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Family honors late Kokomo dentist with gift to Ivy Tech Kokomo transformation

Dr. Jo Ann Hearn Dental Assisting Suite will prepare future dental assistants

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Members of the Hearn family – father John (seated) and children Karen King and Todd, Steve, and Tom Hearn – had a chance to visit the Jo Ann Hearn Dental Assisting Suite.

KOKOMO, Ind. – When she was still Jo Ann Nichols of Indianapolis, daughter of Carl and Ella Nichols, she decided she wanted to be a dentist just like her dad. It was in the early 1950s; women just weren’t dentists. So she earned her degree in dental hygiene, a perfectly respectable woman’s job; she never put it to work. She wanted more, got herself admitted to the Indiana University Dental School, and was the school’s only female graduate in 1959.

Nineteen-fifty-nine was a very big year for Jo Ann. Not only did it mark the beginning of a 55-year career providing compassionate dental care; it was the year she married John Hearn, who was launching what would be an illustrious career as an engineer and inventor for Delco Electronics in Kokomo. The couple settled there and became an integral part of the community. In time, the family grew to include five children.

Jo Ann died January 18, 2021, 87 years old and survived by husband John, four of their children, nine grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. She left a legacy of caring for the dental needs of Kokomo patients as well as caring for her family. From her obituary: “Having all of her children and grandchildren present at a gathering would be ideal for her. ‘The more, the merrier’ was always her motto.” She is remembered as a kind and loving person who cared more about others than she did herself.

Thanks to that family, her legacy will long continue in the training of future dental assistants to serve the community she loved. Through a generous donation from the Hearn family, the Jo Ann Hearn, D.D.S., Dental Assisting Suite includes a classroom and labs designed to offer state-of-the-art hands-on training that will prepare students to move immediately into much-needed positions in area dental offices.

Jo Ann’s husband John, daughter Karen (Hearn) King, and sons Steve, Tom, and Todd Hearn reflected on her legacy during a recent visit to see the Dental Assisting Suite that occupies part of Ivy Tech Kokomo’s new Health Professions Center. While they agreed their modest wife and mother wouldn’t be particularly happy with the recognition, they all talked about how she gave back to the community – and, by example, led them to do the same.

“I think Mom would want us to ‘give back,’ to do this for her,” said son Steve. “This is a wonderful way to do it. Dentistry was her life, her passion. She would be pleased to be part of this very positive improvement for our community.”

dentist chair

The Hearn family has named chairs in the Dental Assisting Suite in memory of the late Dr. Jo Ann Hearn and daughter and sister Sharon.

Daughter Karen said their mother was a big supporter of the Ivy Tech program, as well as the Kokomo Area Career Center, and often offered clinical experience to help students complete their educations. The Hearn dental practice, now in the hands of third-generation dentist Tom Hearn who worked with Jo Ann for 22 years, regularly employs Ivy Tech dental assisting graduates. One, Lindsey Meister Skiles, began as an Ivy Tech student intern and went on to serve as Jo Ann’s assistant until her retirement. She and fellow Ivy Tech grad Keyerstyn Young still work in the Hearn practice.

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Jo Ann’s commitment to the Kokomo community included treating patients from Bona Vista as well as Medicaid patients who could not otherwise afford dental care. “She took on those who were less fortunate, and that was very important to her” Karen said. “When Mom finally retired, she told us we had to promise we’d always take care of them.”

Tom agreed. “Patients were really family to her,” he said. “We still have generations of families she served who come to our practice.”

In recognition of the Hearn family donation, one of the dental chairs in the suite has been named in memory of Jo Ann; a second has been named in memory of Steve’s twin, Sharon, who was killed in a tragic automobile accident in 1981. Sharon also is remembered in the naming of the youth room at First Presbyterian Church, where Jo Ann was a member for more than 50 years.

The Jo Ann Hearn Dental Assisting Suite is already making a difference for Ivy Tech Kokomo students.

Bernie Higgins, chair of the Dental Assisting program, says the suite, which includes a classroom, x-ray area, lab, and sterilization areas, offers perfect locations for instructors to demonstrate procedures and techniques. She says the six operatory chairs recreate a dental office exam room atmosphere that gives students a great space to practice their skills and prepare them for competency exams and a variety of procedures they will encounter in dental offices.

“Dental practices are always searching for strong, driven dental assistants,” Bernie said. “These facilities replicate today’s modern dental offices. Our students are prepared to immediately step in to fill the critical need for these skills.”

The Hearn donation is part of a capital campaign that has the goal of raising $3 million in community support to complete the $43 million transformation of the Ivy Tech Kokomo Campus. For more information about the project and ways to be part of this game-changing initiative, contact Kelly Karickhoff, executive director of resource development for the Ivy Tech Kokomo Service Area, at or 765-252-5501. For more information on Ivy Tech Kokomo’s Dental Assisting programs in Kokomo, contact Bernie Higgins at or 765-252-5572.

Ivy Tech Community College is Indiana’s largest public postsecondary institution and the nation’s largest singly accredited statewide community college system, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Ivy Tech has campuses throughout Indiana and also serves thousands of students annually online. It serves as the state’s engine of workforce development, offering associate degree and short-term certificate programs, and trainings that align to the needs of the community. The College also offers courses and associate degree programs that seamlessly transfer to other colleges and universities in Indiana, as well as out of state, for a more affordable route to a bachelor’s degree.