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UIC Alumni Association honors Dr. Michael J. Barrows with its Humanitarian Award

For Love of Country and Those Who’ve Served

Dr. Michael Barrows

The UIC Alumni Association honors Dr. Michael J. Barrows with its Humanitarian Award, recognizing the former UIC College of Dentistry faculty member’s ongoing commitment to U.S. military Veterans.

For much of his adult life, Dr. Michael J. Barrows, DDS ’73, MS Endodontics ’77, MS Dental Histology ’81, shielded his military service. He felt embarrassed and uncomfortable, a byproduct of Vietnam-era objections to the war that prompted many Americans to treat military personnel of the time with disdain and contempt.

“That deeply affected me and made me ashamed of my service,” said Barrows, a former captain in the U.S. Army Dental Corps.

He rarely spoke of his time with the Army, which concluded with an Honorable Discharge in 1978. It lingered in the distant background, one small piece of a colorful life.

“Unless you somehow noticed my Honorable Discharge certificate hanging up amid my diplomas, you’d never know I served in the Army,” Barrows said.

In 2011, however, Barrows attended a Veterans Day ceremony at his grandson’s elementary school. When he and the other Veterans entered the gym for an assembly, they encountered loud applause and cheering with chants of “Thank you for your service.” It was a drastic and dramatic counter to the post-Vietnam reception many troops received, and Barrows struggled to digest the emotions of the moment.

“I got all choked up and could barely make it through the ceremony,” he said. “I had never before been thanked for my service.”

That Veterans Day experience proved to be a cathartic and transformative event for Barrows, sparking him to embrace his military service and, even more, to begin looking for ways to give back to his fellow Veterans.

“From that day forward, I was no longer ashamed. I was proud of my service and let everyone know,” Barrows said. “I made it my mission in retirement to help troops and Veterans.”

On April 18, the UIC Alumni Association honored Barrows with its Humanitarian Award, recognizing the Frankfort, Illinois, resident’s spirited commitment to Veterans as well as his distinguished career as a UIC College of Dentistry faculty member.

Dedicated to his profession

As a seventh grader growing up in Homewood, Illinois, Barrows read a book about dentistry and decided that’s what he wanted to do.

“I knew I enjoyed working with my hands and I also wanted to be in a healing profession, so dentistry seemed like it was made for me,” Barrows said.

While attending dental school at UIC, Barrows learned of the Health Professions Scholarship Program offered by the United States Army. The award covered tuition, instruments, and books and also provided a monthly stipend. In return, recipients agreed to a multi-year active-duty commitment.

“A U.S. Army officer came to the school and I took my oath in an office right there,” Barrows said. “I was a second lieutenant being offered a direct commission on the spot.”

After graduating from UIC in June 1973, Barrows began his two-year, active-duty stint. He completed officer’s basic training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where he learned “dentistry the Army way.” He then attended to the dental needs of troops as a member of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, first at Fort Riley in Kansas, and, later, in Germany as a member of an annual NATO-conducted deployment exercise called REFORGER. Barrows completed his active-duty responsibilities in 1975, transitioned to inactive duty, and received his Honorable Discharge from the Army three years later.

Thereafter, Barrows moved forward with his civilian dental career, parking his military service in a distant corner of his mind.

A distinguished career at UIC

After Barrows was awarded his endodontic certificate in 1977, Dr. Charles Maurice invited Barrows to joint the UIC faculty ranks as a clinical instructor, which later morphed into serving as director of the college’s endodontic clinic. Fully immersed in academia, Barrows embraced teaching and research, which included publishing on topics such as the effects of magnification on maxillary molars and microscopic observations of primary and secondary dentine. In all, Barrows provided 38 years of service to the college, relishing the opportunity to provide earnest mentorship to a generation of aspiring dentists.

“I enjoyed seeing the lightbulb turn on as students learned and contributing to the growth of our profession,” said Barrows, who also managed his own private practice in the southwest suburbs for 18 years. He ceased providing direct patient care in 1994 due to complications from multiple sclerosis.

Dr. Bradford Johnson, professor and head of the department of endodontics at UIC, called Barrows “a compassionate educator and clinician [who] always believed in giving back to his profession and his community.”

Last year, the Illinois State Dental Society recognized Barrows for achieving the 50-year membership mark.

Honoring a pledge

After a career of giving to patients, students, and colleagues, Barrows retired from UIC in 2013 and immediately made good on a personal pledge to serve his fellow Veterans.

Barrows became active at Thomas E. Hartung American Legion Post 1977 in New Lenox, where he is a lifetime member and past Service Officer. He created a footlocker at Post 1977 to collect donations for local Veterans and spearheaded fundraising efforts to support Veterans as well.

Barrows and his wife, Susan, also became active volunteers at the Illinois Veterans’ Home at Manteno. For more than a decade, the couple has volunteered in the 304-resident facility’s woodworking program, helping to provide an activity that keeps the Veterans engaged, their hands active and their minds sharp.

“There are guys in the Veterans’ Home who are lonely and bored, and I love that Susan and I can make the situation a little better for them and treat them with the respect, dignity, and humanity they deserve,” Barrows said.

Making a difference

William S. Bike, the former director of advancement and alumni affairs at the UIC College of Dentistry, witnessed Barrows’ spirited work at the Illinois Veterans’ Home firsthand. Bike’s father, William F. Bike, a decorated World War II Veteran, moved into the home in February 2018 and lived there until his passing in September 2019. The younger Bike said his father’s first few months in the home proved a difficult transition, though one eased by Barrows, who provided the elder Bike “with comfort and a calming influence” crucial to his well-being.

“I know personally that Dr. Barrows’ humanitarian efforts make a difference in the lives of these American heroes,” Bike said.

Each week, Barrows and Susan also volunteer at the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park in Wheaton. There, a multimedia exhibit called Soldier Stories details the experiences of 1st Division soldiers like Barrows, who relays his role and experiences in the First Medical Battalion, from learning leadership skills to extracting a tooth in the field. Barrows’ words, spoken on the interactive video with sincerity and pride, affirm Dr. Barrows’ commitment to his country and his fellow Veterans.

“Of all of my life’s accomplishments, I’m most proud of my service in the Army,” said Barrows, who also volunteers alongside Susan with Honor Flight Chicago at Midway Airport. “I love my country and am proud of what I do.”

UIC Alumni Awards Ceremony Heading link