Sunday Profile: Retiring one-time optometrist to the stars has seen a lot |

Sunday Profile: Retiring one-time optometrist to the stars has seen a lot

Dr. David Eberhardt has been an optometrist in the Roaring Fork Valley for 40 years.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent |

After 40 years of caring for people’s eyes in the Roaring Fork Valley, Dr. David Eberhardt is retiring.

The optometrist grew up in a small Wisconsin town. One of his uncles was an optometrist who was enthusiastic about his work, which also drew Eberhardt to the profession. In his early 20s, after having practiced for only about a year, he took the job into the U.S. Army.

“I thought I would live and die in a small Wisconsin town,” he said. But after moving to his first station at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, he changed his mind. “I fell in love with Colorado.”

Having already practiced optometry before joining the Army, Eberhardt went in as a captain and soon he was the chief of optometry at an Army hospital in Okinawa.

He was able to enjoy much of his time, traveling all over the Far East: to Vietnam, Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan. He went scuba diving in the East China Sea.

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At the same time, he quickly decided he wasn’t going to be a career military guy. It was an atmosphere he didn’t quite fit into. He had trouble hiding his displeasure with superior officers who weren’t optometrists trying to dictate how he should practice.

Not being able to hide his feelings in this regard got him into some trouble with higher ranked officers a couple times, he said.

He got out of the Army in 1975 and immediately knew he wanted to come back to Colorado. Eberhardt took an opportunity to practice in Fort Collins for about a year, then moved to the Roaring Fork Valley. First based in Glenwood Springs, he worked with a clinic that had a part-time operation in Aspen.

But Eberhardt developed their Aspen clinic into a full-time operation, and 20 years of his career would be based at the upvalley location. “When Aspen was a cool place in the ‘70s and ‘80s.”

This was back when the celebrities and really wealthy people would mingle with everyone else, the working class, the ski bums, said Eberhardt.

In that time the optometrist cared for the eyes of a number of celebrity patients, including Steve Martin and Jack Nicholson.

“John Denver was my favorite.”

After the famed singer-songwriter broke up with his first wife, Denver wanted to change his image.

But the optometrist met with the wrath of the folk singer’s agent when he fit Denver with contacts instead of his signature round glasses. “He was very upset; he thought it was going to ruin his career.”

Then in the early 90s, when Eberhardt had two growing sons, he started looking downvalley for affordable housing and a good place to raise his kids.

They settled in Carbondale, where Eberhardt says they were able to build strong community connections.

The last 40 years has been a time of incredible evolution in optometry as technology have advanced. But that’s also meant optometrists have needed to race to keep up. “It’s been an ongoing education, certainly a lot more education occurring after school than during school.”

“One of my favorite things in the practice is going over retinal photographs with patients. The imaging is spectacular; it wasn’t even a concept when I went to school.”

Technology has greatly expanded what an optometrist can cover, but at the same time it’s raised the bar for what they’re expected to do, diagnoses they’re expected to be able to make.

The hardest part about retirement, he said, is saying goodbye to some of those connections he made over decades in practice.

With his freed up time, Eberhardt plans to do more recreating and spoiling his grandkids. He grew up fishing on the Wisconsin River and made it a lifelong pursuit when he moved to Colorado.

And he’s got a pair of 9-month-old twin grand sons — “the third generation of Eberhardts in the valley” — who are on the verge of walking.

Though Carbondale will remain his summertime home base, Eberhardt has some big trips in the works as well. He’s done about a dozen trips to Alaska in his life, where he wants to keep exploring and fishing. He has a special Alaska trip planned to spread a friend’s ashes. And stemming from spring breaks scuba diving with his sons in the Caribbean, he’s looking for an opportunity to swim with a whale shark.

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