Alumni Profiles    

Robert Burns, D.D.S.
      Torchlighter Award, 2012

The Torchlighter Award honors those who have made a significant, long-standing contribution and a commitment to Park. Recipients who are not Park alumni receive honorary alumni status as part of this award.


Robert C. Burns, D.D.S. and Park University share a long and cherished history. “You might say I lived the first eight years of my life on the Park campus,” Burns said.

As a kid growing up in Parkville in the 40s and 50s, the Park campus was his stomping ground. He learned to swim at the Park College pool. He set bowling pins at the popular bowling alley, the Jolly Roger. As a Boy Scout, Burns camped along the shores of Park College Lake near the Park Farm where students used to work to help pay their tuition. He especially enjoyed hiking to Alfalfa Point, the highest point on the campus overlooking the Missouri River. “It’s a magnificent view,” he said.

President Michael Droge with
Robert Burns, Hon '12

In 1965, Burns completed his doctorate in dental surgery and set up private practice in Platte Woods, Missouri. On Christmas Eve of that year, life took a sudden turn. Burns was drafted into the United States Army. “It was a real shocker. I had to leave my new practice, my wife and three small children behind.” 

He was commissioned as an Army first lieutenant on February 4, 1966, and he went on active duty three months later.  After six weeks of basic training in San Antonio, Texas, he was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado. Then in March of 1967, the Army posted him to Vietnam with the Eleventh Armored Calvary regiment. Dr. Burns was the only dentist in the regiment of 5,000 troops, and he went everywhere they went. “I was an unusual dentist for sure.”

Burns returned from Vietnam in 1968 and restarted his Platte Woods practice while serving in the Army Reserve. In 1976, he built the medical building at 9 and 45 Highways in Parkville where he practiced with his son, Dr. David R. Burns, until he retired in 2010. His son continues to practice from Burns Dental Care, while Burns’ grandson is a dental school freshman.

Burns remained in the Army Reserve until he retired in 2001 as a full colonel. As a Reserve Officer, Burns served short tours in Korea in 1988 and Italy in 1995. He served as dental surgeon for the 102nd Army Reserve Command headquarters and the 89th Regional Support Command, and was in charge of the dentists who cared for soldiers in these units.

Among his many military honors, Burns earned a Bronze Star medal for his service in Vietnam and the Legion of Merit medal. “I’m proud of them all,” he said. His military experience forged an even deeper relationship to Park. “One of the reasons I agreed to serve as a trustee was largely because of Park’s reputation serving the educational needs of the military.”

His long list of contributions to Park includes 9 years as a Trustee, with two terms as board secretary. His dedicated work on numerous committees included chair of the Student Services Committee in 2007 and vice chair of the Academic Affairs Committee in 2011. He also served on Park’s Military Advisory Board. He was a member of the 2005/2006 Master Planning commission, and was appointed to the current Master Planning Commission in 2010.

Burns believes his greatest contribution is being a local voice for Park within the Parkville community. “I’m constantly talking about Park and am surprised that many people don’t realize what we have in our own backyard,” he said. “Parkville is the home of a reputable university that is educating students in campus centers and military bases across the U.S. and online around the world.“

With the Torchlighter Award, Burns is proud to become an honorary Park alumnus. As a lifelong Parkville resident, Burns has always been proud of Park, and no prouder than he is today seeing it evolve into a nationally renowned university with an exciting future. “I think of Park University as a twinkling star that just keeps getting brighter.”