Surgical Wing at Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic to Be Named for Dr. Thomas and Hendrika Spier
Thomas Spier, DDS, has led an incredible life. A child survivor of a WWII Nazi concentration camp, he immigrated to America with his Dutch mother and sister in 1952. His father, Jo Spier, who was a famous Dutch illustrator, and his older brother, Peter E. Spier, who was to become a renowned children's book author and illustrator in his own right, had previously arrived in 1951.
At the time, Dr. Spier spoke limited English, but he put the experiences of WWII behind him and became an American success story. He graduated from Adelphi College with a B.A. in pre-medical studies, accomplishing this in just two and a half years, in spite of English being his fifth language and still unperfected. Dr. Spier went on to graduate from Columbia University’s College of Dental Medicine, known then as the Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery.
In August 1959, with his first wife and one-year-old daughter, Dr. Spier moved to New Mexico to serve a two-year tour of duty with the United States Public Health Service (PHS) to provide care to Native American communities throughout Northern New Mexico — from San Felipe Pueblo in the south to Taos Pueblo in the north.
His clinic was a mobile bumper-pull Winnebago trailer, supplied with a barber's chair, electric dental drill powered by extension cord, and water via a hose that Dr. Spier hooked up anywhere he could. He relates that he would always try to park in the shade of a tree because it got hot inside the trailer. Dr. Spier completed his PHS commitment in August 1961, and then went into private practice in Santa Fe. Dental and oral health care was so important to Dr. Spier that he served as president of the New Mexico Dental Association in 1972.
In honor of his extraordinary journey and accomplishments, Dr. Spier’s family has created the Spier Family Dental Scholarship Fund for the Hunt School of Dental Medicine at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso. The scholarship fund, established as a part of the family’s celebration of Dr. Spier’s 90th birthday in 2021, will give priority to incoming dental students from New Mexico, the Spiers’ home state.
“We’re grateful to the Spier family for their generosity,” said Richard Black, D.D.S., M.S., dean of the Hunt School of Dental Medicine. “Their support will allow us to educate more students from our neighboring state of New Mexico, which also faces a significant shortage of dentists. By providing talented students with the opportunity to learn and train locally, we’re growing our own future generation of dentists who will remain in our Borderplex region to practice. This, in turn, will help New Mexico patients receive the care they need to maintain good oral health.”
“We hope the deserving students who receive these scholarships will continue building on the tradition of delivering world-class patient care, improve the quality of life in the region, and be inspired by our father to excel in a career of service and dentistry,” said Peter A. Spier, one of Dr. Spier’s children who initiated and shepherded the effort to create the scholarship fund.
Inspired by Dr. Spier’s life and career, and their love for him, his four children, along with his granddaughters, extended family and friends from across the U.S. and the Netherlands, contributed to the $100,000 scholarship fund. In honor of their generous gift, TTUHSC El Paso is establishing the Hendrika and Thomas Spier, D.D.S, Family Dental Surgical Wing in the Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic. Dr. Spier and his second wife, Hendrika, have been married 48 years.
The announcement and unveiling of the named surgical wing was held Monday, March 20, at the Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic. Moved by their loved ones’ generosity and the morning’s events, Dr. Spier and Hendrika contributed an additional $10,000 to the scholarship fund.
“The naming of the dental surgical wing pays homage to a remarkable couple,” added Peter Spier. “The scholarship fund recognizes my father’s achievements forged by his disciplined work ethic, professionalism, love of the practice and the art of dentistry, which improved health care for communities in Northern New Mexico throughout his 41-year career.”
Dr. Spier’s story is one that will inspire the spirit of service in Hunt School of Dental Medicine students. Many of the school’s inaugural class of 2025 are the first in their families to graduate from college and are nontraditional students with spouses, children, and unique life experiences, including military service.
As of 2019, there were 51.5 dentists per 100,000 residents in New Mexico, ranking the state 37th in dentists per capita for the U.S., according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. In addition, 32 of the 33 counties in New Mexico are federally designated Health Professional Shortage Areas in Dental Health. This includes the nearby counties of Doña Ana, Otero, Lincoln and Hidalgo.
Like West Texas, rural New Mexico lacks adequate dental care access. According to the New Mexico Department of Health, these communities struggle to recruit and retain dental providers. Three New Mexico counties do not have a practicing dentist.
Before the Hunt School of Dental Medicine opened in 2021, the nearest doctoral-level dental schools New Mexico students could attend were A.T. Still University in Mesa, Arizona or the University of Colorado in Aurora, Colorado.
In October 2021, the New Mexico Higher Education Department (NMHED) and Hunt School of Dental Medicine announced an agreement in which the agency will cover the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition for two New Mexico students who otherwise would be required to pay the higher out-of-state tuition to attend the Texas school. The funds, provided by the New Mexico Legislature, will cover up to $20,000 in tuition per student.
To support the mission of TTUHSC El Paso or for more information on how to make a contribution to the Spier Family Dental Scholarship Fund, contact Andrea Tawney, vice president of TTUHSC El Paso’s Office of Institutional Advancement, at email@example.com.