Full life, gratitude signify Maschka’s 100 years
Creighton dental alumnus Philip Maschka, DDS’53, is the first to say that he has led a full life — for over a century.
Maschka, who graduated from Creighton in 1953, served as a faculty member for a time and practiced dentistry for 45 years, mostly in Omaha as an orthodontist, says he wishes he had a snappy answer to the question he gets regularly since his last birthday: “What does it feel like to be 100 years old?”
He does find it easy to share what is difficult, however. “I’ve lost so many close personal individuals in the last six years,” Maschka says. “That’s the hardest thing about being 100.”
Many friends and family members have passed away, including his dear wife, Ruthann O’Neill Maschka, BS’48, to whom he was married 70 years. She died just last summer at 96.
“Ruth was 100% positive,” he says. “She was a great comfort to me.”
Still, Maschka is a buoyant person, full of life and optimism. He has a son and daughter, five grandsons and many friends and colleagues, many of whom joined him to celebrate his 100th birthday. He gets together with other Creighton dental alumni in a group that first formed when he graduated.
“For the last 45 years, I’ve been the older guy in the group,” Maschka laughs. “I guess you could call me the senior officer.”
Maschka was a Navy aviator in WWII, a test pilot for fighter planes. He lost close friends in the war, but says, “Those of us who survived are grateful for the opportunity to serve.” He once had his own brush with calamity when flying his favorite plane, the Hellcat.
“The Hellcat was a great airplane, a wonderful airplane,” he says. “It brought me home many times. Once I had to make a crash landing and it was very close. I did a lot of praying.”
Actually, it was in the Navy that he became interested in dentistry. “The people I met in the Navy who were very congenial and pleasant were dentists,” he says. His parents had moved from tiny Ashton, Nebraska, to Omaha, so when he returned home from the war, he applied to the School of Dentistry.
That’s where he met Ruth, who was crowned “Queen of Creighton” in her senior year. Being an empty-pocketed dental student, he recalls how he fashioned a wedding ring for her in the dental lab. “I was trying to cut corners wherever possible. I got two silver dimes, melted them down and made what looked like a wedding ring. That 20-cent item didn’t go very far when she eventually found out,” he says. “It was not a high point in our relationship. Once I got the message, I upgraded.”
His home office is filled with photos, honors and other mementos representing significant events with family and friends, including photos of airplanes (especially fighter planes such as the Hellcat); golf trophies (he had two holes-in-one over the years and shot 83 when he was 83); and awards for being a master gardener.
Through it all, Creighton has held a special place in his heart. In 1997, the Maschkas showed their appreciation for his education by funding the Endowment for Ethics in Dentistry, which grants awards to senior dental students for “professionalism, concern for patients, honesty, integrity, morality, responsibility, and scholarship and clinical ability.”
In 2011 they established the Dr. Philip Maschka Chair for Ethics in Dentistry. The Maschka Chair, the first endowed faculty chair in dental ethics in the world, perpetually ensures that Creighton students are taught ethical behavior that puts the needs and rights of their patients at the forefront of practice.
In February, James Kelly, BSChm’00, DDS’04, MBA’10, associate professor and chair of prosthodontics, became the third holder of the Maschka Chair, a title Maschka says is fitting because Kelly received the senior ethics award when he was a student, as did his brother, Jess Kelly, BS’95, DDS’90, before him.