Lifelong dream yields beautiful smiles

Karen Klocko

“Chance changed my life,” says alumna Karen Klocko (DEN '85) who brought her talents to Cleveland following graduation from the University of Maryland in 1978. Armed with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry, Klocko joined the engineering team at Union Carbide in the quality control department.

She distinctly recalls the drive from Maryland through the Pennsylvania turnpike in a snowstorm unlike any she had ever experienced. Klocko has fond memories of the wonderful Cleveland Metroparks system and the beautiful spring and summer days in Cleveland. To this day, she describes clear blue skies in Maryland, as “a Cleveland Day”.

Klocko’s interest in teeth and beautiful smiles dates back to her youth. She specifically recalls ranking people by their teeth and smiles when she was 12-years-old. In fact, she knew then that her calling was to be a dentist and help others have healthy, beautiful smiles, thus empowering them to be their best.

During her tenure at Union Carbide, Klocko recalls sharing with colleagues her childhood dream of becoming a dentist. During lunchtime discussions, she often shared her dislike for engineering and her wish to become a dentist. And then one day, a colleague told her about Case Western Reserve University and its School of Dental Medicine. “She basically told me to stop talking about it, and to do something to make it happen,” shares Klocko.

“I made the call and spoke to then Admissions Director Philip Aftoora—who has since passed—an instrumental figure in encouraging me to apply. Once accepted into the program, I was one of 20 women in the Class of 1985. It was truly a life-changing moment for me,” she added.

Klocko credits the dental school with being a nurturing environment, dedicated to teaching students how to be the best dentists they could be. She felt the focus was not to “weed out” students, but to teach, foster and encourage students. Klocko reminisced about the free tutoring program run by professor-approved upperclassmen and women. She was thrilled to serve as a tutor during her years in the program.

While a student, she had her first daughter during her third year. Because Klocko had completed her requirements, she was able to graduate on time with the support of a fellow student’s wife who cared for her daughter, Caroline, while she was completing her coursework. Klocko is grateful for the friendship and support her classmates showed for one another. In fact, she has attended all of her class reunions and speaks highly of Dr. Theresa Roma Jasinevicius, who was a role model and dedicated professor to all. 

She beams with happiness as she shares stories of her 34-year practice—The Klocko Center for Cosmetic Restorative and Family Dentistry—and will be forever grateful to her Union Carbide colleague for encouraging her to chase her dream at the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine.

In retirement, Klocko enjoys gardening, traveling and golfing with her husband, Andrew. She also enjoys spending time with her three married daughters, Caroline, Mary Kate and Libby; and 5 grandchildren, with one more on the way. 

Life is definitely filled with smiles for the little girl who grew up to be a dentist—a profession that allowed her to bring joy to others.