By Cheryl Van Tuyl Jividen :: Photography by West Vita
Doc and Ginger Merritt
It all began exactly sixty years ago this month when Jerry (Doc) Merritt’s friend convinced him to play the part of the shepherd boy in a Christmas Cantata at his church. “I met and fell in love with the church soloist,” says Doc of his wife Ginger.
The two became a pair. Doc went on to dental school in Houston and the Corpus Christi natives were married shortly after Ginger graduated from high school. Doc credits Ginger for supporting him through six years of dental school and orthodontic residency. The young couple both worked hard, with her employed as a secretary and him juggling a job as a Methodist Hospital orderly while going to school. While in the residency program they had two sons, Jeff and Randy, and during the first year of beginning his private practice in San Antonio, their third child, daughter Melissa was born. They raised their family in the Churchill area of San Antonio where they lived for 35 years, and proudly supported their children in their academic and athletic endeavors in their formative years and then through their college years at Baylor University and The University of Texas.
Ginger, after attending Incarnate Word College, enjoyed a rewarding career in real estate working for the Guy Chipman Agency. Doc spent 51 years in the orthodontic profession where he completed treatment on an astonishing 8,000 patients. “It’s one of my greatest pleasures, frequently running into folks in restaurants or wherever and receiving their gracious compliments,” he says. Straight teeth were just part of his professional path; he also served in many organizational and leadership aspects, and in addition to serving as president of the Southwestern Society of Orthodontics, local community involvement found him serving as president of San Antonio Youth for Christ and San Antonio Tennis Foundation.
As rewarding as his profession has been, it was amplified when his son Jeff followed into the family business. “I can’t think of anything that is much more rewarding than to have a son share in one’s passion. I’m blessed to have had a son pursue the orthodontic profession and join me in my practice in 1985. Some of my happiest years of my practice were those when we worked side by side.” Jeff now occasionally calls on his semi-retired father to help with heavily scheduled patient days or when he is off to enjoy some vacation time.
It isn’t only professional collaboration that has brought him immense happiness. When Jeff and his brother Randy were teenagers, Doc, his attorney friend Edgar Duncan and his two sons made an unforgettable bicycle trek across the United States. To accommodate their work schedules, the 3,600-mile journey required five two-week summer legs over five years utilizing air service out of San Antonio. Starting at the edge of the Pacific Ocean in Oregon, it was completed near the Atlantic Ocean seaport in Virginia Beach, Virginia. That averaged out to about 65 miles of daily cycling down mostly country roads with loaded bicycles carrying tents, bedding and other sustainable goods. “The trip was a real learning experience for the four big city teenagers, not to mention ourselves, providing the opportunities to experience small town America. For us dads, it was a chance to communicate with our sons because when you are peddling side by side an average of seven hours each day, there’s not a lot else to do but talk.”
Not the only athletic endeavor, Doc has in his self-proclaimed “middle-age crazy years” from ages 42 to 57, completed triathlons and seven marathons including the Boston Marathon and the New York Marathon twice along with other endurance events. Some of the most memorable include a 900-mile bike trek across Alaska and another 900 miles cycling through Glacier National Park continuing into Canada along the Icefields Parkway to Jasper, Alberta. However, the event that demanded the most effort and produced the most pride was Doc’s involvement with his partner Mr. Duncan in team triathlon events that included canoeing along with cycling and running. A good showing in Border to Border, a 475 mile trek across Minnesota, qualified the duo for nationals in Bowling Green, Kentucky where they competed and finished second. And while she didn’t participate in the athletics, Ginger was often on the sidelines cheering Doc on.
Once the “hobbies of endurance” were out of his system 20 years ago, he and Ginger got back to fishing. For Doc that included a passion for fly fishing. “I found the sport to be very addictive.” Over the years he’s done a lot of stream fishing, mostly in Colorado and Montana, and salt water fly fishing in the Caribbean and in Labrador where he enjoyed catching Atlantic salmon on a fly. He and Ginger had a fishing cabin in Port Aransas for twelve years where she usually caught as many fish casting off their pier as he did laboriously wading the flats, casting to redfish. He’s not often traveling these days to fish, but does enjoy tying his own flies and fishing in the beautiful Guadalupe River.
The river was a favorite place for the Merritts when they relocated from San Antonio to be some of the original residents of Cordillera Ranch in 1999. “We sold our Port Aransas property when we discovered that as much as we enjoyed coastal life, Cordillera life with its many activities and an abundance of like-minded neighbors filled our days. Prior to building the golf course, we enjoyed many hours on the water, paddling the Guadalupe River,” says Doc.
In addition to enjoying fishing together, Ginger and Doc were avid tennis players and their children were all state-ranked junior players. Doc still enjoys playing golf with his Cordillera golf buddies and has even tinkered with an invention that has improved his game. His handcrafted prototype “head stabilizer” is constructed with Home Depot® supplies. “Golf buddies tell me they can see how much improvement I’ve made by using it. I’m still tweaking it before ‘going public.’” The golf training aid has helped him correct a habit of moving his head during the swing, but Doc says, “I need to post a few better scores, as the proof of the pudding is in the tasting!”
When Doc realized he’d put on some pounds after adopting the more sedentary sports of fishing and golfing compared to the triathlons, cycling and marathons he had done, he enlisted Cordillera Ranch trainer Ann-Kristin Allen to develop a fitness program for him. In addition to the personal training, he participates in her golf fitness classes. “I’d be remiss if I didn’t credit her for returning me to some semblance of decent fitness. I frequently enjoy walking and carrying my bag in cool weather, and the golf fitness classes have played a major role in my golf improvement to the extent that I have ‘shot my age’ several times in the past six months. I’ve also been blessed to have golf buds who are younger and more talented than I am, and I’ve benefited a great deal from their tutelage as well as instructions from the Club professionals.”
Doc and Ginger stay busy enjoying their four grandchildren’s activities, attending events at their colleges and high school. They are also long-time volunteers for Hill Country Daily Bread Ministries, a charitable organization where their son Randy works. “It’s a wonderful source of inspiration. It feels so good to be in a position to help others,” says Ginger whose physical activities have been significantly limited for the last five years as she bravely battles Parkinson’s Disease.
Participating in respective men’s and women’s Bible study groups has been rewarding experiences for the couple. Nine years ago, Doc, along with residents Billy Lemmons and Dr. Ken Washburn, reactivated a men’s bible study that had been inactive and the original group of four or five guys has grown to a group of thirty or more regular attendees. “It’s wonderful. There’s so much spiritual insight evident in the leadership of the group, and so many of the guys have been such a blessing to me, studying from the Word and finding inspiration from our shared life experiences,” says Doc.
The couple says that they chose their sunset view lot for their sunset years. As they reflect on their life at Cordillera Ranch, they agree on the rewards they’ve enjoyed. “The people have made it blessed,” says Ginger. Doc sums it up, “Being able to be a part of this community and associated with neighbors who have such moral values and experiences from other parts of the world, we’ve gained from the good fortune that God placed us here.”