family is a mainstay
in Madison optometry
generations keep business going
Michella M. Marino
(July 2007) Anything that has lasted a full
century certainly has rich traditions behind it. This is definitely
the case with the local Bear family, which has provided eye doctor services
to the Madison community for the past continuous 100 years through Oscar
Bear, Bill Bear and, for a brief stint this summer, Julie Ferguson.
by Michella Marino
Bill Bear (left) of Madison, poses
with Madison optometrist Robert
Kirkpatrick, a partner and protege.
The late Oscar C. Bear was born in 1885 on a farm in Brooksburg,
Ind., seven miles east of Madison. Bear was raised in Jefferson County,
and at age 19 he left to go to school in Milwaukee to become a telegrapher.
Bear attended school for one year but decided it was a boring profession
that would lead him down a dead end, so he returned home.
He was a good mechanic and in 1907 decided to take an apprenticeship
from a local jeweler and optician named Mr. Toule. These were the days
when dealing with jewelry and eye glasses often went hand in hand due
to the similar tools that were used for each profession.
Five years later, Bear bought out Mr. Toule and went into business on
his own. In 1918, he set up his jewelry store and optometry center on
Main Street. Bears son, Bill, said, My father was a jewelry
store optometrist. He fits specs out of trial cases. He didnt
have any modern equipment.
From 1926-1928, the elder Bear made his own eye glasses until optical
labs became popular, and then Bear could send eye glass prescriptions
to Indianapolis. While Bear honed his skills as a jeweler and optician,
he was also concerned with his customers and patients.
He liked people, Bear said of his father. He was a
people person, and he treated people well.
Oscar Bear continued actively in business until 1974, when he developed
some problems with arthritis and vision loss. By this time, the younger
Bear had already become an optometrist and was also practicing in Madison.
We were both optometrists for a while but were not competitive,
Bill said. He had cut down a lot, so he sent customers over to
Bill Bear, born in 1930, decided as a sophomore in college at Indiana
University that he wanted to follow in his fathers footsteps.
Unfortunately, IU did not have an optometry school at this time. So
in spring 1952, after receiving his bachelors degree in chemistry
from IU, Bill headed out to Pacific University in Oregon to complete
a three-year degree to become an eye doctor.
After successfully completing his goal, Bill returned to Madison to
establish an optometry practice. His first office was located on Mulberry
Street. After practicing for many years, Bear took on a partnership
with Dr. Mike Thomas in 1973. That partnership lasted for six years.
In 1983, he took another partner, Dr. Robert Kirkpatrick, with whom
he still works part time. Kirkpatrick purchased Bears half of
their business in 1995, and Bear still works on Mondays and Fridays
at Kirkpatrick Eye Care, 2580 Michigan Rd., Ste. 2. He plans to continue
working there for another year.
As a youngster, Kirkpatrick knew both of the Bear optometrists and said
he was particularly influenced by Bill. Hes one reason I
became an eye doctor. He was a mentor to me.
Now as a fellow doctor, Kirkpatrick understands the importance of Bills
people skills. His patients are not patients. Theyre friends.
He provides emotional support and is always there to talk, Kirkpatrick
While Bill was a mentor to Kirkpatrick, Oscar Bear was a mentor to Bill.
He learned many lessons from his father, which he then put into his
own practice as an eye doctor.
My father taught me to always be honest and to tell people what
you find. You also have to walk the second mile with them. Always satisfy
the patient or customer.
These words of wisdom have stood the test of time, although the optometry
field has changed immensely in the 50-plus years Bill has been practicing.
When he began, Bill was basically fitting glasses and contacts and working
with refraction. After 1965, optometrists, himself included, became
better qualified to do medical diagnosis and primary treatment.
The field has expanded to include intelligent referrals concerning cataracts
and evaluating diabetics. It is certainly more of a medical practice
involving diagnosis and treatment as opposed to fitting a pair of spectacles.
Now as Bear is winding down with his career, one of his granddaughters
is picking up where he is leaving off. Julie Ferguson worked in high
school and college in her grandfathers optometry practice. She
committed in her second year of undergraduate school at IU to continue
on to the IU School of Optometry.
Ferguson just recently finished her residency in ocular disease at a
veterans hospital in St. Louis but will be working for Kirkpatricks
office for a while in July and August prior to getting married in the
fall and moving to Missouri.
Kirkpatrick said he is looking forward to having her expertise around,
even if its just for a short time. Bear is also excited about
Fergusons completion of optometry school and her residency.
As any devoted grandfather might say, Im real proud of Julie
to carry on the tradition.
Back to July 2007 Articles.