'76 Graduate has Lust for Life
He’s a physician, a musician, a cattleman,
a handyman and just about anything else that interests Kent Burton.
Don’t tell Kent Burton he can’t do something. The word “can’t” isn’t
in his vocabulary.
It’s safe to say that Burton, an Arkansas City native and 1976 graduate of Cowley, has no trouble filling his days. He loves music and sings in his church choir. He raises cattle with his son. He and his wife have been on two missionary trips to foreign lands. He’s fixed up what once was a weekend getaway place, complete with the planting of more than 200 trees.
And by the way, he’s also a doctor. He sees patients in two hospitals 30 miles apart in southern Georgia. “It’s been very rewarding,” said Kent, a 1970 graduate of Arkansas City High School. “I think back and I find it odd to be doing this. It just kind of worked out that way.” From military to medicine Kent, the son of Betty Burton, who still resides in Arkansas City, and the late Keith Burton, didn’t know what he wanted to do after high school.
So, at age 17, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He spent four years as a machinist mate on a submarine, an old World War II-type, and later on a nuclear submarine. But when problems with his feet required surgery, he decided it was time to leave the military. He chose not to re-enlist. “Because of the surgery, I was not able to stay in the submarine service,” said Kent, who was born with foot problems and told by his parents that he would eventually need surgery. “So I decided to use the G.I. Bill and take care of myself. I had no intention of going into anything medical until that happened with my feet. I spent quite a little time in a wheelchair after that surgery. That got me interested in medicine.”
Cowley was right fit for hometown boy. In 1974, Kent enrolled at Cowley. “I wanted to come back home,” he said. “I knew it (Cowley) was a good school. And having been away from school four years, I figured I’d be better off going to a smaller two-year school. “There was just more personal instruction and access to instructors. And it was a close-knit atmosphere.” He remembers Mike Watters, chemistry instructor, for his toughness and thoroughness. “He allowed me to have a basic understanding of chemistry in the core courses,” Kent said. “He really taught you.” At the time, Kent had no idea how important it was to get good grades. Only when he applied to medical school did he realize his hard work had paid off.
Kent and his wife Pam, whom he had met at Cowley, both graduated from Wichita State University in 1978. The couple married during their junior year, but it’s a wonder they ended up together. “She went to Manhattan to school and I went to Wichita,” Kent said. “I got too many speeding tickets going up there. One more ticket and I’d have lost my license.” After graduating from WSU, they moved to Tifton, Ga., not far from Kent’s brother Bill in Augusta and sister Tracey in Dothan, Ala. Kent’s siblings have since moved away from the area—his brother to Winfield and sister to Texas.
Kent’s first job was director of the physical therapy department at Tifton General Hospital. After a short stay in Nashville, Tenn., the Burtons moved back to Georgia, where Kent became head of the physical therapy department at Dorminy Medical Center, a position he held until 1984. That’s when he got the itch to pursue family practice. “I worked around an awful lot of doctors and became friends with a lot of them,” he said. “I had several encourage me to go back to school and go to a higher level of education. I had practiced (physical) therapy for five years. I was getting a little older. I thought if I didn’t apply to medical school, I wouldn’t get in.” Kent not only got in, he finished six months early, graduating with the class of 1988 after completing his work in 1987 through the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta.
He entered family practice in Augusta for about a year-and-a-half, then went to Fitzgerald and joined an office with two other physicians before going out on his own for 3 1/2 years. That’s when Burton realized just how small a world we live in. “Dr. Bob Ludwick went to WSU the same two years I did,” Kent said. “He was a PA (physician’s assistant) and I was in PT (physical therapy). We had the same teachers, worked in the same cadaver lab, and ended up in Fitzgerald, Ga., working together for five years.” The two had never met until Ludwick, originally from Anthony, Kan., came to work as the emergency room physician at Dorminy. The two have since gone their separate ways professionally.
Kent went back to private practice last February, opening the Burton Medical Clinic in Fitzgerald. Pam is a medical social worker there (“she runs the place,” Kent said), and daughter Kerri, who got married Dec. 9, works there and recently began studying to become a registered nurse.
Kent’s interests are as varied as the Georgia landscape. He began taking piano lessons at age 4, and continued until he entered the service. While at Cowley, he also took lessons. He played the cello for nine years and was a member of the Wichita Youth Symphony Orchestra. He also played drums in high school and can play guitar. His latest challenge is a set of bagpipes Pam bought him a couple of years ago. Kent loves a good challenge. “I used to believe that if you love piano and can read music, that was good basic fundamentals,” Kent said. “But that doesn’t hold up for bagpipes. That’s a totally different instrument. I’m working on it. I’ve been grateful. Music has been a continued pleasure.” Kent is a member of the choir at Central United Methodist Church, and often sings solos.
In fact, it was music that brought Kent and Pam together, sort of. “I was playing with a band at a nightclub and she was there,” Kent said. “She was dating the guitar player. I later joined the band, and he left the band and I kept his girlfriend.” Kent also enjoys scuba diving, which he began while on the Navy submarines. “We like to go down to the Florida Keys and dive and catch lobster,” Kent said.
Kent and son Kevin also love the outdoors. “We bought a farm a few years ago with a lake on it in Irwin County,” Kent said. “I never hunted or fished much as a child. Not until my son was old enough. In Georgia, hunting and fishing is more prevalent than I ever realized in Kansas. We have deer hunting and wild boar hunting.” The Burton’s weekend retreat became their permanent residence, and Kent used the skills he acquired from his father and grandfather’s store in Arkansas City—Wright-Burton Hardware, which closed in 1991—to help fix up the place. “There are fox, bobcat, and beaver,” Kent said. And there’s another animal not found in the Kansas wild. “We’ve taken 24 alligators from the pond in back,” Kent said. “It’s a freshwater pond that has a stream in and out of it. They’ve come up from the river. My son captured one that was over six feet long. You can’t imagine the wildlife around here.” Kent and Kevin also raise cattle together.
Kent hasn’t been to Arkansas City since his father’s funeral. Keith and Betty had moved to Georgia to be closer to Kent, and in July 1992, Keith was killed in an accident. “My mother and dad had moved down here when I was in private practice,” Kent said. “He went to Atlanta to real estate school and was working for a real estate company when he was hit by a train and killed.” About six months later, Betty moved back to Arkansas City. Last August, she took a job as a sorority housemother at Kansas State University.
Kent, 48, said he wouldn’t have his life any other way. “I guess at this point I can’t imagine doing anything else for a living,” Kent said. “I’ve become so ingrained in this community and the area, I can’t imagine a change. Tifton is 30 miles from Fitzgerald, and I live halfway between the two. I’ve known the doctors and have friends in both communities. Tifton has become a regional medical center. They have a lot more specialists than we do in Fitzgerald. A lot of my patients have used specialists in Tifton, and I’ve recently admitted patients there.” In fact, Burton is the first doctor from Fitzgerald ever to admit patients to Tifton. “It’s a step to bridge that competition,” he said. Believe it or not, there is one thing Kent no longer does. “I don’t deliver babies anymore,” he said. “That’s almost a full-time job in itself.”