Chance encounter inspires Tallgrass Creek resident to keep people smiling

More than a half-century ago, Lyndal Holmes – fresh out of school with a degree in dental surgery – found himself in the middle of the fierce brutality of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. It was part of a Communist surge in 1968 that historians now mark as a turning point in that bitter conflict that ended with America’s eventual withdrawal.

Decades later, Holmes, who now lives at Tallgrass Creek, the Erickson Living community in Overland Park, Kansas, found his life touched again by that long-ago war.

In 2005, Holmes was visiting the City Union Mission in Kansas City – coincidentally occupying the same building that once housed the dental school at the University of Missouri-Kansas City where both Holmes and his father before him graduated from – when he came face-to-face with his past in an entirely different way.

Holmes met a man at the Mission who had obviously been beaten-up by many difficult years with a gap-toothed mouth that often comes with such a life.

However, in conversation, it became apparent that the two men – one a successful dentist; the other a soul trying to right himself – had a shared history.

“We found we were in Vietnam at the same time and we found ourselves talking about a base camp in the Highlands and the 1st Cav heading north to look for the enemy during Tet and the 173rd Airborne coming in to hold the camp. They were under-strengthened and under-manned. But we both knew the details exactly,” Holmes said.

“I was finishing his sentences to the point where he said, ‘You were there, weren’t you,’” Holmes said his voice cracking with emotion.

Ironically, that man left for ministerial school the next day.

“I never got to help that man (with dental work) but that’s when I made up my mind to do what I could to help others. He may have not have been helped, but he wound up helping, many, many other people.”

Since then, Holmes has established a long-running dental program at City Union Mission to help those who are willing to help themselves.

“They can’t just sit around watching TV,” Holmes said. “They need to be willing to get their GED, work on ridding themselves of drug abuse.”

And to help those folks along, Holmes has set up a referral service that includes a network of dental practitioners all over the Kansas City region. Regardless of the problem, from small repairs to full extractions and denture replacement with every specialty covered, Holmes knows someone who can make it happen – all for free.

“It’s amazing the self-confidence that good teeth gives someone. They have a smile that lights up their face. They can go into a job interview with some self-esteem,” Holmes said. “But I’ve gotten too much credit.  The credit belongs to all the people willing to do the work.”

While Holmes and wife Mary Lou retired to Tallgrass Creek, an Erickson Living community, Holmes maintains a busy personal calendar.

In addition to volunteering at City Union Mission, he still teaches part-time at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, his alma mater.

When not working, there’s plenty of social activity at Tallgrass Creek which has several on-site restaurants; a fitness center and an all-season swimming pool, plus a host of clubs and classes.

“It’s like being on a cruise ship tied up to a resort,” said Holmes of the lifestyle at Tallgrass Creek.

"The advantage of life at Tallgrass Creek is that it gives residents more free time to pursue whatever is their passion,” said Jean Landreville, the executive director at Tallgrass Creek. "Whether it’s outside work, such as the case with Dr. Holmes, or taking day trips or vacations that may stretch out weeks, we are going to make living easy. You just turn the lock on your apartment home and everything else is taken care of."

Holmes and his wife have a roomy two-bedroom apartment and have been happy with their decision to settle in at Tallgrass Creek.

“Security is a given and we’ve made lots of new friendships,” Holmes said.

Plus, living at Tallgrass Creek not only provides greater peace-of-mind to Lyndal and Mary Lou, but also for their three adult children who are engaged in their own successful careers.

Being at Tallgrass Creek has even helped Holmes time-manage his work duties, both at the university and at the Mission.

“You come home from work, go to dinner and you don’t have to worry about shopping for the groceries, cooking and cleaning up,” Holmes said.

However, he does have one suggestion.

“I’ve suggested,” Holmes said slyly, “that they put in a zip line from the fourth floor to the dining level.”

Because of course, life can’t be all work and no play.