After 40 years, eye doctors call it quits … kind of

  • Monday, January 5, 2015 8:21pm
  • News

After providing eye care for residents of the Kenai Peninsula for nearly 40 years, Dr. Dennis Swarner and Dr. Robert O’Connell have relinquished ownership of the Kenai Vision Center.

While the two will no longer run the business, they plan on working at the center for the next several years as it transitions to new owners, Dr. David Karpik and Dr. Kathleen Rice, a husband and wife team from Fairbanks. Karpik and Rice officially took over on the first day of 2015.

Swarner, who started at the Kenai Vision Center in 1975, was emotional on his last day as owner.

“We’re the owners today, and tomorrow we’re employees,” Swarner said. “It’s still fun. I still enjoy coming to work. It has been a great profession for me.”

Despite handing over the business to new doctors, Swarner hopes to stay at the practice for another four or five years and gradually cut back his hours.

“My goal is to have more time off, and this allows me to do that,” Swarner said. “I don’t have to worry about the business. Somebody else can worry about that.”

O’Connell, who joined the Kenai Vision Center in 1977, said that he has been blessed to work at the Kenai Vision Center. While he will miss many aspects of the job, he will enjoy not having the responsibility that comes with owning a business.

“I feel rather relieved, because I don’t have to be running the business,” O’Connell said. “It can be stressful. When you’re the boss and you have employees, it can be stressful. Getting rid of that responsibility is going to be a little bit of a relief.”

O’Connell, said that his time working on the peninsula has been rewarding.

“(I enjoyed) being an integral part of the community,” O’Connell said. “Just interacting with the population of Kenai over the years. You watch kids grow up. You see them get married, and they’re having children, and they bring their children in to see you.”

As for the future of the Kenai Vision Center, new owners Karpik and Rice say they are not scared to follow in the footsteps of the previous owners.

“They’re so easy going and personable and pleasant that it’s not intimidating,” Karpik said. “Obviously we feel some pressure to continue at the level and enhance the level of what’s going on, but they’re at a very high level already.”

Rice said that having Swarner and O’Connell around for a few years will benefit the Kenai Vision Center.

“The business side is new, but Dr. Swarner and Dr. O’Connell are staying,” Rice said. “They’re not leaving, so we have resources to tap.”

Karpik said that with four doctors available, patients will be able to be seen more quickly. And while the Kenai Vision Center currently has state-of-the-art medical equipment, the two new doctors also hope to purchase new equipment, including machines to diagnose conditions for the back of the eye.

“We’re going to be able to accommodate medical eye needs as they arise, promptly, and attend to them with the highest level of care,” said Karpik.

While Karpik and Rice are excited about the future, they recognize the importance of their predecessors.

“Our plan is to build on all the good things Dr. Swarner and Dr. O’Connell already have going here,” Karpik said.

Reach Ian Foley at

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