Atanasoff leaves four-decade legacy
IRON RIVER — For decades, the Iron County Eye Center has been the location where residents of Iron River – and its surrounding communities – have come to test their eye health, get glasses, or even treat serious vision problems. The man behind the practice, Raymond K. Atanasoff, has been the principle force at the facility for 44 years. But his time there is soon coming to an end as he intends to retire at the end of January.
Atanasoff is originally from Caspian. When he left to pursue a career as a paper engineer at Western Michigan University, he originally intended to leave Iron County for good. He eventually found that he was disinterested in the paper industry, however.
“I went to one of the counselors down there and I said I was interested in optometry, dentistry or pre-med,” Atanasoff recalled. “He said, “Well, you’re in the paper tech program now, which is our pre-med program.’”
After deciding to change his focus to optometry, Atanasoff went to the Southern College of Optometry in Tennessee – founded in the 1930s – to learn the trade, while also desiring a “change in climate.” At the time, there were only 13 schools in the country that taught the skills required to become an eye care professional. According to Atanasoff, Southern College was the most prestigious of them all.
The number of optometry schools in the United States has nearly doubled in recent decades; there are now 23 facilities teaching the requisite skills across the country. One of those newer schools is in Michigan - the College of Optometry in Big Rapids - although that had not opened by the time Atanasoff had begun his training.
After graduating in 1975, he started a small office in White Pine. In 1976, he decided to come back to Iron River, and opened the eye care center on Genesee Street.
“When I graduated from Stambaugh High School in (1968), I said, ‘I’m never coming back to Iron River.’ But the longer I was away, the more I realized that it’s actually a pretty good place to come back to.”