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Oral surgeon finds career choice at SFA

Joanna Armstrong '17

Dr. James S. Widner '80
Dr. Steve Widner '80 earned a Bachelor of Science for Select Students, a pre-health pathway, at SFA

Sitting in an unassuming yet stylish office in the heart of the Austin medical center, Dr. Steve Widner '80 flips through a photo album containing before and after pictures of the patients whose lives he's helped to change.

At Widner Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, he performs delicate dental surgeries, like extracting wisdom teeth, placing dental implants, repairing facial trauma, and performing complex reconstructive jaw and facial surgery. Listening to him talk about the positive impact the surgeries have made on his patients, it's hard to imagine he was meant to do anything else. But when Steve came to SFA in 1976, he wasn't sure what to study or how the rest of his life would unfold.

As part of a family of Lumberjack alumni, SFA was a natural choice. His grandmother graduated from SFA with both bachelor's and master's degrees. Later, his father graduated from SFA. A native of Orange, Steve's family moved to Lufkin when he was a child, where he later met his future wife, Kim '80, and together they decided to attend the university because of its proximity to home.

Kim enrolled as an elementary education major, but Steve was still undecided on what academic area to pursue. Suddenly, one day as he walked across campus near the end of his freshman year, his life's path hit him with a sudden clarity.

"I remember the day — it was bright sunshine, and you could see the pines and a blue sky," Steve said. "I decided I would go to medical school, to dental school — through the sciences route."

The next year, Steve became involved in Greek life, pledging Theta Chi, while Kim pledged Chi Omega, both making lifelong friendships. Though busy with the fraternity, Steve also was involved with the Student Union, working to bring different speakers and concerts to campus, and he served on a committee under then-SFA President William R. Johnson to develop new policies for the Student Union.

"The good thing about SFA is you get the opportunity to do all of those things," Steve said. "You don't have to isolate yourself. You can be well rounded and have a lot of different experiences and participate in many different things."

Split between his academic and social life, Steve still devoted himself to the rigorous courses required for a future career in the medical field.

"I still remember so many of the professors at SFA," Steve said. "I was getting a hands-on education, and I look back on it now and think I was very fortunate. I got a really good education with good experiences for a good value. I wouldn't trade it for anything."

However, it wasn't all long and late nights of studying. One morning around 2 while prepping for an organic chemistry exam, Steve and two friends discussed how they wished they had done something adventurous. Inspired by road trip movies of the time, they decided to make a change. Steve asked Kim to meet him that weekend so he could share some news.

"He had some documents rolled up in his hand, and as he unrolled them, he said, ‘Here are my withdrawal papers,'" Kim said.

"The good thing about SFA is you get the opportunity to do all of those things," Steve said. "You don't have to isolate yourself. You can be well rounded and have a lot of different experiences and participate in many different things." - Dr. Steve Widner '80

Officially withdrawn from classes, four days later Steve and his friends were on Waikiki Beach "with a duffle bag, about $30 among us and no way home," he said. "My parents were horrified, and so was everyone else."

The group spent a semester in Hawaii, working odd jobs to get by and relaxing on the beach.

"It was totally irresponsible and wrong academically, but it was such an adventure," Steve said.

A few months later, they had earned enough money working as pedicab drivers to make their way back home, and Steve once again ended up on Kim's doorstep, his blond hair now long and his skin significantly tanned. Though he'd never do something like that again, the experience made a profound impact.

"It's been a hallmark that's followed me, certainly with all my friends and the fraternity brothers," he said. "They still talk about it to this day."

Dr. James S. Widner '80 with his wife, Kim '80
Dr. Steve Widner '80 with his wife, Kim '80

After Steve and Kim received their SFA degrees, they married. Kim later received a master's degree from SFA. While Steve attended dental school in the Dallas area and then residency in New Orleans, Kim supported their growing family by teaching math, seeing him every few days when he came home from his residency.

When his residency was finished, they knew it was time to come home to Texas and apply for jobs. Steve interviewed for positions all across the state, but nothing felt like a fit until he received a call back from a practice in Austin.

"I would tell people, ‘I got this interview in Austin, and it's kind of appealing,' and they would say, ‘Oh Austin, that's where you want to be,'" Steve said.

Steve recalls Austin was just starting its technological heyday, so he accepted the position and hasn't looked back. Working at an office that was both a research facility and a private practice, Steve got plenty of experience participating in both until the owner retired, and Steve took over and expanded it. It's the same office he's in today.

After retiring from teaching to raise three children, Kim went to work at Widner OMS serving in a multitude of roles, though she's primarily in charge of keeping the books.

"It's a perfect fit for her because she's extremely detail oriented, so everything has to add up and be right," Steve said. "Every accountant we've ever had just absolutely loves her because everything is perfect."

Between consultations and surgeries, Steve and Kim make time to promote the university that put them on the path they're on today. A 2-foot-tall statue of Stephen F. Austin sits on a table in the lobby welcoming visitors, and if you're a college-age patient sitting in Steve's exam chair, he's likely to ask you where you plan to attend college.

"To this day, I'm a big believer in SFA, and I love to be able to talk to them about it," Steve said. "I tell them a couple of the things I learned at SFA. I tell them that this is the adventure of your life, so go enjoy and be a part of it."