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Dentist has bank vault with antique dental items on display in office

Bank vault door behind Kris Nillissen. Dr. Larry Nillissen is on the right.
Bank vault door behind Kris Nillissen. Dr. Larry Nillissen is on the right.
Ann Day

On Highway 45 there is a giant chicken on the county line between Shawano and Marathon Counties in Wisconsin. A sign below the chicken advertises Chet & Emil's Broaster Chicken Restaurant. I followed the chicken out of curiosity and found Dr. Larry Nillissen's dental office and went inside. The receptionist was very friendly and welcoming and showed me the tourist attraction - an antique dental museum of sorts inside a bank vault behind the front desk.

Dr. Nillissen's Bank Vault has antique dental equipment from Dr. Frohman
Ann Day

Dr. Nillissen's office is located where a bank used to be. When he bought the office the bank tried every which way they could to take the vault with them. When the bank was constructed the vault was dropped in from above and the roof was put on after the vault was installed. The bank found they had to leave it behind.

Kris is the hygienist at the office and she showed me around and told me about the bank vault. The giant door on the vault is always open and displays the chair and x ray equipment from a Dr. Frohman who used to practice in Birnamwood. There is also an antique pink cart on display that Kris brought with her from when she worked at an office on the East Side of Milwaukee for Dr. Jim and Joe Englander. Kris worked there as an assistant while she was going to Marquette. Her name was Kris Johnson at the time. Now she goes by Kris Nillissen.

Kris Johnson and Larry Nillissen married after meeting at the library at Marquette in Milwaukee when she was attending hygiene school and he was going to dental school. Dr. Nillissen graduated from Marquette Dental School on June 17, 1981. After that the Nillissens moved to Birnamwood and Kris finished school at Wausau Technical College.

After graduation Dr. Nillissen started practicing on the corner by the old hotel in Birnamwood. When the bank moved across the street the Nillissens decided to remodel the bank and use it as their dental office. They found they had to live with the vault. Kris pointed out that there is an air escape in the vault in the back right corner in case anyone every gets stuck in there.

"That is where we put our bad patients" Dr Nillissen said jokingly referring to the vault. He also added that he wishes he was busier. I reminded him that his overhead would be a lot more if he practiced near Chicago and he agreed and said he would have to get a lot more people in to pay for the office then.

The receptionist said that there is a dental office 10 minutes to the south and 20 minutes to the north. The population of Birnamwood was 818 according to the 2010 census. It must be hard to have all that dental office competition with such a low population in that area.

Kris told me that people schedule their dental appointments around Linda's Town and Country Bakery and Diane's Ice Cream Shop. The bakery is closed on Mondays and the ice cream shop is only open in the summer. Kris said that the patients also like to come for the suckers the bank gives out. If they drive from a far distance they want to make it worth the trip.

"They come in right after the dentist and I tell them not to feel bad because the dentist comes in here too" stated Brittany, an employee at Linda's Bakery.

The Nillissens also have an antique upright piano in the waiting room and Kris said her daughter used to come in an practice there while patients were there sometimes too.

The Nillissens have two daughters. Chelsea lives in New York right now and has a B.S. degree from Wisconsin Lutheran College. She might go to dental school later. Olivia is going to be a senior next year at Northland Lutheran High School.

The Nillissens collected many antique items over the years and they are on display around the dental office. They are very friendly people and don't mind people coming in to see the bank vault.


(If you would like me to do a story about your dental office please email me at

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