Dr. Jim Congleton selected as a Community Fabric Award winner

Dr. Jim Congleton, a Pitt County native who wanted to be a dentist since the sixth grade, has had a successful practice in New Bern for the past 37 years.

He has become well-known and well-liked for his work with children as well as his selfless contributions to the arts and charitable organizations in the city. He has embraced his patients, their families and the city.

A lifelong bachelor, he has never had children of his own, with no regrets.

“I have treated thousands of children over the years and they are all part of my dental family,” he said.

His contributions have included a towering spider lily sculpture he had commissioned and brought from California as a gift to the city in its 300th celebration in 2010.

Another contribution is a common area at Craven Community College that became anything but common after Congleton donated 19 pieces of outdoor sculpture.

He is a man who always seems to have a smile and who has fun with his life, such as when he was asked to pose for a portrait for this story. He enlisted several children he was treating, dressed them in dental smocks and masks, climbed into the dental chair and played the stereotypical role of the frightened patient.

He takes his donations of artworks at face value, simply gifts he wants to share.

“You do it because you love the community,” he said. “I never look for any recognition. These are just things I wanted to do.”

So, it is not surprising that Congleton said he was caught off guard when he was announced as the 2017 Community Fabric Award winner for Individual Leadership.

“I really was totally shocked,” he said. “I didn’t know whether to cry or shout.”

He’s also pretty good at handing out surprises, such as with the sculpture gifts to the college.

He recalled that former college president Catherine Chew asked him to lunch to discuss a project for the school.

“She asked if I would consider donating one or two pieces of sculpture,” he said. “I told her I would, but with a condition — they had to take all 19 pieces.”

The collection he’s talking about were the 19 sculptures that he had collected over a quarter century to adorn several acres at his former “river house” on the Neuse River.

“She started crying,” he recalled.

The timing was perfect for the college and for the doctor, who was in the planning stages of moving into a downtown condo.

“It was a great way to promote the arts and an opportunity for young people to get to enjoy them,” he said.

While there is no room for large sculptures in a condo, he still has an exhibit, six pieces at his office. Again, it is not just for personal gratification.

“I am amazed every day when the children walk up and look at them and feel them,” he said. “Yes, they can feel them. This is not a museum. It means a lot to me.”

Congleton, in turn, has meant a lot to the local community.

According to the Craven Community College Foundation, which will present the annual awards on April 18 at New Bern Riverfront Convention Center, Congleton “has contributed to the health, beauty and culture of the community through his dental practice, philanthropy and service for almost 40 years.

“In his dental practice, as well as at the Merci Clinic, Congleton provides pediatric dental services to families in eastern North Carolina, including traveling to unserved areas where he provided care at no cost.

“As an arts collector and supporter, he added beauty to the landscape of the city and the college by commissioning and donating sculptures.

“He has been a supporter of organizations such as the Craven Arts Council, Craven Community College Foundation, New Bern Civic Theatre, Public Radio East and Tryon Palace.”

His explanation for all his charitable work is as always — humble.

“This is my community and this is my family,” he said.

A native of the rural Stokes community near Greenville, he came from a family where his grandfather and father owned the local farm supply store.

“But, that was not for me,” he said, recalling that in elementary school he wrote a paper about what he wanted to be — a dentist.

He packed off for UNC-Chapel Hill and a dream of dental school, although at times he doubted he would make it because of his less-than-stellar grades.

He eventually got there and did fine, and has since established an endowment. Congleton might never have made it to New Bern had it not been for a failed attempt to become a pediatric dentist in the Navy.

Congleton had joined ROTC and planned on serving several years of active-duty service. However, when the time came, the Navy could not find a place for his specialty anywhere.

“The Navy sent me all over the world, without ever leaving North Carolina,” he recalled of the domestic and overseas duty stations that were explored.

“They (Navy) told me to go get a job,” he said. He did so, landing a job with a two-year contract at a practice in Goldsboro.

Six weeks later, the Navy called with a duty station.

“I explained I had signed a two-year contract and I would break it if they would pay it off,” he said.

The Navy declined and released him from his commitment.

During his time in Goldsboro, he made plans for building his own dental office, with the only question being where.

He laid out a map of Eastern North Carolina and drew circles around towns that had a pediatric dentist — such as Wilson, Greenville, Rocky Mount and Kinston. The areas missing such a specialist were New Bern and Morehead City.

He chose New Bern, and as he reflected earlier this week, “I never looked back.”

Charlie Hall can be reached at 252-635-5667 or 252-259-7585, or charlie.hall@newbernsj.com. Follow him on Twitter @CharlieHallNBSJ

 

2017 Community Fabric Awards

■ Craven Community College Foundation

■ Awards: April 18, New Bern Riverfront Convention Center

Recipients:

■ Jim Congleton, DDS, MS, Excellence in Individual Leadership Award

■ Zaytoun-Raines, owned by Michael Raines, Excellence in Business Leadership Award.

■ David Wang, assistant head of The Epiphany School of Global Studies, Excellence in Education Award.

Community Fabric Award Sponsors:

■ Presenting sponsor: Ward and Smith, P.A.

■ Diamond sponsors: Beasley Media Solutions, CarolinaEast Health System, Moen, News Channel 12 and the Sun Journal.

■ Platinum sponsors: B/S/H/, Minges Bottling Group, Inc., International Paper (formerly Weyerhaeuser) and Raymond James Financial Services – Jon Tait & Ashley Martin.

■ Gold sponsors: David and Anna Hurst, Jerry & Jettie Pelletier, Nicholas Sparks, Helmut and Carmen Weisser, Bengel Hospitality, Monte Printing, Public Radio East, Robinson and Stith Insurance, Segal Family Charities and The UPS Store.

■ Silver sponsors: Retired Maj. Gen. Tom and Susan Braaten, Bob and Carol Mattocks, Beverly Perdue and Robert Eaves, Reed and Alice Underhill, Alphagraphics, BB&T, First Choice Benefits, The Harold H. Bate Foundation, Havelock Tourist and Event Center, The Jessup Group, The Law Offices of Oliver & Cheek, PLLC, Mitchell Hardware, The Rotary Club of Havelock-Cherry Point, Trent Cadillac Buick-GMC, Williams-Scarborough-Smith-Gray, LLP, Certified Public Accountants and The X-Team.

■ On the web: cravencc.edu/cfa.