Kandy Sayrs is proud of her reputation as the main children's dentist in
Galesburg, and she thinks she knows the reason.
"They relate to females a little more," said Sayrs, who earned her dentistry
degree from the University of Illinois-Chicago in 1983. "I love kids. Growing up,
my mom was a daycare provider so I grew up with a houseful of kids around me and as a teen helped her out with them. My practice, while it is for all ages, has many children."
Her quarterly "No Cavity Club," which is specifically for children under 12 years old, provides an incentive for Galesburg's youth to brush regularly and challenges them to do so.
"My daughters enjoy the 'No Cavity Club' wall because neither of them has gotten a cavity so far, which means that they get to have their pictures on the wall," said Craig Choma, associate professor of theatre at Knox whose family has been patients of Sayrs for 12 years.
"My youngest daughter, Autumn, won a giant stuffed gorilla with two baby gorillas, because her name was drawn, a few months ago, from all of the children's names that had been put into the jar for having no cavities. We think this sort of incentive has gone a long way towards getting our daughters to want to brush on a regular basis."
Sayrs, who attended Silas Willard, Lincoln and Lombard schools, graduated from Galesburg High School in 1978 and Knox College in 1982. She attributes a good part of her spirit of dedication to Knox.
"Knox drives you to that perfection I think," Sayrs said. "I think it is important that you are challenged, and the courses that Knox offers challenge you and get you ready for those challenges you meet later on in life."
"Kandy has great rapport with the kids from what I hear. She certainly has done a good job as a dental educator with the kids," Dybas said. "She is a lovely person. She has a great personality. I know a lot of people here at Knox who are traumatized by dentists, but love her. She is a really considerate warm person."
Sayrs is a caregiver, which comes naturally.
"I'm that way in every part of my life not only work," she said. "I just try to nurture everybody that I can in my life. I'm always trying to look out for them and take them under my wing -- see what I can do to make things better."
Sayrs regards the children she sees as her own, because she has none herself.
"My decision was to go into dentistry with the option for flexible time for family, but my career path did take me away from that. ... I just found to give 110 percent in my career didn't allow me to give 110 percent to raising a family," she said. "I just didn't think it would be fair to a child to not have Mom present and active in their life. I chose to live vicariously through all my kids in my practice. I love watching their accomplishments and feel in some way I helped them as well with good dental health along the way, and perhaps a role model."
For the past 21 years, Sayrs has been Galesburg's only female dentist, which was challenging at first. Overall, the experience has been a positive one.
"It was a bit of a challenge, I would say, for the first five years, but after that people accepted me and realized that I wasn't going to go away," said Sayrs, who opened her practice in 1989, at the age of 28. "Personally, I like being the only lady around. I think it's great."
At a young age, Sayrs knew she wanted to improve the lives of others and was influenced to do so by watching a doctor on television.
"I knew I wanted to be in the medical profession since the time I was real little," she said. "I used to watch Dr. Ben Casey on T.V., my mother tells me when I was four or five years old."
Sayrs also became engrossed in Knox when she was little.
"I always liked Knox College. As a child, I'd go down to campus. Back then they didn't have the College for Kids and all that stuff, but I always loved the campus," she said. "I knew it was an excellent school for pre-med, pre-dent. When you graduated from there you knew you had a good chance of getting into med or dental school."
After she graduated from dental school, Sayrs was accepted into the pediatric dentistry program at UIC, but opted to hone her skills as an associate dentist in Edwardsville.
"I worked there for about two and a half years, kind of got the lay of the land," she said. "My skills sharpened up a little bit. I had the opportunity to buy the practice down there, but all my family and friends and everyone were back here in Galesburg."
Being home has worked well for Sayrs.
"Having your family here is always important," she said. "It's a good community. I enjoyed the community growing up. I enjoy the small-town atmosphere. I enjoy the way that Knox works with the community so there are things to do. You can still be involved with the college. I like attending the different performances they have."
Not only is she still involved with her alma mater, Sayrs is also actively involved in Galesburg.
"I see myself as an active leader in my community. I love Galesburg. Growing up here, I have watched it go through good and bad times," she said. "I am involved in numerous community activities and clubs and have been on the board and president of many over the years. I stay active and involved with community activities. I sponsor and support the schools, sports and music programs. I am very active with the local humane society."
No matter where she is, Sayrs will never forget Knox.
"It means a stepping stone to a career, which has formed my life. It brings back fond memories and good friendships," she said. "I remember when I graduated from Knox the feeling I got walking down that aisle, the teachers all lined up, and everyone of them knew you whether you took a course from them or not. ... I think that is one of the things I think about the most about Knox, that family, that close feeling. They care about you there. They care whether or not you graduate. They don't let you flounder."
Sayrs has had her struggles along the way, but she took what she learned at Knox and put it to good use. She's nurturing everyone that she meets one tooth at a time. Galesburg's youth are her own.
This profile appeared in "Galesburg Is Knox: Breaking the Bubble," a senior captstone project by Knox College student Matthew Wheaton '10 that explored connections between the city of Galesburg and Knox. View more of Wheaton's project.