By the time his kids had grown up and moved out, Jon was approaching 60. He began to get antsy. For over 30 years, he had remained committed to his profession. Jon realized he was no longer content with the occasional weekend climbing trip. There was still so much he wanted to do – and his window of opportunity wouldn’t last forever. In 2007, Jon Letko made the decision to retire.
True to his nature, Jon continues to work a couple days a week when he is home. However his appearances in the clinic have become fewer and fewer over the past several years. In his absence, Linda oversees the day-to-day operations.
Jon’s first post-retirement adventure was a formative one. He’d gone out east in an attempt to speed-hike the Appalachian Trail, but unanticipated challenges forced Jon to sideline his original goal. Instead of speed-hiking the trail, he spent time exploring and visiting nearby towns. The shocking level of poverty he witnessed in the Appalachia region caused Jon to seriously rethink his priorities. Having spent most of his life in cities on the west coast, he was oblivious to the sheer destitution facing many of the small, forgotten towns in places like Kentucky, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Especially glaring to Jon was the complete lack of basic dental care in these areas.
Jon felt a calling to help these communities, and returned to the Appalachia region on multiple occasions. He set up mobile clinics offering free dental care to children – many of whom had never seen a dentist before. The experience was so moving for Jon that he decided to make volunteer work a focus of his travels, especially in less-developed countries.
Jon’s love of climbing, appetite for travel, and desire to give back has taken him to a number of high-alpine regions the years. His first international expedition was to the Himalayas in Nepal. Since then, he’s also climbed both Gasherbrum I & II in the Karakorum Range, and made an attempt at K2. Jon loves a challenge, and is always looking for new ways to push his body to physical extremes.
However, the opportunity to climb some of the most difficult peaks in the world is only part of Jon’s motivation. Health care services are notoriously lacking in many of these areas, and Jon does his best to fill this void. Ever since his experience in Appalachia, Jon has made it a point to bring along his dentistry tools wherever he travels. In all the underserved regions he visits, Jon holds free pop-up dental clinics for the locals.
Ever-energetic, he continues to climb extensively in the United States, too. In fact, Jon Letko’s favorite climbing location is relatively close to home. Situated 700 miles north of Berkeley, Mount Rainier is the crown jewel of the Cascade Range. For years, it’s been his go-to place for a weekend getaway. Although Jon enjoys the challenge that high altitude climbing provides, he also recognizes its dangers. Rainier has all the beauty of the Himalayas, but is considerably safer (as Linda is apt to remind him). After all, he’s had his share of close calls over the years. As he gets older, Jon Letko plans to continue performing volunteer work abroad while keeping his climbing activity much closer to home.