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Don Maeda still making crowns at 86 - Part 3 of 4

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Katheryn Kubo

Maeda and his wife Katheryn (Kay) raised five children together. She passed away from cancer 11 years ago.

Maeda met Kay at a youth group event at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church at 22nd and Blaisdell in Minneapolis. It was organized for Japanese American young adults by Father Daisuke Kitagawa, who also held services for Japanese elders.

“It was hard to make friends and they started a youth fellowship center and that is where a lot of us met our mates and where I met my wife,” he said.

Kay (Kubo) was from Lingle, an eastern Wyoming town about 40 miles from Scottbluff, Nebraska. Her father emigrated from Japan to the United States around 1900 and worked on the railroad. The family was not interned because they were living inland from the west coast. Grandpa Kudo lived to age 90 and died in 1967.

Kay was a medical technologist who graduated from the University of Wyoming and trained for a year at the old Minneapolis General Hospital. She and a friend worked for a year in Baltimore and then at St. Barnabas, an Episcopalian hospital that co-existed with Hennepin County Hospital for a time before closing in the 1970s.

Maeda’s sister Jane is five years older and married in January 1950. Don and Kay married in August that same year. There is also a younger brother who is sixteen years younger.

Don and Kay Maeda moved into their first home on Hamline Avenue near County Road C in 1954. Kay continued working as a nurse at St. Barnabas until her first child, Janet, was born.

The new three-bedroom house was small and they lived there until their fifth baby was on its way. Their second home was built in a new Roseville settlement that is now a full neighborhood. He lives there still.

Roseville was much different in those early days. Maeda said he watched a junior high school replace a golf driving range. The Snelling Hub shopping center expanded to become the Har Mar Mall.

The expansion required the Countryside Driving Range to relocate to Highway 61 near County Road D. A Costco now stands there but there is a Countryside Drive. The Rosedale Mall was mostly farmland until it opened around 1969.

Maeda said he was “pretty much the only Asian guy” and enjoyed being recognized by the community as he shopped in the Roseville area.

Starting his own lab

When Ed Carlson retired at age 70 to care for his ailing wife, he offered Maeda and two coworkers the opportunity to buy him out. The Chinese American coworker, Bill Lee, was the only one who could come up with financing and that situation put Maeda back in the lab working for Lee as a technician.

Then Maeda met Joseph and Edward Grayden, two brothers who made it possible for him to open his own dental lab.

“These young dentists knew that I wasn’t happy and so they helped set me up,” said Maeda. “They were just nice guys.”

Dr. Joseph Grayden, DDS, is still a client of Maeda. They met in 1973 when Grayden and his brother Edward were dental students at the University of Minnesota and working summer jobs at Edco Dental Lab, where Maeda was working under Carlson.

Grayden said that Carlson, a master technician, appointed Maeda the office manager when he was out.

“Ed loved Don,” said Grayden. “I worked nights and Saturdays, and Don was always the last one out after starting at six in the morning.”

Maeda enjoyed informal relationships with the dentists at a time when both the doctors and laboratories were all together in the Medical Arts Building.

“There was some extremely talented and famous dentists in that building that he worked with, and they looked upon him as someone who was eager to learn – and they shared a lot of information,” said Grayden. “It’s easy when the doctors offices are an elevator ride away from his lab.”

Grayden said Maeda was very driven and is among the last of a rare breed of dental technician – they type that conduct every part of the process themselves. He said labs today have senior technicians to do the difficult work, and delegate the rest to less experienced people.

“They are still not in the same league as Don,” he said. He is always careful and has a high standard of what it should be when it leaves his place.”

Dental milling technology is constantly changing along with new computer 3D modeling. Grayden said that the area of ceramic and porcelain crowns and caps is growing but requires large labs and a lot of expensive equipment.

The gold crowns that Maeda focuses on exclusively still require more human labor.

“He is so good at it that he focuses on that,” said Grayden. “The thing with Don is that since I’ve known him his work has just gotten better. He takes extra time in doing it and that is the difference from the other labs where it is more of a business.”

Maeda said simply that he moved away from porcelain crowns because it takes too much time to make corrections on shading to match the other teeth. This gets in the way of new work and so he stays exclusively with the tried and true material and three-hour process of making gold crowns.

“Once you make it there is no problem,” he said.

Early on Maeda Dental Lab had steady work from three dentists. He would seek out and contract with four more dentists and also delivered the work on his own.

Grayden said the two are longtime friends and that Maeda is someone who has lived a hard life but has a good sense of humor and has a positive outlook on life.

“When his wife was sick he was always there for her and he never really acted like it was taking toll on him but I know it did,” he said.

Maeda has slowed down just a bit since his heart operation a couple years ago, and Grayden said they are joking to see who will retire first. Ed Grayden became an anesthesiologist and sold his dental practice to Dr. Kent Cassidy, who is also a client of Maeda.

“It has been a lot of fun,” Grayden added. “I will miss him when he quits.”

To be continued...>>

* This article was originally published in the Asian American Press on June 12, 2011

© 2011 Asian American Press

communities health
About the Author

Thomas J. LaVenture is the Managing Editor of the Asian American Press, pan-Asian, English language weekly publication based in St. Paul, Minnesota, with a circulation of 15,000. He has worked at the paper since 1997 as a writer and with related nonprofits and became the managing editor in 2001. He has also worked as a staff writer at The Daily Journal in International Falls, Minnesota in 2008, and is currently readying to work at The Garden Island daily newspaper in Kaua'i, Hawai'i in July 2011. He will continue to assist with Asian American Press operations for the time being. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Superior in 1997 with a degree in Political Science and Journalism. He is also a U.S. Army veteran.  

Updated June 2011

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