Peter Schmieding leaves practice in Big Sky, ushers in new talent
By Bella Butler Managing Editor
BIG SKY – Whether it’s in dentistry or running a nonprofit in Nepal, Dr. Peter Schmieding leads with his heart.
Lhakpa Sherpa, one of Schmieding’s six adopted children from Nepal, is studying in Nepal to be a dentist, just like her father. Schmieding, beaming with pride for his daughter, said the first piece of advice he offered her when she started school was to treat every patient the way you’d want to be treated.
“In a small town if you treat people well, if you go out of your way to help them, then word gets around and you end up with a reputation of a place that people want to go to,” Schmieding said during a January interview in his Big Sky practice.
Schmieding, 64, is now stepping back from the dental practice he’s run in Big Sky for 26 years is and passing the baton to Dr. Ryan Boswell and his wife and dental assistant, Jesse Littman. Schmieding will work solely in his only other practice in Ennis.
Schmieding first moved to Big Sky in the ‘90s. He’s one of the few remaining residents who remembers a quainter Big Sky; His twin sons attended Ophir School when he first moved to town, and in their combined seventh and eighth grade class, they made up one-third of the cohort.
Reputation is indeed a tenet that’s floated his business from repairing a crown on the porch of his home to an established practice with a robust, loyal clientele. In all his 40 years practicing dentistry, Schmieding said he’s never purchased an advertisement.
In reflecting on what the practice has been to him, Schmieding acknowledges that many small-town businesses are often more than what they seem. In his case, his office, located on the side of the U.S. Highway 191 just south of Big Sky, has doubled as the headquarters of an international nonprofit.
Schmieding started Tsering’s Fund in 2006 with his wife, Karen Fellerhoff Schmieding, and their Nepal-based friend, Tsering Dolkar Lama. The fund connects underprivileged children, young women and families in Nepal with private donations to support education, medical care and basic living assistance.
“[My dental practice] is probably one of the main reasons Tsering’s Fund has been as successful, because you have a captive audience,” Schmieding said, thinking back to the days when he was spreading word of his new project to patients while they waited for their mouth to get numb for dental operations. Now, Schmieding said, most people who walk through the door ask about Tsering’s Fund right away.
Service is at the core of Schmieding Dental Group and all that’s transpired from the community business, and it’s a value Boswell and Littman are tethered to in their own lives. Boswell, originally from a town in Iowa he says makes Big Sky look big, worked internationally and in public health with orphans, refugees and other underserved populations.
“Working with the underserved has always been a really big passion of mine,” he said.
The young couple met in Missoula, where Littman was in graduate school for social work. She now splits her time between The Sacred Portion Children’s Outreach in Bozeman, a child care ministry to orphaned and abandoned children, and the dental practice in Big Sky.
Boswell initially reached out to Schmieding at the end of last year and joined the practice in December. Over the next few months, Schmieding will phase out of the practice and Boswell will take over his patients. Boswell will also assist patients in Ennis starting one day a week. Schmieding Dental Group will remain open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in Big Sky and five days a week in Ennis. Boswell said he hopes to soon open the Big Sky office on Mondays as well to give patients more options.
The son of a veterinarian, Boswell said he always knew he would go into medicine. An artist and entrepreneur, dentistry allowed him to combine his passions into a profession.
Next to plastic surgery, he said, dentist work is possibly one of the only areas in medicine where art can be employed. “In my 10 years of practice,” he said, “I’ve also been able to do a lot of high end and aesthetic work as well.”
Another part of dentistry Boswell enjoys is working closely with people.
“If you got your physician, hospital or clinic, you might get to see them for two minutes tops,” he said. “Whereas in dentistry you can really connect with people and see them pretty frequently and get to know them and their family. It creates long-term relationships that I think other areas in medicine don’t offer.”
Between a few weeks at Schmieding’s office and skiing and taking trips to Big Sky, Boswell and Littman said they’ve dipped their toes in the Big Sky community but look forward to delving deeper.
While Boswell and Littman are laying down roots in Big Sky, Schmieding hopes to deepen his decades-old connections and work in Nepal. With more time freed up thanks to Boswell and Littman, he’ll advance his mission to open two dental clinics in the Helambu region in Nepal, where he says most residents have never had dental work or have to travel at least a day for the service.
He plans to rotate dentists into those clinics from the states to provide free dental work. Plus, he adds, they’ll have the option to take off on a trekking experience in the Himalayas after their rotation.
Schmieding hopes Boswell will be one of these dentists.