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ALUMNI ROLL CALL: DR. KNOWLTON’S LOVE OF SCHOOL, DENTIST VISITS, PAID OFF

Dr.  Tony KnowltonAs a young boy growing up on Berkley Avenue, Anthony Knowlton boasted two characteristics that set him apart from his young peers.

He loved school and enjoyed visits to the dentist.

Of course, he reveled in the normal childhood pursuits like bicycle riding, athletics and neighborhood get-togethers. But his dedication to learning, and the curiosity that marked his time in the dentist’s chair, have served the Central High School Class of 1996 graduate very well.

Today, Dr. Anthony Knowlton boasts the distinction of being the first dentist to practice on Union Avenue in the modern era. As a sign of his commitment to his hometown, Dr. Knowlton purchased a long-vacant building at 317 South Union Avenue and spent two years renovating and upgrading the structure to serve as a state-of-the-art dental facility.

“I’m a Pueblo kid who grew up probably a mile away from here,” Dr. Knowlton said from that office. “And I wanted to establish myself in a location that I like.”

Dr. Knowlton is in good, historic company. 

Although he didn’t practice in Pueblo, John Henry “Doc” Holliday -- the most famous of all Western era dentists -- was no stranger to Union Avenue. That fact, and the building’s colorful history – once upon a time, poker, billiards and cold beverages were the trademarks – are not unknown to Dr. Knowlton.

“This building has been here since the 1880s,” he explained. “And when I was looking to buy a building, I wanted to put my stamp on Pueblo by buying one in this district.”

In a sense, it’s a world away from the Columbian Elementary classrooms where Dr. Knowlton began the educational journey that culminated with the coveted title of “Doctor of Dental Surgery.”

As a Kindergartener, Dr. Knowlton found inspiration in the “The 5th Grade Building,” a separate structure from the main school building reserved for the elder ThunderBolts.

“Unfortunately, they tore down the building and incorporated Fifth Grade until the main building before I could make it,” Dr. Knowlton said with a laugh. “So I was very sad about that.”

From the outset, Dr. Knowlton discovered he loved learning and broadening his educational horizons. This endearment to instruction continued through his years at Corwin Middle School and then Central.

“I truly did enjoy going to school as a kid,” Dr. Knowlton said. “And I think that has been an important factor in my success later in life. Some people don’t like going to school but for some reason, I liked going and learning.

“And my parents encouraged me to do well in school because if I didn’t, there were going to be consequences.”

Dr. Knowlton cites Mrs. Ursick, who taught 3rd Grade at Columbian, and Corwin biology teacher Dakota Hoyt, as two of the educators who contributed to his strong academic foundation. 

And in the sciences, Dr. Knowlton found a spark that eventually would illuminate his future.

“By the age of 12, maybe even younger, I knew I wanted to be a dentist,” said Dr. Knowlton, who found visits to the dentist’s office to be enlightening, rather than foreboding, experiences.

 “I had relatively good teeth, thank goodness,” he said. “But when I did go to the dentist, I always noticed the interesting tools, like the spit tub, which they had at the time. There was a lot of interesting stuff going on.”

After sharing with his father a desire to pursue dentistry, Dr. Knowlton learned of another perk of the career.

“He told me dentists make pretty good money,” Dr. Knowlton recalled with a bright smile. “And I replied, ‘What? He only checks me for 5 minutes, so what’s up with that?’ So I figured at that point it was a pretty good job to have.”

But before the challenges of dental school could be conquered, Dr. Knowlton first had to immerse himself in the Deep Blue Culture that emanates from Orman Avenue.

“Central was awesome,” he said. “I had a really good experience there. It’s more like a family environment, if you will.  Everybody was taking care of everybody and I got along with almost everybody.

“And the teachers were awesome.”

As a Wildcat, Dr. Knowlton played football and was active in National Honor Society and a number of school-based clubs. 

“At the time, Central didn’t have the STEM program so it was more of a general education,” he said. “I took my science, my math, my English: I took everything.”

Although he was “80 percent sure” that dentistry was to be his career, Dr. Knowlton pursued courses in Computer Science and education after enrolling at Colorado State University Pueblo.

“But they just didn’t appeal to me so I stuck to the sciences,” he said. “Eventually, I graduated with a major in Biology and a minor in Chemistry.”

Throughout his senior year of college, Dr. Knowlton submitted applications to dental schools. 

“I applied to about 4 or 5 and was hoping I could get into the University of Colorado School of Dentistry, because it was more local and I wouldn’t have to go out of state,” he said.

In 2002, Dr. Knowlton began the next chapter in his educational odyssey at the Denver-based CU dentistry school.

“It’s a pretty rigorous educational process,” Dr. Knowlton said of the 4-year dental school curriculum. “In an undergrad program, you take maybe 20 credit hours a semester. Now, I was taking 27 to 30 a semester, with no summers off, for 4 years.

“You get hit with a lot of book learning the first couple of years, with more clinical experience for the last two years.”

During his senior year, Dr. Knowlton pocketed some real-world experience through a program that required CU dental students to donate their time and skills to the underprivileged of the state.

“So for like a year, we went to these different sites and did dental work as senior students,” he said. “I went to sites in Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Alamosa. We had to be supervised but at that point, we kind of knew what we were doing.”

Before earning the right to add “DDS” to his name, Dr. Knowlton had to navigate through a two-stage board certification process. 

“You take a written board either your first or second year of school and then a clinical and a written board your senior year,” Dr. Knowlton explained. “You have to pass all the classes, then the board exams, and then you apply for a dental license.”

Once that coveted credential was secured, there was little doubt as to where Dr. Knowlton would hang his proverbial “shingle.”

“I never thought of practicing anywhere else but Pueblo,” he said. “I always considered Pueblo home and knew that my community could use a good dentist. And I didn’t want to waste my talents in some place like Denver or Boulder, or somewhere like that, for more money.

“I wanted to come back home and be with my family and friends and serve the community of Pueblo.”

In the summer of 2006, Dr. Knowlton began practicing dentistry, with his first stops the Pueblo Community Health Center and the office of Dr. Ronald Ragulsky.

“My initial goal was to become a partner and possibly an owner of Dr. Ragulsky’s office,” he said. “However, when his son Greg also became a dentist, it seemed like it was too crowded in his office. So when that didn’t work out, I was approached by some fellow CU grads who offered me a space on Pepper Lane.”

After a working for a time in that locale, Dr. Knowlton embraced his love of Pueblo and its rich history by seeking out a permanent location for his ever-growing practice.

“And that’s how I ended up on Union Avenue in September 2020,” he said. 

The location and the ambiance of the renovated historic building have been embraced by doctor and patients alike.

“They love the result of what we did in here,” Dr. Knowlton said. “It’s been all positive.”

True to the familial nature that defines Central and District 60, Dr. Knowlton’s wife served as a Wildcat volleyball coach for nearly a decade and also worked for the District as a physical therapy assistant.

I’ve always seen Pueblo as a positive place to raise kids. And based my own experience in schools in Pueblo, I send my kids to public schools, because I see no need to send them to private ones.”

With a skilled touch and an amiable chairside manner, Dr. Knowlton continues to serve patients both long-time and new. His success as a dentist, he believes, can be traced to his days as a Thunderbolt, Cyclone and Wildcat.

“I could probably name a dozen teachers who helped me along the way and made me into a successful individual,” Dr. Knowlton said. “They kept me in line and gave me encouragement, and the curriculums they presented me with were sufficient to get me to a doctorate level.

“Without that strong base, there is no way I would have made it through dental school.”

Admitting that he had a number of opportunities to stray from the straight and narrow while growing up, Dr. Knowlton said that achieving a goal in life only comes by continuing to traverse the “Yellow Brick Road.”

“I had chances to get involved the wrong crowd and all kinds of different problems,” he said. “My advice to the younger kids is just to ‘stay straight and not steer from the path,’ because you can get yourself into trouble. And once that happens, it’s going to be hard to get back on the straight and narrow path.”

To little surprise, Dr. Knowlton remains a fervent Central follower.

“Me and my buddies attend every Bell Game we can, actually,” he said. “I’ve attended volleyball events, boys and girls basketball, soccer. We’re big supporters of all local sports.”