A lot was changing in optometry when Jordon Beller, OD ’71 joined ICO in 1967. “We were the very first ICO class to be taught a four-year curriculum. First year was taught based on a three-year curriculum. Then we switched in our second year,” says Dr. Beller. These were years of unrest with the Vietnam War always present in the background. “I know at least one person who went to Canada to avoid the war.”
By the late-60s, a 4-year OD degree was attainable at every American optometric institution. At ICO, these curricular changes included the addition of 800 clinical training hours. “My class was particularly small; 70 students graduated in 1971. With our 3 years of clinic, we got to see more patients and got to fit more contact lenses than anyone before us.”
Dr. Beller was also the student body president, “We had a campus revolt of our own and threatened to stop going to the clinic. Most of what we were unhappy about was the lack of opportunity to have any input into administrative rulings, in particular, [how we dressed] in clinic. We wanted to wear white coats like other physicians. We wanted to change our image, especially in our own mind. We already had enough insecurities. We didn’t need additional insecurity because of our clothes.”
After he graduated, Dr. Beller set up practices in La Grange (his hometown), Darien, St. Charles, and worked with several optometrists as a specialty contact lens fitter. Now retired, he runs a vintage car museum the Beller Museum.
Here are a few of his essentials.
I have had the opportunity to open and run several different practices. As a practice owner, I worked with every possible business in town. Humans run businesses, and many of them need an eye doctor. We both filled a need for one another, and together we built a stronger community.
To me, shop local also means get involved in local activities. When I was working in La Grange, I joined the Main Street Project. A large number of merchants got on the band wagon to improve the town. There are now 37 restaurants in the town of 25,000 people! Our work had a lasting impact in the community.
ROOM TO GROW
I am a born collector. I have all my old toys. I have around 20,000 books and other publications, but my true love is vintage cars and all things automotive. I collect automotive art and subscribe to over 50 different publications. I author a journal on automotive advertising, and I collect cars.
The Beller Museum started 25 years ago as 2,000 square feet with seven or eight cars. It has now grown to 30,000 square feet and over 80 vintage automobiles. I don’t think I’ll grow my own collection anymore, but now I’m working with a restaurant where I may put a few cars. The restaurant is only a block away from me, so we’ll be helping the local community.
My goal with this museum is to educate and to have as many “Oh jeez! I never knew that!” moments as possible. Bringing that knowledge and curiosity to a new generation is now my life's work. It’s well worth the effort.
A JEWELER AND AN OPTOMETRIST
Current students may not know how closely optometrists and jewelers worked together during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Like jewelers, to fit glasses, optometrists often used small hand tools and made minute repairs. My father graduated from NICO in 1934. He joined my grandfather’s jewelry business at the age of 19 and practiced in La Grange for 47 years.
MAKING ENDS MEET
Before I was an optometrist, I was a car mechanic. I had my own gas station and worked for myself. I love cars, but I was physically exhausted trying to meet everyone’s demands. I chose optometry to move away from such a stressful field.
During optometry school, I needed to find a way to continue making money. In addition to paid work, I used to work on and resell cars. I used to cruise the used car lots on State and 47th. I distinctly remember the cars I worked on and sold during that time period.
AT HOME IN CHICAGO
I’ve had the opportunity to travel all over the US. I can’t think of a place I’d rather be than Chicago. I am in love with Chicago and I love to show her off whenever I get the chance. I take guests sightseeing and show off the great restaurants. I want people to know why I love it so much. I can be anywhere, but Chicago moves at a pace I can handle.
When I graduated ICO, I went into practice in August of the same year. I had one patient who followed me from ICO. He was 5 or 6 years old, and I fitted him with his first pair of contact lenses. Over 50 years later, he is now my lawyer and CPA. These lasting relationships are part of what makes optometry such a unique profession.