Dentist’s family farm keeps him grounded
Dr. Stephan Holcomb has never bothered consulting a calendar when setting about achieving his goals.
He hopscotched over a couple of grades as a child, thanks to his off-the-charts aptitude and formidable work ethic. After graduating from high school in Germany at age 16, he married a year later during his freshman year at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. A year after that, he was a father. Next stop? Dental school.
He graduated from the DCG in 1974 at the ripe old age of 22, then immediately hung his shingle in Warner Robins, Georgia. Some 45 years later, he steals a quick moment to reflect on his accomplishments (but only because he’s asked), then begs off to get back to work.
Holcomb comes by his work ethic honestly. His grandfather purchased a farm in Fort Valley, Georgia, in 1918, where he and his wife raised 10 children, eight of whom completed college. “My grandparents were totally self-sufficient,” Holcomb says proudly.
One of their children was his father, who went on to join the U.S. Air Force. His military career transported the family around the globe. “I’ve lived in Germany, Norway—all over,” Holcomb says. “But every other tour took us back to middle Georgia, so we were never away from the family farm for long.”
While Holcomb was acing his classes as a child, his father made certain that time was spent on the farm learning to work the land and care for the animals. But he brushes off any suggestion that the routine was burdensome. “I had plenty of time for other endeavors,” he says with a laugh.
It was at age 12 that he decided to become a dentist. “I knew I wanted to go into some branch of medicine,” he says. “I thought maybe I’d pursue pediatrics or dentistry. Dentistry won out because I thought I’d have more family time than I would as a physician.”
When he enrolled in the DCG’s third class, the coursework had evolved into a full-year program that was completed in three years. Holcomb had completed his D.M.D. by the time most of his contemporaries were wrapping up their undergraduate degrees. With his wife and son, Stephan Jr., in tow, he went back to his roots to begin his career.
Holcomb opened a general-dentistry practice in Warner Robins, Georgia, and soon added one in nearby Byron, his mother’s birthplace. His daughter, Heather, was born in 1976.
He forged strong relationships with his patients, many of whom he’d known in childhood. Particularly gratifying, he said, was the opportunity to serve multiple generations of families. And he continued working on the 400 acres of the family farm he co-owned with his father.
He was in his early 30s when his carefully laid plan took a detour. “Life takes a turn sometimes, and my wife and I divorced after 16 years,” he says. “Suddenly, I was a single parent raising two children.”
But he scarcely missed a beat. He remarried, and he and wife Robin welcomed two new children into the fold, son Skyler and daughter Rey. Steve and Robin Holcomb have been married for 30 years.
He cheerfully kept all the balls in the air—four children, two dental offices, a family farm and assorted other tasks—until a health crisis struck in 2008. “I had a tumor on my spinal chord, which turned out to be benign, but the surgery and physical therapy took a toll,” he acknowledges. “I decided to sell my original multi-doctor practice (in Warner Robins), but I kept the one in Byron.”
Today, he not only keeps up his busy pace in dentistry and farming, but he has several additional interests as well. For instance, in addition to serving on the Georgia Board of Dentistry, Holcomb helps to develop and administer clinical licensing exams for new dentists for the Central Regional Dental Testing Service. “We serve state dental boards from all over the country,” he says. “When I was starting out, my license enabled me to practice only in Georgia, but now, students who pass the CRDTS exam can practice in any of 40 participating states. It’s a great advance in terms of portability and mobility.”
As for the family farm, well, he gets an increasing amount of help as his family multiplies. His children, their spouses and his grandchildren all assist, growing pecans, hay and livestock while maintaining the property. They’ve branched out as well. For instance, Triple H Family Farms now offers a venue—Magnolia Mule Barn—an events barn, chapel and other amenities—for weddings and other special occasions.
“This is our farm’s centennial year,” Holcomb says, noting that the family is awaiting Centennial Family Farm designation—a state of Georgia honor for farms owned and operated by the same family for 100 years.
“My dad was born on that farm,” he says. “I love the farm life—the open space, the roots, the sense of history. . . We have our family farmhouse and family cemetery on the land; my parents are buried there. Our goal is to make sure the farm remains self-sufficient and stays in the family for future generations.”
He also loves the lessons that farm life imparts to his grandchildren. “Pastures have to be cut, limbs have to be picked up in the orchards—there’s always maintenance on a farm, always. I’m glad my grandchildren are exposed to the same kind of work ethic I had as a child.”
Holcomb also enjoys reaping the benefits of his commitment to family life and having his wife, Robin, as his best friend. His oldest son has a law degree and practices real estate. Heather is a special-education teacher, and Rey, who earned a doctorate in physical therapy this spring, manages the farm’s event venue. Son Skyler followed in his father’s footsteps, earning his dental degree from the DCG in 2016. As soon as his diploma was in hand, he began working in his dad’s practice, Dental Associates of Middle Georgia.
As for generational differences to their approaches to dentistry, “we differ a bit on the technology side, but not so much on the technique side,” Holcomb says. “Skyler teaches me things and I teach him things. He’s learned his profession well.”
That, he says decisively, is something they both have in common. “Some of my best friends in life are the people I met in dental school or through dentistry,” Holcomb says. “I had great respect for my instructors; they truly cared about us and worked to help us become the best dentists we could be. It was always about putting the patient first. I thoroughly enjoyed my education.”
When he sold his Warner Robins practice, Holcomb assumed his pace would slow a bit. But that hasn’t exactly transpired. “When I had my health issues, I figured I was sort of semi-retiring,” he says. “But I’m just as busy now as I ever was. When people ask what I do, the only way I know how to respond is, ‘I’m a dentist.’ If I wasn’t doing that, part of me would be lacking. I love it and don’t want to stop.”
But he happily reports making time for fun, including snow-skiing, scuba-diving, hunting and fishing. “You get to be 66 years old and you have lingering effects from life,” he acknowledges with a laugh. “But I’m pretty active for an old guy.”