Especially in the medical profession, a great business is a reflection of its people and their dedication to a sole purpose over time. This holds true for the Ronan Eye Clinic and its staff in the role of eye care, starting with its founder—Dr. Arnt James Ofstad—back in 1973.
Fresh out of school, at his exiting national board examination, young Dr. Ofstad met an interesting man from Montana who painted a picture of Montana in young Ofstad’s mind that was hard to ignore. After growing up in Seattle, WA, Montana sounded like an adventure. Excited for new beginnings and freedom, young Ofstad made his way from Pacific University College of Optometry in Forest Grove, OR, to Tribal Health regional headquarters in Billings, MT.
The elder in charge at the IHS headquarters issued Dr. Ofstad his first job. Ofstad was to provide eye care services to many reservation towns on Montana’s high line, including: Box Elder, Fort Belknap, Browning, Brockton, and Wolf Point. Dr. Ofstad’s region also included Ronan and St. Ignatius. With a van of portable optometry equipment provided, the city-slicker set off on a one-of-a-kind adventure into rural Montana.
Dr. Ofstad found himself providing eye care in many different settings, including: gymnasiums, hospitals, basements, and libraries. In St. Ignatius, Ofstad remembers creating room walls for privacy by hanging sheets from the ceiling of the old tribal health center. He would stay in each new town anywhere from two weeks to six months, depending on the size of the town. He did not make any friends with the local basketball players from Brockton, MT because he competed with them for gym floor space in the early evening hours. Dr. Ofstad said, “I usually saw children all day and then saw adults in the evenings. I did not know when to stop seeing patients until a tribal pharmacist told me that it was time to go home at ten o’clock at night.”
Ofstad’s first job as a Commissioned Officer for the Indian Health Service, in 1971, provided him with tremendous experience in ocular disease management, ocular trauma management, and complex optical cases. However, around 1973, Ofstad decided to start his own private practice in Ronan. He was drawn specifically to Ronan because of the natural beauty of the land and its people.
In 1973, Dr. Ofstad purchased the real-estate located at 113 2nd Avenue SW from Bob and Mercedes Hanson. This property is currently located behind the city library and sits east of the Ronan Fire Hall. From its bones as a small home, Ofstad and Clyde Rolson re-modeled the space into a functional optometry office. They flipped the bedrooms into exam rooms, the living room into an optical, and the basement into a lens fabrication laboratory. On December 2nd, 1977, Ofstad hired Arlene Starkel as his first employee and later office manager. Arlene provided structure to Ofstad’s schedule that helped his new business grow. In 1983, Ofstad added more to the building’s architecture and arched storefront.
When Ofstad started his business in Ronan, other optometrists around the area included: Dr. Gordon Fisher (Polson & Ronan), Dr. Moorely Cooper (Polson), and Dr. Bert English (Polson). Dr. Ofstad purchased Dr. Fisher’s old files, and Dr. Fisher’s old optometry equipment can still be seen at the Miracle of America Museum in Polson, Montana.
With an expanding business in the later 1990’s, Ofstad decided to purchase lot number 7 and 8 of the Stanley Scarce Addition at the end of Ronan Main Street. According to Ofstad, “Don Olson Jr told me that he used to shoot ducks at the end of Main Street where the new building now sits.” Don was a good friend to Jim and told him to hire a couple of local brothers (possibly the Resner Brothers) to tear down the old steel structure on the lot where the new building was to be built. “I was not expecting these older guys to be up for such a difficult job,” said Ofstad, “they salvaged almost every piece of hard-wood and sheet-metal from the old steel edifice.” In 2000, Dr. Ofstad hired Hugh Beaver to construct the new office building where the Ronan Eye Clinic resides today.
In 2009, Dr. Ofstad hired Dr. Marcus Simonich. Dr. Simonich graduated with a bachelor of arts in biology from Carroll College in Helena, MT, and went on to receive his doctorate in optometry degree from Pacific University College of Optometry. In addition to sharing the same birthday, Dr. Ofstad and Dr. Simonich both realized that they shared similar values, perspectives, and ambitions. In a very natural business transition, in December 2012, the Ronan Eye Clinic was purchased by Dr. Simonich at which time the business entity name changed from Arnt James Ofstad P.C. (dba Ronan Eye Clinic) to Mission Valley Eye Center Inc (dba Ronan Eye Clinic).
Over the years, Mission Valley Eye Center has grown into a modern optometric practice. Dr. Simonich admits that the eye center would not be where it is today without the help of the entire staff and their talents. One staff member, in particular, is Dr. Clay Benkelman, who has been working part-time at the Ronan Eye Clinic for over 15 years. Currently, the Ronan Eye Clinic employs nine full-time staff, one full-time optometrist (Dr. Simonich), and two part-time optometrists (Dr. Ofstad and Dr. Benkelman).
The Mission Valley Eye Center (dba Ronan Eye Clinic) has seen many advances in technology and technique since Dr. Ofstad first started in Ronan, back in 1973. As Ofstad attests, “the profession of optometry is a very important one in today’s health care system and is more medical than it has ever been before.”