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Hearing Unlimited plans open house Wednesday

January 13, 2009
By Andy Hallman – Daily Freeman-Journal Writer

The Webster City Hearing Aid Center will be celebrating 36 years of service to Webster City with an open house Wednesday. There will be another open house the following Wednesday, Jan. 21. Everyone is invited to the open houses, which will be in the Hearing Aid Center's office at 617 Second St. from 9 a.m. to noon and 1-4 p.m. The Hearing Aid Center staff will answer questions about the equipment they use and the services they offer to current and potential customers.

The Webster City Hearing Aid Center was opened in February 1973 by Jerry Smith of Ames. The Hearing Aid Center has had three different locations in Webster City and has been at its current location for roughly 15 years. The business is now known as Hearing Unlimited and has 26 offices in Iowa and one in Minnesota. Smith ran the Webster City office for 28 years. Now 70, Smith spends considerable time providing hearing aids to children in Third World countries.

"I just got back from a trip to India," said Smith. "Before that I was in South Africa, and before that I was in Vietnam."

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Bob Larrence and Shirley Doolittle, employees at the Webster City Hearing Aid Center on Second Street, assist clients in town every Wednesday. Larrence estimated that he sees between 20-30 people every Wednesday. The Hearing Aid Center will have an open house Wednesday and the following Wednesday, Jan. 21, to showcase the equipment they have and the services they offer.

Smith said he goes on two or three mission trips every year with an organization called "The Starkey Hearing Foundation." Smith said that he volunteers his time and pays all of his own expenses. This includes paying $5,000 for round-trip airfare to India. Smith said that it is worth every penny considering the living conditions of the people he assists.

"When I was in India I treated kids who walked for four days to get hearing aids," said Smith. "In Nepal, I fit hearing aids by candlelight. We cannot appreciate how good we have it in this country."

"We gave out 7,000 hearing aids in India alone," continued Smith. "We fit 565 kids in one day with five fitting stations."

Smith said one of the problems faced by children in the third world is that poor medical care can lead to hearing loss.

"If a child comes down with a disease, the doctors in a lot of these countries will give them heavy doses of antibiotics that can damage the nerve center of their ear," lamented Smith.

Smith also had advice for those concerned about losing their hearing.

"You have to realize that as you are exposed to more noise, the more likely you are to experience hearing loss," warned Smith. "I recommend that anyone over 40 should have their hearing checked once every two years."

Smith said there are things we can all do to maintain our hearing.

"When you're operating a noisy piece of machinery you need to cover your ears with ear muffs or ear plugs," said Smith.

That sentiment was echoed by Bob Larrence, an employee at Hearing Aid Center in Webster City.

"I tell people to wear ear protection when they're using a lawnmower, weed-eater or snowblower," said Larrence.

Larrence also said that many careers require good hearing, so it's important to protect your ears when you're young.

"We do hearing testing for ROTC candidates for the government because they have to meet certain hearing requirements in order to join ROTC," said Larrence.

Shirley Doolittle, another employee at Webster City Hearing Aid Center, commented, "Young men need to know that if they have a hearing loss they can't get into the service."

Larrence added, "We do testing for truckers, because they have to pass a hearing test in order to obtain and renew their CDL."

The Webster City Hearing Aid Center is open every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon and 1-4 p.m. Larrence said that he sees an average of 20-30 people every Wednesday. He recommended that anyone requesting a hearing test should schedule an appointment.

"We try to do appointments for testing, which can take 45-60 minutes," said Larrence. "If you buy a hearing aid from us and you need to have it cleaned, we do that for free and you don't have to schedule an appointment for that. We also reprogram hearing aids for our clients free of charge."

Larrence explained why Hearing Unlimited operates in so many small towns.

"The reason we have branches in small towns is because we know that our older customers don't want to be on the roads, so we bring our services to them," said Smith.

The Webster City Hearing Aid Center may be reached at 832-2391.



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