Each year the MDA recognizes exceptional service to the public and the dental profession through its awards program. MDA awards are presented each year at the MDA Annual Session during the first session of the House of Delegates. View this year’s award recipients below.

John G. Nolen Meritorious Award

Dr. Connie Verhagen

Dr. Connie Verhagen

The John G. Nolen Meritorious Award, named after the MDA’s longtime (1969-90) executive director, is the MDA’s highest honor. And who better to receive this year’s award than Dr. Connie Verhagen, who has spent her entire professional life serving dentistry? At the MDA she has served as chair of the Committee on Dental Education, chair of the Special Committee on Health and Hazard Regulations, as co-author of the MDA’s HHR Handbook and MDA Regulatory Compliance Manual, as member of the MDA Board of Trustees, as MDA treasurer, and as MDA president. She was a guiding force behind the MDA Foundation Mission of Mercy, also serving as public health lead. At the ADA, she has served as a delegate to the ADA House of Delegates, a member of the Reference Committee on Dental Education, Science and Related Matters, a member of the ADA Council on Dental Education, and as a member of the Commission on Dental Accreditation. Retired from practicing clinical dentistry, she serves as executive director of the Muskegon District Dental Society. Today, she is redirecting her personal focus towards helping patients and people, especially those who are underserved, on a much broader scale in West Michigan. She works tirelessly as a leader, as a spokesperson, and in her various roles and activities, and continues to represent organized dentistry at its finest.

Dr. Emmett C. Bolden Dentist Citizen of the Year Award

Dr. John Monticello

Dr. John Monticello

Dr. Emmett Bolden, an African-American dentist in Grand Rapids, displayed great leadership in desegregating movie theaters in the 1920s. Dr. John Monticello is another West Michigan dentist with a long history of leadership and involvement. He has served with the West Michigan District Dental Society, with the Michigan Association of Orthodontists, the Great Lakes Association of Orthodontists, in many leadership roles within the American Association of Orthodontists, and with his church. Dr. Monticello proudly served in the Air Force and the U.S. Air Force Reserve. He is a well-deserved recipient of Emmett C. Bolden Dentist Citizen of the Year Award, due to his passion for his community, profession, and country.

Public Service Award

Cassie Caple

Cassie Caple

Cassie Caple, an active member of the Kent County Oral Health Coalition and its steering committee, the Area Agency on Aging of West Michigan, is the recipient of this year’s MDA Public Service Award. She has identified barriers to oral health, improved access to care, and has increased her community’s oral health literacy. The Kent County Oral Health Coalition’s annual Senior Dental Day offers free preventive dental care to uninsured seniors over the age of 60. When the pandemic resulted in cancellation of Senior Dental Day in 2020, she redirected the funding to provide oral hygiene supplies directly to seniors. She also advocated for the Kent County Senior Millage, which helps fund services to allow older adults to remain in their own homes as they age. She also participated in the Demand Medicare Dental Movement that promoted dental care provisions in Medicare and promoted the availability of low-cost dental access points available to seniors in Kent County. She is a pioneer for dental awareness in West Michigan and works consistently to improve the oral health landscape through community based-efforts.

Matt Uday New Dentist Leadership Award

Dr. Rachel Sinacola

Dr. Rachel Sinacola

Like the late Dr. Matt Uday, Dr. Rachel Sinacola is an outstanding new dentist, and the MDA is proud to award her with this year’s New Dentist Leadership Award. Dr. Sinacola is an MDA Leadership Exploration And Development (LEAD) graduate and currently serves on the MDA Committee on Membership. She is an adjunct clinical assistant professor of dentistry in periodontics and oral medicine at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. Dr. Sinacola also has been very active at the local level, serving as the editor of the Bulletin of the West Michigan Dental Society, as a member of the WMDDS delegation to the MDA House of Delegates, as a member of the WMDDS Board, and as vice president of the Kent County Dental Society.

As WMDDS editor, she has helped implement positive changes that led to the Bulletin receiving two awards in 2020, a Silver Scroll award for “Most Improved” publication, and an ICD award for Best Leadership Editorial. She has proven herself to be a reliable, passionate, and skilled professional in the areas of professional and personal leadership.

Dental Faculty Awards | University of Detroit Mercy

Dr. Rafael Pacheco

Dr. Rafael Pacheco

A full-time faculty member at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry since 2015, Dr. Rafael Pacheco is a dedicated clinician and educator for both dental and dental hygiene students. His clinical knowledge, years of private practice experience, and research in teaching students how to best care for their patients has made him an outstanding educator. He has served on the school’s Dental Admissions Committee, Research Committee, and Materials and Instrumentation Committee. He is a member of the International Association of Dental Research, the American Association of Dental Research, and is a member of the ADA, MDA, and Detroit District Dental Society. In addition, he has volunteered his graphic design skills to help student organizations in their fundraising efforts. He takes pride in serving both the School of Dentistry and the greater community, making him the perfect recipient of the Dental Faculty Award for the University of Detroit-Mercy.

Dental Faculty Awards | University of Michigan

Dr. Diane Hoelscher

Dr. Diane Hoelscher

The MDA is proud to honor Dr. Diane Hoelscher with this year’s MDA Dental Faculty Award. She has dedicated 26 years of her career to students, patients, and organized dentistry in southeast Michigan, teaching more than 45 courses between the University of Michigan and the University of Detroit Mercy. She spent 13 years at Detroit Mercy Dental as a department chair, and recently served as the interim associate dean for academic affairs at U-M. Additionally, she has served as the senior vice president for professional development at the American Dental Education Association, working to improve the teaching skills of dental educators in the United States and Canada. Her dedication and support of organized dentistry are demonstrated through numerous awards and participation in workgroups and councils.

After completing her M.S. in health care education, she focused on mentoring faculty to create and deliver innovative curricula that would in turn continuously improve the experience of students. During her time at Michigan, she has put in place a faculty development program that focused on new faculty education as they launch their dental education careers. She has also worked tirelessly at Detroit Mercy Dental, working with new faculty to implement standards for preclinical teaching, actualizing a predoctoral caries risk assessment and management process, and rolling out an interdisciplinary evidence-based dentistry curriculum. Her varied experience displays her dedication to the students, patients, colleagues, and organized dentistry in southeast Michigan.

Allied Dental Professional Award

Catherine Archer

Catherine Archer

Catherine Archer, a dental hygienist and assistant professor in the dental hygiene program at Ferris State University, exemplifies the mission of the MDA Allied Dental Professional Educator Award. She has been a full-time educator at Ferris State for 14 years, instructing second-year dental hygiene community dentistry courses and labs for both fall and spring semesters. She has been an adviser for the Student Chapter of the American Dental Hygiene Association since 2015.

An active volunteer, she accompanies dental hygiene students several times a year to volunteer in the dental clinic at Mel Trotter Ministries, serving the local homeless and needy population. She leads by example, attending the Michigan Dental Hygiene Educators Association annual meeting, while her students attend the Student Chapter of the American Dental Hygiene Association. She is an active member of the College of Health Professions Diversity and Inclusion Committee and the Interprofessional Education Committee. Lastly, she coordinates an annual Guyana Mission Trip to educate dental hygiene students on the difference between poverty and overabundance, and motivates them to recruit the next group of volunteers for the following year.

Donated Dental Services Volunteer Dentist

Dr. Howard Graef

Dr. Howard Graef

Dr. Howard Graef is a general dentist who has been a Donated Dental Services volunteer since 1996, helping 18 vulnerable individuals. In 2011 his daughter joined his practice and also became a volunteer. Dr. Graef and his team have consistently treated some of the most vulnerable DDS patients, consequently treatment often is prolonged due to medical issues and precautions. His spirit of commitment to vulnerable populations extends beyond DDS but is seen consistently in the DDS patients he treats with extraordinary care and kindness. A previous patient, an elderly frail senior describes how “welcoming, patient, and caring he was with her, and how his staff embraced her with kindness and respect. Now she can eat and smile!” Even a patient that his daughter treated through the program, included Dr. Graef. The patient detailed how impressed they were with the care, kindness and extreme consideration for patient well-being that was demonstrated by all. From his observations “it is clear that it is not that I am that special, but it is how they treat all their patients.” As offices manage the COVID-19 crisis, they were committed to treating “their two” DDS patients this year, even if it meant that Dr. Graef would treat them both.

Donated Dental Services Volunteer Dental Lab

Cornerstone Dental

Cornerstone Dental Studio

Cornerstone Dental Studio is a small crown and bridge lab (three- to six-person staff) that has volunteered through the Donated Dental Services program since 1997, assisting with over 45 cases. Their spirit of volunteerism is exceptional. Owners Sharon and Joe McCoy are always willing to help with cases regardless of whether the volunteer dentist typically does business with their lab. They help with cases across southeastern Michigan, regardless of whether a simple or complex case. Consistently they have said they will always donate for a case and to never be concerned about asking them for help. Sharon and Joe are huge supporters of the Michigan DDS program and share its’ commitment to assisting vulnerable populations.