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Dr. Kris Tumilowicz: Ringmaster of His Own Life

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Musician, showman, philanthropist, sports fan, dentist. Dr. Kris Tumilowicz is many things, including passionate about life. Meet this inspiring, adventurous dentist and discover how he makes the most of every day.

Tumilowicz poses with his accordion in his office at Dental Dimensions, Rockford.

In the cozy lobby of Dental Dimensions, across from a tank of colorful fish and a sizable stack of magazines, sits a box-shaped accordion that belongs to the owner of the business, Kristoffer J. Tumilowicz, DMD, better known in these parts as “Dr. T.” It seems odd for a dentist to have this musical instrument in his office – unless you know Tumilowicz. Along with caring for patients and their dental needs, one of his greatest passions is entertaining others with song and dance. And he’s especially partial to karaoke.

“I enjoy doing fun party songs like “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” or “Taking Care of Business,” he says. “If I could pioneer karaoke dentistry, we’d really have something.” He’s not kidding. And he knows just about every song by heart.

Tumilowicz was a madrigal singer in high school and college, who once sang for former Gov. Dan Walker in Springfield. The music hasn’t stopped. He’s a cantor at his church, occasionally performs the “The Star-Spangled Banner” or “O Canada” before hockey games, and is known to participate in charity dance competitions. His favorite entertainers are Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Michael Bublé.

“His dream job is to be a rock star,” quips wife Patti. “He loves to perform for anyone. In fact, 80-year-old ladies think he’s a heartthrob.”

The son of a circus performer, Tumilowicz’s has a personal history that’s anything but predictable. Aside from learning dentistry, he’s worked on the assembly line at a TV factory; waited tables at the Playboy Club; earned Eagle Scout status; and owned a minor league hockey team.

“He has a tremendous capacity to work hard,” says Tom Brooks, Tumilowicz’s good friend. “He puts in long, hard days.”

Tumilowicz is a man who, according to his wife, is afraid to go to bed because it means the end of another day. “He lives every day to the fullest,” she says. “With Kris, the glass is always half full. If he decides to do something and has a passion for it, he spends the time to do it right. He’s very driven.”

In still another facet of his life, Tumilowicz generously donates both time and money to numerous community causes. “The answer is always yes,” he muses. “Now what’s the question?” He often takes to the radio and television airwaves, not only to promote his dental practice, but also pet causes, from Kiwanis Brat Days and IceHogs minor league hockey games to a local farmer’s market. “He’s a good steward,” says Patti. “He tries to help others around him and hopes others will do the same.”

The couple has three children: Nick, a solar panel engineer who lives in San Francisco; Mike, an architect who recently graduated from Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa; and daughter Danielle, a freshman journalism student at DePaul University in Chicago. Tumilowicz gushes about his children. Every year, he treats them to a vacation in an exotic destination such as Dubai, Warsaw or Rio de Janeiro.

On the Road

In the 1950s, Tumilowicz and his younger brother, Stan, were born in London to parents Miroslaw (Mike) and Danuta Tumilowicz, Polish refugees who met in England after being displaced from their homes during World War II.

His father was a trapeze artist who, along with partner Nick Moskal, made up a duo known as the Amazing Mazurs.

“He would hang from his teeth, heels or knees,” Tumilowicz says. “My dad had a fantastic physique. He even had a 28-inch waist.” In the late ’50s, the duo arrived in the eastern U.S. to perform with various circuses, including Ringling Brothers. Tumilowicz’s father took the family along for the ride. They traveled in a Buick Roadmaster, pulling an eight-wide trailer through cities like Atlanta, New Orleans and Tampa, Fla. Every week, they’d pull up stakes and move on. Young Tumilowicz counted a chimpanzee trainer, juggler and bicycle acrobat among his closest friends.

Tumilowicz and wife Patti celebrate the grand opening of the Tumilowicz Center for Boy Scouts & Girl Scouts in Rockford.

“It was an exciting life,” he says, “but then that’s all I knew at the time.” In his circus work, his father once performed during halftime of a nationally-televised Baltimore Colts game.

Eventually, the curtain closed on his father’s circus career, and in 1959, the family settled down in Chicago. Mike found a job as a service station mechanic and Danuta worked third shift in a factory. In 1967, they moved to Glendale Heights, where they bought a home for $19,999.

“We had a house with stairs, a basement, everything,” Tumilowicz says. “We thought we had arrived.” In school, Tumilowicz used English, but spoke Polish at home. He was a good student, finishing fourth out of 400 at Glenbard North High School. He also served as an altar boy in church and became involved in scouting.

Following high school, the family moved to Harvard, where Tumilowicz’s parents built a home on seven acres of land. Tumilowicz worked at the Admiral plant, where 550 televisions were made each day. It was arduous work and served as a wake-up call to the future dentist.

“That’s where I learned that I had better hit the books,” he says. “I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life.” At night, he waited tables at the Playboy Club in Lake Geneva, Wis. He worked alongside bunnies who served drinks, and rubbed elbows with high-profile guests such as Sonny and Cher, Ann Margaret, Della Reese and Jerry Van Dyke. Customers were generous: One high roller gave Tumilowicz a $50 bill for one cigar and told him to keep the change. “It was an amazing job for an 18-year old boy,” he recalls.

A Calling

During the seventh grade, Tumilowicz had two defining experiences that helped to shape his future. The first came when he was working on his father’s Oldsmobile; the jack slipped and he chipped his front teeth, causing considerable pain and a trip to the dentist. The other came courtesy of a toothache that resulted in a pulled tooth. For that procedure, he visited a Lithuanian dentist who displayed amazing kindness and compassion. Tumilowicz walked away from that experience knowing exactly want he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

His dental journey began at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill., where he earned a chemistry degree before moving on to a dentistry graduate program at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill., for three years. After graduation, finding a job took some time. He was prepared to join the U.S. Air Force when he met up with a DeKalb dentist in need of an associate.

It was in DeKalb that Tumilowicz met Patti, who would become his wife of 28 years. After spending three years in DeKalb, he moved to Rockford to continue his career. He worked for a clinic, and then opened a practice with other associates. He decided to go solo 13 years ago, moving Dental Dimensions to Edgebrook, where his practice includes implant and cosmetic work.

“It was a blessing that I knew early on what I wanted to do,” Tumilowicz says. “A dentist can change lives every day. We take patients from rags to riches, and from pain to happiness. It’s a challenge, but I embrace it. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Giving Back

Despite working long hours, Tumilowicz finds time to help those in need. He’s provides free dental care through The Foundation of Dentistry for the Handicapped and to clients of Carpenters Place, a nonprofit organization for homeless people. He’s a member of several service groups, including the Cosmopolitan Club. For the past 29 years, he’s had perfect attendance as a Loves Park Rotary member, even though it’s meant attending meetings in Dubai, London, Bahamas, Mexico, Rome or other faraway locales.

“He’s been blessed and feels it’s his duty to give back,” Patti says. “He wants to help in any way he can. He has a kind heart.”

“What you see is what you get with Kris,” Brooks adds. “He’s very smart and very bright. He gets along well with people. They like serving on committees with him. It’s never ‘his way or the highway.’ No one feels run over by him.”

One of his greatest passions is Scouting. Like their father, Tumilowicz’ two sons are Eagle Scouts. “Twelve men have walked on the moon, and 11 of them are Eagle Scouts,” Tumilowicz says proudly. “President Gerald Ford was an Eagle Scout. The thing I like about Scouting is that it gives you bite-size goals and objectives. You’re constantly achieving rank, status and skills.”

Last year, Tumilowicz and his dental practice pledged $500,000 to the Blackhawk Area Council of Boy Scouts for its capital campaign. He serves on the board for that council, which serves 18,000 youths in 12 counties in northwestern Illinois and southwest Wisconsin. The donation helped the council to purchase an administrative building, now called the Tumilowicz Center for Boy Scouts & Girl Scouts, which also houses a scouting workshop. It’s a first-of-its-kind type of building that houses both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts employees.

“His contribution not only gave us the building that we needed, but really lifted the spirits of everyone on the fundraising committee,” says Brooks, the council’s development director. “It was a big victory, after a long trek in a tough market. I can’t tell you what a relief it was to make this happen.”

Tumilowicz is also an avid supporter of local athletic teams. He was a season ticket holder for the Rockford Lighting basketball team, and once served as the team dentist for the Rockford RiverHawks baseball team and IceHogs. In 2002, with the blessing of his family, he took an incredible leap of faith when he and two business partners purchased the IceHogs with the goal of keeping it in Rockford, after several threats from the previous owner to relocate or disband the franchise.

The venture meant on-the-job training for Tumilowicz, who had never previously owned a sports franchise. He had no grand illusions about making a profit. In fact, his goal was to break even. “Our season ticket money was gone by December,” he says. “We’d go on road trips in January, and we had no money in the bank to pay for buses or hotels. My dental office was subsidizing the entire operation.”

But the hard work and financial strain eventually paid off. The IceHogs made the playoffs three years straight, capped off with a championship title on the last day of Tumilowicz’s ownership in 2007, when the IceHogs defeated the Kalamazoo Wings in a thrilling seven-game series.

Prior to the 2007-08 season, a new era began in Rockford, when the American Hockey League Board of Governors approved the sale and relocation of an inactive AHL franchise in Cincinnati to Rockford. The IceHogs became the top affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks. It was the first year of a 10-year affiliation agreement between the Blackhawks and IceHogs. The franchise is now owned by the BMO Harris Bank Authority.

It was difficult for Tumilowicz to let go of his baby. “It’s like a kid going off to college,” he says. “You’re proud, but you’re sad. It’s been a great move for everyone involved to be in the AHL. We were a bus-league before, and to be one heartbeat away from the National Hockey League is great. But it’s bittersweet for me. Conventional wisdom was to just give up. It was the right thing to do. I’ve got a good day job.”

While he’s no longer in charge, Tumilowicz remains actively involved in local hockey. Dental Dimensions remains a major sponsor of the IceHogs, and Tumilowicz chairs the IceHogs Charitable Foundation, which raises between $25,000 and $40,000 each year by auctioning the jerseys of popular players. To this day, fans heap praise on Tumilowicz for saving hockey in Rockford.

But Tumilowicz still has plenty to keep him busy. There are patients to treat and volunteer opportunities to consider. He enjoys being one of the youngest cast members in the annual Senior Follies. There are local sporting events to attend, piano bars to visit, and new hobbies to pursue. In the past several years, Tumilowicz has become a passionate golfer, avid snow skier, and even plays goalie in an adult soccer league. He recently took up poker. And he always makes time to play his accordion.

Of all his unique experiences, perhaps the most memorable took place a few years ago, right in his dentist office. It was after a procedure, as a patient stirred when the anesthesia began subsiding. The elderly woman looked up at Tumilowicz and said, “I had a dream that you were playing the accordion.”

It was no dream. It was a congenial dentist, forever a showman, playing to an audience of one. Says Brooks: “There’s no one who enjoys life more than Kris Tumilowicz.”

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