Local orthodontist and activist Dr. Alan Barbakow dies at 77

Santa Clarita’s first orthodontist Dr. Alan Barbakow died Friday morning at the age of 77. Courtesy of Child & Family Center

Santa Clarita’s first orthodontist, Dr. Alan Barbakow, died Friday morning at the age of 77.

Barbakow was also known for his passionate support of many causes, including children, education, women’s issues, the arts and health.

His service to local organizations never seemed to tire — he was a founding member and president of the Santa Clarita Arts Council, served as board president and member emeritus of the Child & Family Center, was president of the Betty Ferguson Foundation, and helped found the Foundation for Children’s Dental Health.

“Alan joined the board of the Child & Family Center very early on in the charity’s existence, and his service to (the center) was two decades long,” said Liz Seipel, co-founder of the center. “He had a special heart for children that was pervasive throughout his volunteering. He was generous, funny, extremely intelligent, creative and dynamic. He was hard to keep up with in regards to ways that he found for the agency to serve the children.”

He also played a significant role in capital campaigns for the expansion of the Child & Family Center and for Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital, and frequently donated to the Santa Clarita Valley Boys & Girls Club along with many other organizations. 

“Alan was a man that had a heart that I’ve never seen in my life,” his wife, Rise, said. “A heart that was open to everyone and everything without judgment and just complete love and compassion. He was part of everything … He brought life and love to Newhall … I just know that what he gave to the valley and to everyone was something that doesn’t happen — it was pure. There was an empathy and an understanding of the real world.”

Barbakow views the decor of his office which includes a set of elephant tusks and an assayers scale from Death Valley as well as horseshoes and various branding irons. Dan Watson/The Signal

In 1994, Barbokow was honored as Santa Clarita Man of the Year, which is given to those who have proven to be community supporters with many years of service to various local organizations. Then, in 2009, he was honored during the Zonta Club of SCV’s annual Tribute Dinner for his deep commitment to the community. 

“I have known him for about 20 years, since when I first moved to Stevenson Ranch,” said Rabbi Mark Blazer of Temple Beth Ami. “He was very involved in the civic life in Santa Clarita, and was really a big champion for (the community). He always supported the Temple in whatever we needed and was always there to lend his support and wisdom. He really took a lot of joy from guiding people, mentoring them, providing wisdom — for him, he really found a purpose.”

In a previous Signal article published Oct. 24, 2009, Barbakow described himself as a “city kid” raised by his father, a shipping clerk, and his mother, a secretary, in Los Angeles.

He attended the University of California, Berkeley, and proceeded to the University of Southern California School of Dentistry where he earned a dental degree with an advanced specialty in orthodontics in 1971. 

“I was the first one in the family to earn a college degree,” he said to The Signal in the previous interview.

Upon graduation, he immediately came to the SCV to begin his practice.

Barbakow shares a collection of teeth he keeps in his Newhall office, including those from a lion and a polar bear. Dan Watson/The Signal

“I was the classic laughingstock of the USC Dental School — orthodontists don’t go to communities that just had earthquakes (referring to the Feb. 9, 1971 Sylmar earthquake),” Barbakow said. “The population was diminished by 25% in the first six months after the quake, so we were a downwardly mobile community at the time. The area was not just underserved. It was nonserved — there were no specialists out here at the time.”

Yet, Barbakow saw the potential and moved to Newhall. When he saw a truck loaded with redwood timbers, debris from the earthquake that was being taken to a landfill, he saw another opportunity.

He decided to use the timbers to construct his suite of orthodontic offices on Lyons Avenue, facing many challenges along the way until the offices were finally completed on July 1, 1977.

Because of the wooden facade, Barbakow decided to create a western-themed building, complete with frontier antiques he had obtained from a closed frontier museum in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, including antique wagons that he placed out front and other memorabilia that hung from nearly every available space in the office. 

“I wanted to make it a showplace,” he said. “I hired 10 docents from that museum to rent 10 cars and 10 trailers to bring the stuff back to the SCV.” 

The grand opening of his new office became a huge event in the SCV, with Western actor Montie Montana in attendance, along with his black stallion. 

“He really embraced the western ethos of Newhall,” Blazer said. “The decor was really distinctive. It was less frightening, less ‘sterile’ than other offices.” 

Rise described the office as an “icon of happiness,” where Barbakow was able to make everything possible for each and every one of his patients and make them feel comfortable. 

Dr. Alan Barbakow stands on the stairs overlooking the lobby of his offices on Lyons Avenue in Newhall. The stagecoach was purchased more than 30 years ago at an auction of frontier memorabilia in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. Dan Waston/The Signal

After living in Newhall for a few years, Barbakow built a home in Malibu, yet still continued to aid the Santa Clarita Valley community.

“Alan and Rise were incredible philanthropists in Santa Clarita even though they lived in Malibu,” said Lois Bauccio, fellow activist and volunteer for several organizations. “Both of them connected so strongly to this community. He was just an incredible person and beloved by everyone he worked with. He will be missed.”

He retired in 2013 after more than 40 years practicing in the SCV, and continued to support the many causes near to his heart until he became ill with Alzheimer’s.

“Alan was the love of my life,” Rise said. “From the first date I ever had with him, I knew this was the man I was going to marry and live with for the rest of my life. I felt completely honored to share my life with this man and have our children and have him be a role model to them.”

Barbakow was a man of many interests from architecture to dancing, even becoming known as one of the most gifted dancers in the SCV. Yet his talents didn’t stop there — he was an artist, history lover, loving husband to Rise, father of five and grandfather of nine.

“The world has lost someone who has really made it a better place,” Rise said. “I think being with him has made me a better person, and it’s going to be very hard to walk this Earth without him, but he has given us tools and gifts to continue being who he was.” 

Memorial services are open to the public and scheduled for 3 p.m. Monday, July 8, at Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries, located at 5950 Forest Lawn Drive in Los Angeles.

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