BY HOPE HARRINGTON OAKES
Local veterinarian Dr. Steve Guist had been planning his retirement from his Columbus-based practice for some time. His wife, Deborah, started to ponder her retirement, as well. Deborah has been the owner of The English School of Dance, a dance studio that her mother opened in Columbus more than 50 years ago. The Guists thought their eventual retirements would be a few years in the future, but a little girl named Clara changed that.
Their daughter, Carley, lives in Colorado, and recently gave birth to their first grandchild, Clara. The desire to spend more time with their daughter’s family became a big factor in moving up their retirement dates.
“I had sort of flirted with the idea, on and off, in recent years but I never really had a compelling reason to take that step,” Deborah Guist said. “I didn’t just want to just close the doors. I wanted to make sure I had somebody to take it over that I felt confident with.”
“We both felt like that,” Steve Guist said. “This has been my base for more than 33 years, and I put my heart and soul into it, just like Deborah did with her business. We both wanted to leave it with some capable people, and I really believe we both did that.”
Dr. Guist’s practice, Animal Health Services, is officially under the control of Dr. Walter Mullen, an Ocean Springs native who came to the area to teach at Mississippi State when Hurricane Katrina destroyed his Gulf Coast practice.
“I’m leaving it in very capable hands,” Steve Guist said. “Dr. Mullen, an MSU Vet School graduate, has 19 years of experience. Dr. Mullen plans to keep all the current staff, and has even stated that he won’t change a single price for at least another year.”
The English School of Dance is now owned and operated by Memphis native, Whitney Ward. “She has a top-notch background, coming from a big, competitive Memphis studio, she was on the Dance Squad at MSU,” Deborah Guist said. “She is engaged to marry Columbus native, Scott Ferguson, in the Fall. Whitney has been directing the Heritage Academy dance teams, too. She’s going to continue on my legacy. She’s young, and has some new, fresh ideas. She wants to move more into the competitive arena.”
The Guists recently celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. Their future plans include spending more time out in Colorado.
“I love Colorado,” Steve Guist said. “It’s a beautiful place. I’ve done a lot of elk hunting, mule deer hunting. I love the state. We are planning on looking at some property just outside of Denver. We may be like snowbirds!” Even though Dr. Guist has applied for his Veterinarian’s license in Colorado, their move would not be a permanent change of residence.”
“We have too many connections here,” Deborah Guist said. “This is our home.” Her 88-year-old mother, Betty Lott, lives in an assisted living facility here in Columbus. Mrs. Lott has had to slow down considerably, and she depends on her children a great deal. “We can’t and don’t want to pull up roots and leave. We trying to take things slowly…I mean, we want to plan, but we don’t want to do anything impulsive. Every time we have to say goodbye, it just tears my heart. She has rocked our world! She just loves to wear Dee and Doc out.”
The Guists are helping ease the transition for their respective replacements. Dr. Guist will continue to work at the practice until Dr. Mullen, as well as their patients, feel comfortable. He laughed about an incident on the first Monday he went to the practice after his official retirement. Steve Guist said he had already turned over his keys to Dr. Mullen, and was unable to get into the building, so he had to sit and wait for someone to come open up. “We’re scared and excited, all at the same time. It’s definitely different,” Steve Guist said. “One door closes and another one opens,” Deborah Guist said. “We’re happy, excited, sad, and a little scared I’d like to go back and take some classes and finish my degree that I started back in 1971. After being tied down to our businesses, the freedom to come and go…it’s all a little surreal, but we’re ready.”