Keith Vandervort

REGIONAL – Two dentists recently relocated to northeastern Minnesota to practice dentistry and help alleviate a dental care shortage. Both were recipients of the Martha Mordini Rukavina Loan Forgiveness Program, which was supported with a grant from the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation.
Gretchen Kreklow is practicing dentistry in Ely with Scott Anderson. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from The College of St. Scholastica in 2015 and graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry in 2020. Dr. Kreklow grew up in Brainerd and resides in Ely with her husband.
Chisholm native Dr. Jennifer Enich earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Minnesota Duluth in 2016 and graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry in 2020. She is practicing general dentistry at Chisholm Dental Service.  
“The average educational debt last year of a graduating dental student was $292,169,” said Dr. Michael Zakula of the Minnesota Dental Foundation (MDF) Board. “A sample loan payment over ten years on that debt would be about $3,910 per month as new dentists begin their professional career.”
The Rukavina program is administered by MDF and provides funds to help repay qualified dental education loans if the recipient dentist commits to practicing dentistry full-time in the Taconite Assistance Area for at least five years.
Recipients are compensated for outstanding educational debt up to $120,000 over a period of four years. Since the program was established in 2009, eight new dental graduates, including Ely’s own Crystal Chopp, have utilized it to establish their practices in the region.
Dental practices can generate annually up to $5 million in economic impact in a rural community. The recipients are also expected to participate in at least one MDF program that cares for underserved populations such as Give Kids a Smile, Mission of Mercy or Donated Dental Services.
“Our agency’s grant to support the dental loan forgiveness program is an effective economic development investment,” said Commissioner Mark Phillips, Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation. “It grows quality health care, supports small businesses and attracts young professionals to our region,”
According to The National Center for Rural Health Works, dental clinics have a tremendous economic impact in the community in which they are located. They employ people who impact local spending. The dental practice itself generates tax revenues and purchases from other local businesses.
The loan forgiveness program was initiated by the late Tom Rukavina, a former Minnesota state representative and St. Louis County commissioner. It is named in honor of Rukavina’s late mother and began in 2009 to attract new dentists to practice and provide quality dental care in northeastern Minnesota.