According to optometrist Dr. M.D. Weston, eye care is the biggest bargain in the world. He should know since he's spent the last 50 years serving Neosho and the surrounding area as an optometrist.. Weston celebrates that milestone with two events later this week, a ribbon cutting with the Neosho Area Chamber of Commerce on Thursday and a reception on Sunday.
Weston arrived in Neosho at the age of six months. He was born on an elk ranch near Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
"I grew up here," Weston said. "I've given my whole life to Neosho. I went to Field School first through sixth grade and then to Neosho High School, where the Greystone Apartments now are located. The building was the junior high and high school."
He graduated in 1953 and continued his education at Joplin Junior College, the forerunner of Missouri Southern State University. In high school, he first realized he wanted to work in the medical profession.
"My mother had cancer," he said. "I was impressed by that disease and she had radiation treatments. In those days, the radiation was really severe. Dr. Mc McCullough at our church, it was the First Baptist Church, gave me some medical books and I thought, well, this is what I'm supposed to do. I think everyone has something that they're supposed to do, that they fit."
At junior college in Joplin, Weston studied pre-med.
"Chemistry was my major," he said. He continued his education at the University of Missouri but then his plans changed.
"I ran out of some money at the University of Missouri," Weston recalled. "I went into the Army. I spent my time in the Army in the Army Security Agency, which is a spry group to intercept electronic and all kinds of messages for the government.
"It was an exciting time in my life," he said.
Weston married a German woman while stationed overseas which prompted an end to his Army service and brought him back to Neosho.
"The government wouldn't clear foreign nationals," he said. "I had to have top secret crypto clearance. I lost my clearance at the end. I knew that was going to happened."
Weston returned to Neosho with his wife and found a job at Rocketdyne.
"It was a great job for Neosho. They were doing great work," Weston said. "I was a chemist in the production development laboratory for seven years. I was really happy, it was the best job I had ever had in my life."
Despite that, Weston eventually realized it wasn't the career he was meant to have.
"At thirty, something hit me that I'd made this commitment but this is not what you're supposed to do so I quit the job. I applied at different places. One of those was pharmacy school and I was accepted there but I also applied in a different area. I applied at the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis. I came down to interview and then I was accepted at the school. That was 1965 so I left Neosho with two children and a wife."
Weston graduated as a Doctor of Optometry in 1969. Although invited to stay as a staff doctor, he had already made a commitment with Dr. Johns in Neosho.
"In 1969, I started with Dr. Johns in practice, in the Newton Hotel building. We owned the building and ran it as a hotel."
He remembers they also rented space in the back for a dentist practice.
Along the way, the laws changed on treating eye diseases so Weston returned to the classroom.
"I had to go back to school again for a couple of years for diagnostics and therapeutic drugs."
In 1982 he moved to his present location at 104 West Spring Street, just off the Neosho Square and had a solo practice. In 1999, he sold his practice to the Regional Eye Center but continued on staff.
"When I sold my practice, I had 10,000 patients," he said. "Many were from Neosho but also from all the surrounding smaller communities, Fairview, Granby, Seneca, Stark City, Anderson, all the outlying area."
Now in his mid-eighties, Dr. Weston still sees patients and works several days a week at the Regional Eye Center. And he has retained his passion for his profession,
"I'm as excited today about looking into somebody's eyes as I was when I started," he said.
He's a long time member of Rotary Club and he also is a firm believer in giving back to the community he calls home.
"You've got to give back to those people who can't afford it," he said. "People go through different times in life, times where they can't afford things. My family, as I grew up during the Depression, they couldn't afford things but later on, they could."
His love for his hometown is evident.
"I love Neosho and I've spent my whole life here," he said. "The best part of a vacation is getting back to Neosho, coming home."
This week, a special ribbon cutting and celebration with the Neosho Area Chamber of Commerce will take place at Weston's office at 10 a.m. on Thursday. On Sunday, a reception to mark 50 years of optometry in Neosho will be held at the Weston from 1-5 p.m. at the Weston Place, west side of the Neosho Square. Weston said he doesn't want gifts or cards -just handshakes.