Even after her retirement from a career that lasted more than 30 years, Dr. Kandy Sayrs made it a point to make appointments at the Carl Sandburg College Annex.
A couple of times each year, the longtime dentist would stop by the downtown Galesburg location to sit for teeth cleanings done by students in Sandburg’s dental hygiene program. Appointments often last several hours — and sometimes multiple visits — as the hygienists-in-training go through a lengthy checklist and have their work looked over by professionals. But for Sayrs — the first woman to work as a dentist in her hometown of Galesburg — the time spent in the chair was no bother at all. If anything, she viewed it as a moment of service.
“She understood how hard it is for our students to find patients,” said Stacy Kosier, coordinator and assistant professor of the program. “I think she felt that was just something she could give back to her profession.”
Sayrs, who died March 20 at age 61 after a brief illness, found another way to give back to the program, leaving a $100,000 gift to the Carl Sandburg College Foundation that will be used for scholarships to support Sandburg students working to become licensed dental hygienists.
"Dr. Kandy was a remarkably special person, and it was incredibly heartwarming to learn about the legacy gift she chose to leave through our Foundation,” chief advancement officer Eric Johnson said. “She was one of the biggest believers in Sandburg students and the dental hygiene program. Her gift has created an opportunity to lessen the cost barrier for current and future students who pursue a career in dental hygiene through an educational and immersive experience at Sandburg. We're grateful, but we miss Kandy very much."
Dan Bailey, Sayrs’ companion of 29 years, said her bequest fit right in line with the values of the woman he fell in love with, the daughter of a blue-collar railroad worker.
“She appreciated the fact that college is an expense that not everybody has money set aside for,” Bailey said. “Anything she could do to lessen the burden on some of those students, she saw value in that.”
A 1978 Galesburg High School graduate, Sayrs developed a strong bond to Sandburg despite not being an alumna. She got her bachelor’s from Knox College and went to dental school at the University of Illinois in Chicago, eventually opening her own practice in Galesburg in 1989.
Known for her bubbly personality, Sayrs built a reputation for her work with children. She took out space in the local newspaper to list the names of young patients in her No-Cavity Club. She regularly visited area schools to give demonstrations on the importance of dental care and dental health. She brought along with her a dog puppet named Fritz, even sewing real dentures into its mouth.
As Sayrs’ practice on North Henderson Street continued to flourish — it doubled in size from three chairs when it opened to six — Sandburg introduced its dental hygiene program in 2001. Sayrs immediately saw the value in it and became involved in its development. She then turned to the program as a pipeline of sorts for new employees.
“When Sandburg wanted to launch that program, she was definitely behind it, and it's really enriched the area as far as having quality hygienists to pick from for people,” Bailey said. “She said, ‘We went from not being able to recruit a hygienist to now I have the pick of the lot of them.’ There were a lot of locals that went through the program. Everybody wanted to work for Dr. Kandy. It was a good problem for her to finally have a pool to choose from when it came to hygienists.”
Sayrs served in a voluntary role on the program’s advisory board for several years, even continuing to do so after her retirement. Sayrs rarely missed an advisory board meeting, Kosier noted, always using them as an opportunity to share her opinions about how the program could best serve students and employers.
“She was always here, always supportive. She hired our hygienists. She'd always brighten up a room when she came in with those sweaters and that jewelry and that smile,” Kosier said. “She always made people feel comfortable. She was just so welcoming.”
Bailey, who would accompany Sayrs on visits to the Annex to also get his teeth cleaned, has continued that tradition as a way to support the program and to honor Sayrs’ memory and legacy. Her gift will as well, making a difference in the lives of students moving forward.
“We want to get that person that had her drive, that wanted to do their best. She was very vibrant. One could describe her as a force of nature,” Bailey said. “And I would hope that the people that are going to benefit from this have that same spark, that same fire in their eyes, that want to do their best and don't look at it as just a job that we go punch in and punch out and go home, that they want to actually help people and do their best at helping people.”