Eye care has quite a history in the Charles Huntress family, going back over a century. In the early 1900s, most optometric professionals had their start by working under a teacher with a degree. His father, Charles Huntress, Sr., studied under his own cousin, optometrist Dr. B.P. Holman. Mr. Huntress shared an office and an eye care practice with Dr. Holman. These were the beginnings of a family practice that is continuing through the generations even today.
Listening to "optometry talk" on many a fishing trip with his father and Dr. Holman, young "Billy" developed an interest in the profession. After serving his country in the Air Force during the early 1950s, Charles Huntress, Jr. chose to continue serving others in what he had become so fascinated in as a boy, a career in the field of optometry.
It is an interesting look through the window of time for Dr. Huntress, heading up a family practice in a small town setting for the past 50 years. The lifetime of interactions, challenges, growth, and opportunities to serve others has provided meaningful experiences for the local area optometrist.
"There are so many wonderful little things as I look back at the years of service to my patients. I am still as excited and interested in the profession as I was when graduating from optometry school in 1959," Dr. Huntress noted.
In 1955, while attending the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tennessee, Huntress married Annalee Hughes in Bolivar, Missouri. This loving partnership has lasted over 50 years as well, a testament to their support to each other. "With Annalee beside me, we have been able to build a life together that has withstood the test of time, both personally and professionally. I couldn't have done it without her."
Her teacher's salary kept the young couple afloat as he finished his education. Upon his graduation in 1959, the Huntresses decided Monett would be the place to establish community roots as a family and to start a new practice.
Early days in Monett
Dr. Huntress opened an office on the second floor of the First National Bank, which at that time was noted for having an elevator available. Several other Monett professionals were housed there, including Dr. Donnelly, the dentist Dr. Tom McClure, and the lawyer Almon Maus, as well as the MFA insurance company.
The next few years were spent developing an ever increasing business, which culminated with the purchase of an office building on Fourth Street. This location, one of the oldest buildings in Monett, had previously housed a furniture factory, the post office, a doctor's office, and even Monett's first hospital. Dr. and Mrs. Huntress completely renovated the building before moving the practice into the space. And their family growth kept pace right along with the office expansion, with the arrivals of three children during this time.
In the early 1960s, Monett was a railroad town. In the morning, town residents awakened to the resounding "crash" of train cars switching up for new destinations. At that time, many people still traveled from town to town by train or bus. There was a bus station downtown that stayed open all night, providing these passengers a meal and a place to wait for their travel connections.
Dr. Huntress would go downtown early in the morning to have coffee and acquaint himself with the people and the town. When trains stopped for a break, many of the crew would come in for breakfast.
One morning a trainman complained that he had broken his glasses, and was concerned how he would manage without them. The waitress suggested he talk to the young doctor sitting down the way. Taking him over to the office, Doc had the guy fixed up and ready to go back to work before his break was over.
Word spread that the optometrist in Monett was usually at the coffee shop early. Much of Dr. Huntress's practice during the first five years was from these railroad men who stopped in Monett and came in on that early morning break. Because families of rail workers could travel for free, many of these men started bringing their wives and children in to Monett so Dr. Huntress could take care of their visual care as well.
Soon, leaders from the small town of Greenfield encouraged Dr. Huntress to open a satellite practice, as they had no eye care available nearby. In establishing an office there, Dr. Huntress trekked to Greenfield to take care of patients one day a week, and sometimes two, over the next 46 years.
This involved quite a lengthy process of packing up equipment and frames in the Monett office at the end of a long workday, loading everything into the car, travelling to the second office early the next morning, unloading and setting up, then repeating all of this at the end of the day to be ready for patients in the Monett office again the next morning. Office Manager Verna Elwell was instrumental in efficiently organizing all of the steps, keeping these "wheels in motion" throughout the long days of travel and work. "With the faithful participation of Verna and her efforts, we were able to provide quality eye care in Greenfield," Dr. Huntress recalled.
Thinking back over his commitment to this extended practice, Dr. Huntress comments, "Working those many years in Greenfield was such a rewarding experience. I made many friends and will always treasure the service we were privileged to give to the people of the community."
With Dr. Huntress's family and main practice located in Monett, he has continually been a major contributor to the community, actively involved in so many ways. Throughout the years he participated in service organizations such as the Masonic Blue Lodge, in the Scottish Rite as a 32nd Degree Mason, and in the Abou Ben Adhem Temple of the Shrine organization.
As a member of the Barry County Shrine Club, he enjoyed being part of the infamous "trike brigade." They traveled all over the area to entertain thousands of parade watchers with their amusing synchronized routines on motorized trikes all along the parade routes. The Shriners raise money to provide free medical care for children.
Dr. Huntress has donated services to the Monett Lions Club Sight Program throughout the years, and has been a member of the Missouri Optometric Association, Southwest Optometric Association and American Optometric Association. He has served on the board of the nonprofit Sheltered Workshop for over thirty years, helping provide a successful work environment for those with disabilities. Dr. and Mrs. Huntress have been members of First Baptist Church of Monett since 1959, serving on various advisory boards and commissions, as well as teaching classes there.
During the late 1970s, a building that housed a dry cleaning establishment collapsed at the end of the block where the office was located. The building next to it began showing signs of collapse, which left the optometric office next in line. Dr. Huntress decided to purchase the empty lot and adjacent endangered building, eventually tearing it down. He designed and implemented the construction of a new two-story building on the site, which was completed in 1984 and still houses the optometric office today.
Fifty years in the practice of eye care offers many interesting and often amusing experiences. One of these happened in the early years when Mrs. Huntress stopped by and noticed a man sitting in the waiting room. She couldn't help but wonder why he was sitting there wearing a pair of fancily jeweled ladies' glasses.
Appalled by the thought that he had purchased the frame from their office, she searched out her husband to ask why he would let the patient select that frame. She was relieved to find out that the gentleman had borrowed his wife's glasses so he could see to drive to town to have his own frame repaired.
Another time, two young boys were in with their mother to have their eyes checked. The older one always answered for the other. After an eye exam, it was evident the little one was near-sighted. As Dr. Huntress placed him in corrective lenses, the boy peered about the room, eventually focusing on his overbearing older sibling. He made the statement, "Hey, I see your freckles!" The adults thought that was a funny thing to notice, but it seemed to make a big difference to the youngster. And it seemed to be a sore spot with his brother.
Looking back over his practice, Dr. Huntress said, "What a joy to observe someone being able to clearly see things for the first time when putting on their new glasses. I never remember a day thinking I don't want to go to work. It has always been a job that I looked forward to doing, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to meet and serve the people of this area."
Continuing the family tradition, Dr. Greg Huntress graduated from the University of Missouri in St. Louis and joined the practice in 1990. The father and son team have provided constant, consistent, leading edge eye care for almost two decades now. The elder Dr. Huntress noted how optometry has changed dramatically over the expanse of 50 years, with the introduction of various types of contact lenses, with the use of diagnostic drugs, progressive lenses, and other new interventions, medicines, and technologies.
Huntress Eye Care of Monett and Greenfield is now taking another step forward in providing outstanding eye care by welcoming Dr. Justin Hart into the practice. They have united with VisionHealth Eye Center of Republic to form Huntress VisionHealth Associates.
Doctors Charles and Greg Huntress are compiling a collection of early optometric equipment from the early 1900s for donation to the Monett Chamber of Commerce museum.
Dr. and Mrs. Charles Huntress's children, spouses, and their families, including Greg and Suzette Huntress, Charlie and Teresa Huntress, all of Monett, and Leanne and John Yarrow of Plano, Texas are hosting a reception on Sunday, March 15, from 2-4 p.m. at the Monett office, 215 Fourth Street, honoring the dedicated and esteemed career of Dr. Charles Huntress, and his devoted contributions to others. The public is cordially invited to attend.