Joe Cheray: A friend indeed of Tennessee Town becomes a friend in need of GraceMed

Just behind GraceMed’s Capitol Family Clinic in Topeka is a park dedicated to the memory of Aaron Douglas, regarded by many as the founding father of African American art. Douglas was born in Topeka, just a generation or so after the historic migration of freed slaves, largely from Tennessee, to the neighborhoods in north central Topeka that would come to be known as Tennessee Town.

Flash forward something like 140 years, and you’ll find the innovative spirit of Aaron Douglas living on at his namesake park among the artists at the annual fair that also bears his name. You’ll also find Joe Cheray, a volunteer organizer for the event. Although she does not live in Tennessee Town, she does spend a lot of time in GraceMed’s newest Topeka neighborhood, reaching out to the community to connect its residents with a cultural experience that has come to mean a lot to her.


Joe Cheray receives ongoing dental care at Capitol Family Clinic.

Joe is pictured here with Dental Hygienist Kaitlyn Modean.

“I got involved with the Fair after meeting Staci Ogle and catching some of her enthusiasm for the way art can bring a community together,” Joe said. (Staci is a local artist who has been active on the Northern Topeka or NOTO Arts Board.) “Tennessee Town and the Aaron Douglas Fair make a great venue for expanding our access to talented local artists.”

The fine art of overcoming

An artist in her own right (though she might be reluctant to say so), Joe has dabbled in the graphic arts and for several years authored a blog in support of fellow scrapbook artists. But her greatest work has been done on the canvas of her own life as anyone who gets to know her will quickly understand and appreciate.

As anyone knows who has grown up in a family with low income, it’s often not just a matter of what you have to live without. It’s also a matter of what you have to live with. For Joe, that unfortunately meant abuse – of every kind.

“It’s not something that’s easy to talk about, of course, but it’s also not something that gets better by ignoring it,” Joe admits. “Growing up in an abusive home like that, you can’t help feeling bad about yourself, even if you are able to recognize that it’s not your fault.”

One of the ways the abuse expressed itself was in the neglect of her medical and dental care. One memory in particular stands out as a case in point.

“When I was 10 years old, my grandparents took me to the dentist,” Joe recalled. “I needed to have a couple of baby teeth removed and had some permanent teeth that were wedged up. When my grandfather heard what it would cost to do the work, he decided to buy a satellite dish instead. That kind of thing can really work on your self esteem and make you think you’re just not worth it.”

Shifting gears to serving others

Time for another flash forward. If you can imagine it, picture the same Joe Cheray who grew up learning to believe in anything but herself now running for a seat on the Topeka City Council. How does that happen?


Joe holds a sign for her campaign for Topeka City Council.

“I know people think that you have to have a lot of confidence to run for office,” she says, “and I guess that’s true to some extent. But for me, it just wasn’t about me. It was a way to help other people and make a difference. The last thing I thought about when I ran for office was myself. If I did, I probably never would have run.”

Although she was not elected, Joe’s life had already taken a turn in the direction of committed public service. In addition to her role in Community Outreach for the Aaron Douglas Art Fair, she was elected Vice President of the Capital Area Democratic Women’s Club and served on the Kansas Democratic Committee for Disabilities Caucus.

The more she ventured out into the public square, however, the more the legacy of dental problems from her childhood began to bother her. Not to mention the pain her teeth were causing her. She had tried to get the care she needed, but couldn’t find a dentist who would accept her insurance. Something had to be done.

The unexpected solution

That’s when Joe’s commitment to Tennessee Town paid an unexpected dividend. Alice Weingartner, GraceMed’s Director of Community Development was presenting plans for the new Capitol Family Clinic to the Tennessee Town Neighborhood Improvement Association one evening when Joe was in attendance.


Joe at the Topeka Chamber of Commerce Expo event.

It was here that GraceMed’s Alice Weingartner told her about GraceMed’s dental care.

“I remember that I had mixed emotions at first about GraceMed coming to Tennessee Town,” Joe confided. “When Dillons left, it created a food desert in the neighborhood. But then I realized people also needed easier access to medical care, and GraceMed’s new building has also been a welcomed enhancement to the appearance of a forgotten street corner. So it’s been a great step in the right direction for this part of the city.”

The friendship Joe and Alice struck up was further advanced through their mutual interest in the Aaron Douglas Art Fair. “Joe just has a genuine enthusiasm for people that’s kind of contagious,” Alice said. “We found a common mission to serve the neighborhoods around GraceMed and contribute to a better quality of life here.”

When they reconnected at the 2018 Greater Topeka Partnership Business Expo, Joe shared with her new friend the struggles she has had with her oral health, unaware that GraceMed now could offer dental care from its new clinic.

“When I shared with her that we could help her and that we accepted Medicaid, she broke down into tears and hugged me for several minutes,” Alice recalled. “She was relieved to know she had a place to go for her care.”

Although GraceMed does provide both restorative and preventive dental services, when surgery is required, we refer patients to specialists who partner with us. In Joe’s case, surgery was in order.

“Our exam revealed that she needed her wisdom teeth removed,” said Lacey Randa, DDS. “That’s really where her pain was coming from, and it can be pretty intense. After providing a cleaning, we were able to send Joe to an oral surgeon who is available to see our patients.”

The courage to live beyond the pain

Within several weeks, Joe was living virtually pain free for the first time in many years. She’s happy to report she’s also lost some extra weight and feels much better about herself. She describes it as nothing less than “a new lease on life.”

“After having been a patient at GraceMed, I’ve had a chance to get a deeper appreciation for the new clinic in town,” Joe reflected. “A lot of patients who come to them may not have the best opinion of themselves, kind of like me. But they really treat you like you’re important to them. Not just your health, but who you are and how they can help you get the most out of your life. You just can’t over estimate the value and impact of someone really caring for someone else.”

As her friend Alice sees it, the story of Joe Cheray is every bit as inspirational as the care she received at GraceMed. “The lives so many of our patients live require an inner strength that is just immeasurable. They battle enormous odds every day. Joe has had to overcome circumstances that could have destroyed her happiness, let alone the amazing selflessness she has. She thrives on serving others. She’s a walking life lesson in who we can all be if we find the strength to try.”

Changing your life’s prospects is hard work. No question. But it’s also a fine art. That’s because the work doesn’t even begin without the inspiration to get there, the vision to imagine where you want to go and the courage to try.


The Aaron Douglas Mural on the campus of nearby Washburn University was the inspiration for the Art Fair of the same name hosted in the park behind Capitol Family.

The annual event has become a passion for GraceMed patient, Joe Cheray.

Maybe that’s why Joe Cheray feels so at home at Aaron Douglas’s Art Park. She has that same inspiration, vision and courage it must have taken for Tennessee Town’s favorite son to found a new movement in American art. At GraceMed, we’re grateful to be a stop on her brave journey and proud to be a part of a community that is founded on that same spirit of hope.

Kyle Bowen
Hotcakes heads to Rock Road
Hotcakes for Hopecare logo

Our third annual Hotcakes for Hopecare benefit breakfast was once again graciously hosted by Jimmie’s Family Diner this year. But this time, the venue for the event was their classic 50s diner that has become a distinctive landmark on North Rock Road.

“It’s just so gratifying to see familiar faces come out now for three years running and support GraceMed at Hotcakes,” said Nancy Duling, Director of Development. “And we can’t thank the Davidson family enough for this opportunity to come to their iconic location on Rock Road and add the fun of being in that environment to our event.”

Along with our sponsoring companies, more than 300 guests helped us raise in excess of $30,000 to provide care for those who can’t afford it.

Breakfast was served by celebrity servers that included City Council Members Jeff Blubaugh, Cindy Claycomb and Bryan Frye and County Commissioners David Dennis, Jim Howell, Peter Meitzner, and Michael O’Donnell along with Admiral Windwagon Smith, Ken Atnip.

Our deepest appreciation goes out to the following sponsors for their generosity and support:

  • USI

  • Aetna

  • Black Hills Energy

  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas

  • Cox Machine

  • Eddy’s

  • Fidelity Bank

  • Henry Schein Dental

  • Hays

  • ICI Insurance

  • Legacy Bank

  • Mid America Exteriors

  • Office Plus

  • RCB Bank

  • Serve ICT

We also want to thank Summit Media, KAKE Channel 10 and KWCH Channel 12 for their live coverage of our event.

Kyle Bowen
GraceMed adds vision care at our Capitol Family Clinic

When GraceMed completed our new Capitol Family Clinic last year, it was clear there was built-in room for growth. Some of those empty exam rooms were earmarked for eye care, and we’re pleased to announce that the first optometrist to see patients in them has now arrived in Topeka.

Dr. Mark Judd is returning to familiar territory in Topeka. Dr. Judd’s wife has family in the area, so they should feel right at home from the start. The Judds have two daughters and six grandchildren.

Dr. Mark Judd in an exam room at GraceMed Capitol Family Clinic

Dr. Mark Judd in an exam room at GraceMed Capitol Family Clinic

Originally from Phillipsburg in north central Kansas, Dr. Judd began his career as a computer programmer and analyst. After graduating from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma with a doctorate in optometry, he went to work running a Grene Vision Group clinic in Augusta, Kansas, just to the east of Wichita. His country roots then called him out west to take over a practice in Great Bend that he operated for the next 15 years.

I’ve really enjoyed getting to know my patients in a smaller community environment, but I’m looking forward to being a part of what GraceMed is getting started in Topeka. We’re going to be able to offer vision care to a lot of people who have been having to neglect that part of their health for a long time. I’m excited to see the impact we can make with new vision services for GraceMed’s patients in Topeka.
— Dr. Mark Judd

If you would like to make an appointment with Dr. Judd, please call GraceMed's Capitol Family Clinic at (785) 861-8800.

Kyle Bowen
Living on the edge: Declining vaccinations put a new generation at risk

Ancient maps depicted parts of the planet that were as yet unexplored with drawings of monsters.

The phrase “Here be dragons” is still used today to describe the limits of our knowledge and the fear that too often fills the gap.

Oddly enough, the dragons seem to be swirling once more around the public’s understanding of an issue most of us thought had passed into common knowledge.

That issue is the need for vaccinations.

Parents of school-age children today got their vaccinations so long ago, they have no memory of them. The shots they received made measles, mumps and rubella (or whooping cough) all but forgotten childhood illnesses. First licensed in 1973, the MMR vaccine has been incredibly successful as a public health program, particularly because it is widely required in the U.S. for children attending public schools.

It’s hard to remember it now, but medical necessity was definitely the mother of the vaccine’s invention.


Measles took the lives of 2.6 million people a year prior to the introduction of the measles vaccine.

About 186,000 cases of mumps were reported annually prior to vaccination. Although mumps rarely led to death, complications left many children permanently deaf.

Rubella, also known as German Measles, was not regarded as a serious illness for children. Its complications were more serious for adults. However, from 1964 to 1965, a major outbreak of rubella swept across the U.S. and the unborn babies of 20,000 mothers were affected by the much more dangerous version of the illness known as congenital rubella syndrome.

The impact was devastating.

More than 2,000 babies were stillborn, 11,000 were born deaf and another 3,500 were born blind.

The MMR vaccine has been amazingly effective in eliminating these infections. What we couldn’t foresee was that there would be a downside to that success. As mumps and measles disappeared from our experience, we tended to lose sight of the seriousness of the threat they once posed to our health. It got easier to deceive ourselves and believe that the risk isn’t real.
— Dr. Julie Elder, GraceMed’s Medical Director

In 1998, A group of British physicians released a report in that year which suggested what they considered to be a likely connection between autism and the MMR vaccine.

The report gave birth to the present-day anti-vaccine movement and spread fear among a generation of parents.

But after an army of researchers investigated the presumed connection, the science behind the report was completely disproved, and in 2010, the British Medical Council barred the doctor who linked vaccines with autism from practicing medicine.

The MMR vaccine has been established to be as safe as it is effective.

Measles was completely eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, just two years after the British report came out. But the damage it would do to public acceptance of the MMR vaccine would only expand in the years to come.

Spurred more by fear than medical research, the anti-vaccine movement has grown.

And predictably, so has the number of reported cases of these once defeated childhood diseases.

Just five years after hitting zero, the number of cases reported in 2014 had grown to 668. Nearly 1100 cases have already been reported at the halfway point of 2019.

Measles infections in the United States

Measles cases have grown by 1,173% in the past 3.5 years

“When it comes to immunization, there really is strength in numbers,” said GraceMed pediatrician Lauren Poull. “It’s what we refer to as ‘herd immunity’, and it’s essential to protect the most vulnerable members of our community – infants who are not yet old enough to receive vaccines. We keep them safe by ‘cocooning’ them within an immune population that doesn’t catch or pass on these infections. The sudden rise in measles cases is sounding an alarm to tell us we could lose that protection.”

Schools are a natural breeding ground for these diseases.

That’s why all 50 states have laws requiring that your child receive their appropriate vaccinations before they can attend unless there is a medical reason they can’t.

The shots are given on a schedule which you can learn more about on our website at If your child needs to be immunized, you’ll also find contact information there to make an appointment with the GraceMed clinic in your area. We can also provide physicals required for participation in school athletic activities.

The new school year is almost here. Let’s chart a course to make it a healthy one for all our students.

View the CDC’s recommended vaccination schedule for 2019 or download print-friendly versions of the charts for children ages 0–6 and 7–18.

Make an appointment to get your child’s vaccinations

If your children need to be immunized or if you need to get them physicals for school athletic activities, please call us to make an appointment at a clinic near you:

Wichita: (316) 866-2000
Topeka: (785) 861-8800
McPherson: (620) 504-6187
Clearwater: (620) 584-2055

You may also want to ask about applying for insurance under the Kancare or ACA Marketplace program. We have trained ACA Navigators who can help you select the best plan for your needs and get you signed up. You can contact our Navigators directly at (316) 977-9308. Topeka area residents can call (785) 478-5904.

The new school year is almost here. Let’s chart a course to make it a healthy one for all our students.

Kyle Bowen
Topekans turn out for “breakfast for dinner” as Hotcakes comes to the Capitol

Hotcakes for Hopecare, GraceMed’s benefit breakfast became a “Capitol” affair on March 5th as Countryside United Methodist Church hosted the event that featured an interesting twist. This time we served our guests breakfast for dinner.

“All the logistics seemed to work better to host an evening event here,” said Alice Weingartner, Director of Community Development. “We had a really good reception for the idea. It seemed to add to the fun to do something unexpected.”

Nearly 200 Topekans came out to help us raise funds. Celebrity servers included Randy Peterson, retiring CEO of Stormont Vail Health, Danielle Norwood, WIBW radio host, Shawnee County Commissioners Bill Riphahn, Bob Archer and Kevin Cook along with Mayor Michelle De La Isla and Matt Pivarnik from the Greater Topeka Partnership.

Kyle Bowen