John Miner '29

 

A Century Young

The whirring of the drill, the yank of the forceps is how Dr. John Miner spent 45 years of his life.

There is no secret to long life for the retired Maine dentist who, at 100, says he neither dieted nor exercised.

“I haven’t done anything to warrant that I live to be a hundred,” he said. “Nowadays, the fashion is all this exercise, all this rigmarole of making you live longer if you take care of yourself. I never ever went on a diet in my life. I eat anything. I joke about it that it has to stand still long enough for me to take a bite, and as far as exercise, the only kind of exercise was when I had to attend gym classes at Colby College.”

John Miner '29
John Miner '29 at home in Calais, Maine, with his wife, June.

Born on May 6, 1907, Miner was the son of a physician in Calais, on the Canadian border at Maine’s eastern boundary. His mother came to Maine from San Francisco. Miner remembers his father with great affection. “My father did everything,” he said. “I saw him do nine operations in one morning.”

His father founded the first hospital in Calais, asking his fellow physicians to join him, but they declined. So he did it on his own, his son said. It had 53 beds and was called Calais Hospital. “He even bought an ambulance and gave it to them,” Miner said.

John Miner went to school in Calais and attended Colby. After Colby he earned his degree in dentistry from Harvard University in 1934 and returned to his hometown. It is the place of remarkable childhood memories and stories that Miner is glad to recount.

Growing up, he loved horses, he said. One day his father took him to the circus where there was a pony act. His father asked him which pony he liked best, but through the rest of the show never said another word about the matter.

That night, Miner was in bed, he recalled. It was 8 p.m. The front doorbell rang and he heard his mother say, “Oh, no.”

Then there was the clip clop of hooves on he stairs.

“He walked him up the stairs into my bedroom,” Miner said.

“He brought him over to my bed and he said, ‘Sit down,’ and the pony sat down and he said, ‘Shake hands,’ and [the pony] put his paw up and I shook his hand.”

Miner and Spangles, the pony, were inseparable companions for 12 years.

Calais was a humming place when he was growing up. Then there were 9,000 people in the city; today there are a little more than 3,000.

Miner remembers when dozens of ships were tied up at the city wharf on the St. Croix River, which separates Calais from neighboring St. Stephen, New Brunswick. The ships docked to pick up lumber and delivered it around the world.

“They used to be tied so close together that the young boys used to get on and jump from one boat to the other to St. Stephen, so they wouldn’t have to go through customs,” he said.

There were seven dentists in Calais when he started. They warned him he wouldn’t make any money. The city’s only dentist today, Dr. William Gould, said that when he set up his own practice in Calais, in 1970, he spoke with Miner about the fee structure he used for his practice. Miner told him he charged $4 for a filling.

Miner married the former Virginia Eaton and they had one daughter, Lynn. For years, the family lived in Robbinston on a 200-acre farm where they raised potatoes, cows, and sheep. Miner also bought palomino horses from a man who raised them in Pennsylvania. “He produced all the horses that Roy Rogers had,” he said.

Virginia Eaton Miner passed away, and in 1991, he married one of his patients, the former June MacDonald. “I probably didn’t hurt her too much,” he said with a chuckle.

— Diana Graettinger

A version of this profile first appeared in the Bangor Daily News. It is reprinted by permission.