by Dennis Dalman
For several decades the names Styles & Cotton were practically synonyms for dentistry in St. Joseph as they were partners in their highly successful dental office in the city.
In January 2020, Dr. Joseph Styles decided to retire. And now, Dr. Curt Cotton is about to retire, but their legacy will continue because the business they developed for nearly five decades is still thriving as Milbert, Johnson & Cotton Family Dentistry.
It’s still located at 1514 E. Minnesota St., led by dentists Dr. Katie Johnson and Dr. Kelsey Milbert, who is the daughter of Dr. Cotton. Those two dentists joined the business and its staff of about a dozen some years ago.
Cotton, who lives in Cold Spring, was a St. Joseph dentist since 1978 when he joined Styles as a partner in the dental clinic.
Born in Sioux City, Iowa, Cotton and family would spend summers on Big Watab Lake near Cold Spring. After graduating from Gustavus Adolphus College in 1972, he received his Doctor of Dental Science degree in 1976 from the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry. He then served two years in the U.S. Navy, serving as a dentist for the Marines at El Toro Marine Base in California. He returned to Minnesota in 1978 and began his practice as an associate with Dr. Styles, who had established his clinic about two years earlier.
Cotton has been a member of many professional organizations, including the Minnesota Dental Association, the American Dental Association and several local dental-related organizations.
A long-time community activist and volunteer, he has served for 32 years on the board of Rich-Spring (Richmond-Cold Spring) Ducks Unlimited, 30 years on the board of Stearns County Pheasants Forever and more than 30 years as a member of Lions Club International, serving on the District Governor’s Cabinet in many capacities.
Cotton and his wife have three grown children: Brandon, Brady and Kelsey. His hobbies include hunting, fishing, golfing and spending time at Big Watab Lake with family and friends.
When Dr. Styles retired in 2020, Cori Hilsgen of St. Joseph, who was a Newsleader reporter at that time, wrote a background story of the long-time dental associates, Styles & Cotton.
Some of the following information is derived from Hilsgen’s story and her research:
Dr. Kelsey Milbert, Cotton’s daughter, grew up in Cold Spring, graduated from Rocori High School, earned a degree at Gustavus Adolphus College and then, like her father years earlier, a degree in dentistry from the University of Minnesota Dental School.
She joined Styles & Cotton about 10 years ago. After Styles retired, she purchased his practice.
Milbert had been coming to the dental office since she was 3 years old. In college she made up her mind to pursue a career in dentistry.
“I wanted to settle down and raise a family in a small town and had the opportunity to join this practice,” she told Hilsgen during an interview.
Milbert and her husband, Matt, have two young daughters: Margo and Elise.
The newest associate member at the dental clinic, along with Milbert, is Dr. Katie Johnson, who was, like the Cottons, also raised in Cold Spring. A Rocori High School graduate, she then earned a degree in biology from St. Thomas University, then went on to obtain a doctor of dental surgery degree from the University of Minnesota Dental School.
She and her husband, Zach, live in Cold Spring. They have two young children: Zera and Finnick. Johnson enjoys playing volleyball (she played it in college), reading, relaxing on the lake and “playing endless games of hide-and-seek” with her kids.
When he was a young dentist in Chicago, Dr. Joseph R. Styles decided to move to central Minnesota to set up a dental practice, finally choosing St. Joseph for his new business in 1976. His friends from Minnesota urged him to come to this area.
At that time, Dr. Robert Kelley was St. Joseph’s only dentist, and he was ready to retire.
Styles worked with a carpenter to build the clinic from scratch and worked there, with associate Cotton, for more than 40 years. One of Styles’ delights was to fill the office with a succession of colorful flowers and plants that pleased customers and helped them relax.
When he retired three years ago, he said it was a difficult decision because being a dentist and saying goodbye to his long-time patients and excellent, friendly staff members was one of the hardest things he’d ever had to do.
“I have enjoyed working on (patients) through(out) the years, watching the generations come and watching everyone grow up,” he told reporter Hilsgen. “I always liked working (with) children and getting them off to a good start.”
Styles said he has become friends and neighbors with many of his patients.
Styles and his wife, Barb, who live in St. Cloud, are parents to a blended family of three children: Jenna, Kelly and Joe. Styles’ hobby is gardening.