home people you could ever want to meet….It’s been an absolutely wonderful, rewarding experience to have them as friends and to have their support.”
Ellen, who served two terms on the South Sanpete School Board and is now an elementary art specialist in the North Sanpete School District, says the main lesson she gleaned from the past 26 years is, “Don’t be afraid to try new things. Going into private practice, there were so many unknowns, but we just unpacked the bags (and) dove head first into it. If you’re willing to do the work, you get the dividends.”
After Leonard’s time in the Public Health Service and by the time they moved to Manti, they had four children. “Our youngest was just a couple of months old.” Ellen said. By then, her focus was on raising children.
Both of the Astes had spent their lives up to that point in cities. Moving to Manti was an eye opener. “I remember going into Manti Grocery and not really believing that was my grocery store,” Ellen says.
The only place they could find to rent was on 300 North across the street from Temple Hill. “The next year, I was totally surprised at the influx of people for the (Mormon Miracle) Pageant. The sound just blasted in this little house. The crowds and the parking. It was just crazy.”
The solution: Join in. “I did the pageant with my kids from then on, jumped in with both feet,” she says.
While building his prac- tice in Manti, Leonard got deeply involved in what has grown into an enormous effort to provide dental services to the poorest people in the Dominican Republic (located in the Caribbean Sea on the same island where Haiti is located).
“I grew up in a very, very poor home,” he said. “A lot of people helped us out. My desire to help others, it was kind of instilled early on.”
A fellow dentist invited him to go to the Dominican Republic after a hurricane. His friend brought along a dental student. “When we went down there, we just saw this incredible need,” he says. And he and his friend observed “what an incredible experience” the trip was for the student.
Within a few years, Leonard took the lead in forming a nonprofit foundation and getting a 501(c)(3) designation from the IRS, which enabled the foundation to accept tax-deductible contributions. The foundation started raising money, buying equipment and making two trips per year.
“It spread like wildfire,” he says. “We started taking students from all across the country, and even internationally.”
The foundation recruits students from the U. of U. dental school and a private dental school in Salt Lake County. But it has also developed relationships with dental schools in Scotland and Spain. The schools actually require students to do a humanitarian trip abroad.
“We have a collaboration with Dixie State’s (now Utah Tech) dental hygiene program. We take about eight hygiene students,” Leonard says.
The foundation also developed a partnership with the physician assistant program at Idaho State University in Pocatello and generally takes eight physician assistant students and some ISU faculty on each trip.
Over the past 25 years, Leonard has played a key role in organizing at least 40 trips involving 3,000 health profes- sionals and other volunteers.
“We decided to make our group a mobile group,” he says. “We can practice anywhere, whether it’s under a banana tree or in a tent. We take services to people in very remote villages.”
Numerous people from Sanpete County, including the Aste children, have gone on the trips. The Manti LDS Stake humanitarian center has sent “hundreds and hundreds” of infant kits and T-shirt dresses for small children.
While Leonard was put- ting together his humanitarian foundation, Ellen decided she wanted “to participate in education in a meaningful way.”
She filed for the South Sanpete School Board and started walking door to door. On her first run, she lost. But on her second run, she won by eight votes. She was reelected to a second term by 10 votes.
Reflecting on her terms on the school board, she says, “I already knew this, but education people are in it for all the right reasons. Almost everyone is doing it because they believe they can make a difference., because their efforts in behalf of students and children are going to impact those lives.”
While Ellen was on the school board, despite South Sanpete being one of the poorest districts in the state, the district was able to give iPads to every high school student, hire quality teachers, and, most important, make major capital investments.
Ephraim and Gunnison got new elementary schools. Additions were built on Manti Elementary and Manti High School. And a new preschool was constructed near Manti Elementary.
“Nobody does that all by themselves,” she says, “but you get a team of like-minded people together, and the things you can accomplish— it’s pretty good stuff.”
The Astes’ own children were beneficiaries of South Sanpete schools, especially in sports.
“The kids had so many fabulous opportunities, so many great coaches, so many friends,” Ellen says. “Here, our kids could play three sports a year, and they could excel in all three of them. It was an amazing opportunity we could give them.”
All of the Aste children graduated from Utah Valley University. Daughter Whitney, a one-time Miss Manti, went to dental school at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., the same school Leonard attended, and is now a pediatric dentist in Salt Lake City.
Griffin, a son, played football at Snow before finishing at UVU and is now working for a start-up internet marketing company in St. George. Brady is doing marketing for a company in Provo.
Connor, the youngest, has decided to go back to school to study education with a goal of becoming a high school football coach. He is currently helping out with the Manti football team.
Ellen says after her school board service was finished and her kids were grown, “it was really an adjustment finding a new place to fit in.” She had a degree from the U. of U. in education. But in her late 40s, she decided to go back to college to get her master’s degree.
She went to Western Governors University, an on-line university known for assigning large volumes of written work. “It was incredibly challenging,” she said.
“She did terrific,” Leonard says. “She won some awards for her master’s thesis…I was very proud of her.”
After a year working for a grant-funded program aimed at directing disadvantaged children into preschool and another year teaching at Snow, she took the art specialist job in North Sanpete. Each week she visits four of the five elementary schools in the district and instructs all grades in the schools.
The Astes had been thinking about selling Manti Family Dental in the next couple of years. Then, out of the blue, Leonard got a call from Dr. Carlile. Like the Astes decades earlier, the Carliles wanted to return to Utah to raise their family. Richard Carlile’s wife, Rose Fife Carlile, had grown up in Manti.
“We met, and I kind of vetted him to see if he had the experience to take care of my patients,” Leonard says. “…He’s been out about 10 years and has some post-graduate training…I feel good about him and his family. They’re going to be a real asset to the community, both him and his wife.”
Leonard stresses that he’s not retiring, just transitioning to other aspects of dentistry. He now teaches at the U. of U. dental school two to three days per week.
He works for insurance companies reviewing problem claims and advising the companies on whether services were appropriate. He travels around the country as an examiner for the clinical portion of the dental licensing exam. That involves observing students who are about to graduate to determine if they are ready to practice.
He’s treasurer of the Utah Dental Association and in a couple of years is slated to become president of the association.
A lot of dentists focus on making money or recreational pursuits, he says. “Then there are some of us who are interested in making sure the profession maintains credibility….They are just a wonderful group of people, and I just love working with them.”
The Astes say one thing is certain. Coming to Manti was one of the best decisions of their lives. “We could have made a lot more money if we’d stayed up on the Wasatch Front,” Leonard says. “But the quality of life and the environment we wanted to raise our kids in it–it was worth the trade off.”