Alumni & Friends Spotlights
“No excuses, Indiana should be the most recognized and prestigious state for basketball, popcorn, and optometry – and that comes from a guy that lives right across the river from Kentucky.”
Dr. Michael Gettelfinger (O.D. ’78) grew up on a popcorn farm in Harrison county and attended a four-room school taught by nuns. Going from that to being an outstanding optometrist seems like quite the leap, and it was.
Dr. Gettelfinger’s father knew there was much more out there than popcorn, and wanted his son to experience it. So, following the arguably tiny schoolhouse, Dr. Gettelfinger attended a private school in Indianapolis which would prepare him for his journey to Indiana University. Only spending two years in undergraduate education, Dr. Gettelfinger was admitted to the IU School of Optometry earlier than average and started working toward his O.D., with some fun in between.
As he recalled most vividly, it was a cold, winter day and IU men’s basketball was finishing up a game against Iowa. Bobby Knight, the coach at the time, stressed defense and thus made for lower-scoring games. As a result, McDonald’s was having a deal that if IU held the opponent to less than 49 points, they’d give away free cheeseburgers. Well, this day in particular, IU fans went home full. “It was coming down to the end of the game, and IU was just a point or two away from getting over that free-food mark. In the last minute or so, we got those points in and the crowd just went nuts. Iowa fans looked so confused because we didn’t even win by that much – like 15 points. But, who cares? There was free food around the corner,” said Dr. Gettelfinger.
Free food and sports can’t be the only parts of college, though, right? Dr. Gettelfinger was also a member of the Marching 100 for one year of undergrad. This took up a lot of his time, and he still need to make time for studies as well. Dr. Gettelfinger said he made some great memories and ended up making his girlfriend, Jan, study with him as a result! “I told her, ‘You can come over, but bring your books!’” Any “free time” he had, Dr. Gettelfinger tried to spend it with Jan, who he would later marry.
Since Dr. Gettelfinger completed undergrad coursework in two years and was already at IU, he had more chances to apply to IUSO. He figured that if he didn’t get in on his first attempt, he’d have plenty of time to apply one or two more times to fulfill his goals. In addition, the selection committee would at least recognize a name like “Gettelfinger” the second or third time around. And, as it turns out, he didn’t need an uncommon name to flatter anyone.
Dr. Gettelfinger had, and has, high regards for those he met while at IUSO. “Whether we like it or not, we all kind of become family,” said Dr. Gettelfinger. He feels very humbled and appreciative to have been given the opportunity to graduate with and work alongside such a high quality of professionals.
Upon graduating, however, Dr. Gettelfinger immediately went into solo private practice in New Albany, IN. He thought about this idea for some time – questioning whether he was ready for it or not – but, with some encouragement from his brother, he took the risk and hasn’t looked back since. Dr. Gettelfinger has maintained his own practice for 38 years now.
When discussing with his brother the feasibility of starting his own practice back in 1978, Dr. Gettelfinger got some simple advice that he’d like to pass on: “I asked my brother back then, ‘Can I do this?’ He responded very confidently, ‘You can do it.’ To new graduates, you can do it too.”