The life and legacy of a beloved El Paso-area dentist was celebrated as the second class of the Hunt School of Dental Medicine was formally introduced on Monday.
Family and friends of Ross C. Fruithandler, D.D.S., who passed away at the age of 59 on March 31, 2021, were on hand to welcome the class of 2026 to Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso. Before welcoming the new class of dental students, the Fruithandler family was present for the unveiling of the Dr. Ross C. Fruithandler Dental Suite at the Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic.
Dr. Fruithandler’s wife, Linda, said it was a touching tribute to her late husband, who had a successful career while making time for the important things such as his community, friends and, above all, family.
“In between your birth date and death date, there is always a dash. Well, Ross made that dash count,” said Linda Fruithandler, who was accompanied by her son Corey. “It may not have been as long as we wanted it to be, but he made it count. I want to say to the dental students who are about to start their journey to do the same. You will be stressed at times and constantly challenged, but you got to make that dash count.”
Dr. Fruithandler served the El Paso community as an endodontist from 1989 to 2019. He held membership in the El Paso District Dental Society for 31 years. Dr. Fruithandler was a supporter of the new Hunt School of Dental Medicine and helped select the inaugural class by generously volunteering to serve on the Applications and Interview Committee in 2020.
The dental suite that bears Dr. Fruithandler’s name will include a plaque detailing his career and dedication to his patients, so every patient who visits the clinic will have the opportunity to learn more about his contributions to his beloved community. The 38,000-square-foot public dental clinic has 145-treatment chairs, where students train under the supervision of faculty providers to deliver high-quality oral health care to patients.
“Everything about this dental clinic is absolutely gorgeous. When we arrived here 33 years ago, I would have never imagined El Paso would have a world-class clinic, dental school or even the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso campus. It’s amazing to see it come together,” Linda Fruithandler said. “And it’s all thanks to local leaders and donors. Ross is the one who brought me here, but even though he is gone, I can’t imagine ever leaving El Paso because of how special this place is. The dental community here always had open arms. They welcomed us early on in Ross’s career and it’s always been home.”
Last year, TTUHSC El Paso community partners Robin and Tony Furman, who were close friends of Dr. Fruithandler, established the Furman Family-Dr. Ross Fruithandler Memorial Endowment. Through the generosity of community dentists, family and friends, the endowment has raised more than $66,000, which goes to scholarships for Hunt School of Dental Medicine students, many of whom are expected to serve the Borderplex after graduation.
Welcoming the new class
Linda Fruithandler said she hopes her husband’s legacy will inspire members of the Hunt School of Dental Medicine’s class of 2026. The second class in school history will begin their studies this summer and start hands-on training in the Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic this fall.
Several of the students had visited and toured the campus prior to Monday’s event, but now that the school year is officially underway, TTUHSC El Paso is starting to feel like a second home.
“It was emotional to hear Dr. Fruithandler’s story. Seeing that he was such an integral part of the El Paso community and that his legacy continues with the dental school is inspiring. I’ve got to make the ‘dash’ count,” said Skylar Gallegos, a graduate of Texas A&M University and Americas High School. “The El Paso community is important to me as it was to Dr. Fruithandler. We have a dental school and dental clinic that is serving the community, which was one of the biggest reasons why I chose the Hunt School of Dental Medicine.”
Hunt School of Dental Medicine faculty, community leaders and Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic staff were also on hand to welcome the new class. Hunt School of Dental Medicine Dean Richard Black, D.D.S., M.S., told students that the El Paso community – which has long faced a shortage of dentists – will embrace the new students.
“I’ve been anticipating this moment for a long time. The preparation and admission process has been worth it because this school is absolutely excellent, and everything, including the faculty and staff, is top-notch,” said Angelica Quinones, a University of Texas at El Paso and Parkland High School graduate. “Hearing everyone talk today highlighted the amount of care and generosity in the El Paso dental community. Everybody is supportive and willing to lend a hand, and I’m excited to one day be a dentist here.”
Class of 2026 by the numbers
Of the 62 new students, 34% are first-generation college students, and 61% speak more than one language. More than a third come from the West Texas and Texas border regions, including 11 from El Paso. The class of 2026 includes the school’s first three students from southern New Mexico. Thanks to a partnership between the Hunt School of Dental Medicine and the New Mexico Higher Education Department, all three students from the neighboring state will receive tuition assistance. As part of the partnership, the agency covers the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition for New Mexico students who otherwise would be required to pay the higher out-of-state tuition to attend the Texas school.
The class of 2026 joins the school’s first class of 40 students, who in one year experienced more than 2,490 first-time patient encounters in the Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic.
“Our inaugural class has spent the past year setting a high bar. However, the class of 2026 is up to the challenge and will help us further establish our school as the premier dental school in region,” Dr. Black said. “It was a joy to interview and admit the second class. They’re intelligent, hungry and excited to learn. I believe they’ll set the tone for generations to come.”
The class of 2026 brings an average GPA of 3.7 and an average Dental Admission Test score of 20 out of 30. According to the American Dental Association, the national average score for the DAT is 18.